By Ken Stephens, Xerox Cloud Services

If you’re responsible for IT at your small or mid-sized business, you’re familiar with cloud computing. You’ve probably heard all the hype – that it has the potential to save your organization money, reduce the amount of time you need to spend on IT management, and ultimately enable you and your staff to focus less on operations and more on activities that generate revenue for your business. Here’s a good blog from SBA.gov that summarizes all of that.

But what may not be as clear to you is how to go about using the cloud in your business. You’re not alone. I often hear from small business executives who are struggling to understand the best path to the cloud. They see the value, but don’t want to rush it and risk exposing their company’s IP or overspend on technology they don’t necessarily need.

To save you some heartache, I’d like to offer you the following five suggestions. Think of it as a checklist of sorts as you begin your journey to the cloud. 

1.  Audit your practices – Before you decide that the cloud is your best path, assess your current IT practices and determine where you’re spending too much time and money. Are there any gaps in quality? Are you in an industry with ebbs and flows of computing requirements? Overall, what impact does IT management have on your bottom line? Doing this will help you determine whether the cloud makes sense for your organization, and it will give you guidance on choosing the right IT components to send to the cloud. 

2.  Understand which cloud – The terminology can be overwhelming: public cloud, private cloud, hybrid cloud, cumulus cloud, etc. Okay, that last one doesn’t really apply. But when you determine your cloud strategy you want to think about what it is that you want to accomplish and what is of most importance to you. Is cost the greatest factor, or do you want to have certain assurances that your data is safe and accessible? Or do you need a mix of both? How you answer that question will help guide you to the right type of cloud for your business.

3.  Choose the right vendor – Selecting the right vendor is critical to succeeding with cloud computing. You want to be certain you are working with a vendor that has experience with plenty of companies of similar scale to yours and that their work is beyond reproach. You also want to be certain your cloud provider has the capital to maintain its operations in the face of the inevitable vendor shakeout that will weed out smaller vendors that simply aren’t capable of properly reinvesting in their infrastructure. Of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t call out the importance of vendors having the right security policies, relevant regulatory compliance and other security processes in place to ensure that your data is protected. A good rule of thumb is that when you select a cloud vendor, their security must be more vigilant than the security measures you currently have employed to protect your data. 

4.  Get the right contract in place – All too often, I hear from companies that felt backed into a service-level agreement with a cloud vendor. Often that is the case with massive cloud vendors that have so many customers that they present SLAs as “take-it-or-leave-it.” If you don’t feel like you’re in control of the terms of the engagement, look for another vendor who is going to work with you and be fully transparent on the terms of service. 

5. Ease into it – If you’re new to cloud computing, don’t feel obligated to move your entire IT operation to the cloud. Dip your toe into the water safely and carefully to get comfortable with the concept. For instance, if you haven’t used cloud storage, consider moving non-core data into the cloud first to see how you like it, what sort of returns you’re getting, etc. – all without completely exposing your company. From there you can get more aggressive, but only at your own pace.

These tips just scratch the surface, so by all means contact us if you want to learn more. And if you’re a small or mid-sized business that is either operating in the cloud or beginning your migration, I’d love to hear what lessons you’ve learned along the way and what advice you’d give your peers.