Step 1: Investigation

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If your company is very small then a move to cloud computing may be an easy choice to make, but the larger your company gets the more difficult it becomes to make quick decisions about IT strategy and where your data is stored. As a first step, small businesses may consider performing a full business review while larger businesses will be more concerned with reviewing their information governance policies and processes; but understanding your current IT capabilities and costs is an essential starting point for businesses of all sizes; and before you search for a cloud computing solution you need to find a ‘problem’ to solve.

Business review

Even if you are simply looking to cut costs for one particular business function it may be helpful to look at your business
as a whole because you may be able to do things better as well as more cheaply. Moreover, it may help you formulate a longer-term strategy for cloud computing adoption. Here are a few general tips to get you started:

  • Review the key objectives and targets for your business, choosing SMARTA objectives, that is: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely and Agreed.
  • Consider all parts of your business, including management; human resources; sales and marketing; operations; and finance.
  • Ask your employees which tasks they spend most time on and what improvements could be made to give them more time for the tasks that are most important to your business.
  • Ask your customers what you do well, where there is room for improvement, and what products you may be missing.
  • Draw diagrams of your current work processes, document your current practices, and find out where the bottlenecks are.
  • Look at your business objectives again and see if any improvements in working practices or processes could help you meet them.

If you do this well and engage your employees and customers then you may get a few more ideas for improving your business; or you may find that you have more serious problems to solve than reducing your IT costs! The engagement
part of a business review is difficult because people are often suspicious when they are asked questions and when change is being discussed, but introducing change without consultation is also difficult. Finally, if you had not identified opportunities for your business at the start of your internal review you may have some ideas now, and after reading this book your ideas may involve cloud computing.

Information governance

Engagement is important in large organizations, too, and when cloud computing is being considered it is your IT department that most needs to be engaged. It is all too easy for non-technical staff in business units to bypass internal IT and begin using external cloud computing services, but that means bypassing established information governance policies and processes, too, and exposing your business to undue risk. This may save time and money in the short term but the long-term repercussions for your business could potentially be catastrophic. It is imperative that your internal information controls are extended to encompass external systems; but if your existing controls need improving then there are software tools to help you such as the Control & Risk Calculator (CRC), a free online tool for compliance, risk, and audit management (http://www.t2pa.com/crc).

IT systems review

Following your internal review you may have concrete objectives for your business that technology may help you to meet, but you should take stock of your current IT systems first. Starting with a particular business function or taking your business as a whole, you can document the following:

  • hardware assets, with associated costs for power, rack space, maintenance contracts, and renewal;
  • software assets, with licence costs, upgrade costs and user numbers;
  • data storage, which may include offline storage on PCs;
  • internet connectivity and usage;
  • key technical people and their relevant skills;
  • technical support requirements;
  • user details, including their physical locations.

After documenting your IT setup and calculating the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) you can then look to get answers to the following probing questions:

  • Are there simple changes you can make to your current IT systems to improve failing processes and practices?
  • Do your systems have sufficient redundancy and failover mechanisms?
  • Can you work effectively from home or on the move if necessary?
  • Do you have a tried and tested disaster recovery plan?
  • Can your systems scale quickly if required?

If the answer to any of these questions is ‘no’ then cloud computing is worth considering, but IT systems depend on people, too. In order to prepare for cloud computing you may need to change the way that your employees think about IT. Encourage IT staff in particular to associate themselves with particular skills and functionality such as data processing, business intelligence or financial management, rather than particular software packages they have become
used to. Communicate the benefits of cloud computing to all your staff and involve them in the decision-making process
from the very beginning by asking them to find and test services for themselves, and rewarding them if they identify
a low-risk solution that works well and saves money.

If you would like to see a detailed TCO analysis comparing NetSuite’s CRM public cloud solution with an onpremise installation of Microsoft Dynamics CRM, I refer you to the white paper from Hurwitz Associates (Aggarwal and McCabe, 2009).

Problem selection

Once you understand your business objectives, along with the true cost and value of your IT systems to your business, then you may have a list of operations or processes that you could potentially perform (or problems to solve) using Infrastructure, Platform or Software as a Service. If we consider all these to be ‘problems’ then why not start by finding
the problem upon which you believe a cloud computing solution could potentially have the most impact with the least effort? To help you make this decision here are some impact criteria to rate problems against, which I have grouped into two lists – one positive and one negative.

Positive impact criteria to score from 1 to 5:

  • financial savings from cloud computing;
  • customer pain caused by the problem;
  • urgency of problem;
  • team interest or buy-in;
  • management interest or support.

Negative impact criteria to score from 1 to 5:

  • resources required (money and people for example);
  • effect on other systems (dependencies);
  • difficulty of solving in a public cloud;
  • time required to solve;
  • data sensitivity.

For each business ‘problem’ take the sums of each list of criteria and divide the positive impact criteria sum by the negative impact criteria sum to give a ratio, and then multiply this ratio by 5 to give an impact criteria rating from 1 to 25. The problem that has the highest estimated impact criteria rating for your business is probably the best one to choose for your first cloud computing project.