Although you’re probably already ‘in the cloud’ – with a Gmail account, file-sharing through Dropbox and music via Spotify – when you’re considering siting on of your major business applications there, it’s wise to ask a few questions of your shortlisted suppliers. After all, if you’re contemplating storing customer relationship data or employee details or your payroll off-premises, you want to know a little about the service provider and here are some key questions to ask your cloud supplier.
Are you a dedicated cloud provider or do you offer on-premises solutions too? The sheer volume of cloud storage options comes from the number of new startups that have ‘jumped on the cloud bandwagon’. On one hand, a new company is unproven and one of the larger software vendors that is expanding into cloud provision (backed by a solid reputation in more traditional options) can seem a more solid choice. However, these new providers are enthusiastic, committed to cloud in a way that others are not and are more likely to give you cutting edge features.
Where will my data be stored?
For your own peace of mind, you need to know where your data will be kept. Is the data center in the same state as you? In the same country? You need to know about uptime performance and access, both of which should be covered in the data center’s service level agreement. What about security measures (both for the data and for the physical premises)? What is the procedure in the event of data loss? What is their performance history for recovery from backup?
How accessible is my data?
Your information should be accessible from any device with an internet connection, however sign-on protocols and compatibility issues may vary when using mobile devices. You need to be sure that the service is compatible with your business’s mobile use and BYOD strategy.
What is the total cost of ownership?
Cloud options are often attractively priced compared to traditional proprietary software but you need to be clear on any hidden costs, including consultants, vendor fees, system maintenance, and paid-for extras?
How fast is the implementation time?
Cloud applications are known for virtually zero implementation times, however this relates to the functionality of the software/system itself. The return on your investment relies on your people using the system’s features efficiently and that requires understanding and training, whether the system is in the cloud or on your desktop. What support does your cloud provider offer for user training?
How configurable is the system?
Cloud systems are often touted as being extremely flexible and configurable. However, as in most markets, tailored products cost extra to provide. Be clear on your precise requirements, check that the provider can and will meet them, and then confirm the price.
How secure is your storage?
Ask about the ‘data chain’, the series of stages/providers that your information passes through between you and the data center – after all, your software provide does not necessarily own or manage the platform on which it runs, nor the infrastructure or the data center; other suppliers may lie beneath the surface. This doesn’t necessarily imply a security issue, but it is something you will want to know, if only for transparency’s sake. Much of keeping your data secure lies with your own team and how they use the data and system; ask what user awareness training the provider offers or is willing to contribute to. Finally, does the data center hold a current SSAE 16 certificate? This international standard relates to financial systems and includes any organisation hosting systems relevant to a company’s finances.