30/06/2011

By Adrian Booth, Communications Consultant at AB Communications

Here’s a common-sense mini-guide for business owners and business partners, plus those trusty colleagues who often get lumbered with sorting out our IT challenges.

These are some of the key things to think about before you approach different cloud service providers.

Get the knowledge

How about this for obvious but worth mentioning? The better you understand cloud computing services, the better placed you’ll be to make the most of it. So find out all you can. Engage your favourite search engine in finding examples of a company like yours. And if you know anyone already operating in the cloud, ask them what they like and don’t.

Try to be open to new business models which may herald new ways of working.

Establish your business needs

Why not enlist a knowledgeable and trusted IT person to help you fathom the mysteries of the cloud and relate their wisdom to your business priorities when building your must have list? You probably have a good idea of the limitations of your current system so that’s a good place to start.

Although the decision rests on much more than finding cheaper ways to do things, price may well be a determining factor. The cloud has the potential to propel your company forward.

Commonly available cloud tools

Every business is unique in some way, yet so many have common IT requirements it seems, and these can largely be addressed by an off-the-shelf set of basic cloud tools. So you can expect cloud providers to offer capabilities like:

- Secure Email

- Office applications like word processing, spreadsheets, presentation software

- Backup, file storage and document sharing

- Document collaboration through simultaneous working in any location

- File and information sharing on an intranet

- Synchronised calendars and contact information

- Customer relationship management

So do you have more specialist needs?

How about a test run?

Signing-up for a trial period makes great sense. You could consider running a new cloud service in parallel with your existing systems to prove it all works and to give you an opportunity to explore the potential of new features and benefits. Some companies may try wider deployment on a trial basis.

And finally for now, try to apply these questions to the offerings of cloud services providers:

- Size and reputation is this company likely to survive for a few decades? What kind of reputation have they built so far? Who is recommending them?

- Business focus. Is the supplier experienced in your industry sector, and with small and medium-sized businesses? Could this be merely a scaled-up consumer product or is it a built-for-business service?

Well that’s enough to think about for now. Till next time, see you in the cloud.

Watch Tanya Shirlow, SMB Marketing Lead at Microsoft UK, who discusses the advantages of cloud services.

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