Should we be in the cloud? Are we already? Many small businesses are wrestling with these questions, often without a clear understanding of the opportunities – and risks – that come with accessing software applications through the cloud. With the right strategy, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) can transform a small business and increase the potential for greater productivity and innovation.
This week’s top ten focuses on how businesses can take advantage of one of the fastest-growing opportunities in cloud computing:
1. SaaS is exploding in the workplace. Anyone with an internet connection and a credit card can access thousands of applications delivered seamlessly over the web. With no infrastructure required, it’s a huge opportunity. The challenge is how to get ahead of the curve. For business owners and IT the key is striking the right balance between enabling the necessary security and governance without squelching the innovation and productivity gains SaaS can deliver.
2. The first step. While SaaS is exploding, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. Organizations need to consider which applications make sense to replace with SaaS and which ones are best suited to be managed internally. Two apps that would fit well in SMB environments, for example, are Box and Yammer.
3. Control is an illusion. It’s tempting, but in the era of SaaS, trying to control end users is an increasingly difficult proposition. Instead, businesses needs to engage more actively with departments and employees to understand the apps they’re already using and ensure there are good processes in place to manage them securely.
4. What SaaS apps are best for my business? Understanding what employees are trying to achieve and how they will be using applications is critical to making smart decisions. IT can play a valuable role by providing options and helping the business standardize on certain applications. This increases visibility around what’s in use while driving economies of scale wherever possible.
5. Take your software to go. Working anywhere any time and on any device is becoming a reality for most workers. Make sure the cloud applications you choose fit your mobile device strategy and will scale as your workforce does.
6. Adoption. It is the actual adoption of technology, not the implementation, that helps business recognize the value of an IT investment. As a business owner, think about how you plan to roll out new applications and how are you are going to train employees. Usage-metering technology can also give you a good handle on whether applications are being used, giving you the option to scale back or ramp up deployments depending on need.
7. Security in the cloud. Security is a big concern when looking to replace existing applications with those accessed through the cloud. Be sure to engage with providers who adhere to industry standards like Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML). This will ensure the highest levels of security when accessing SaaS apps.
8. ‘Password1’ isn’t going to cut it. Your employees are using apps to share corporate information, whether you know it or not. On average, Internet users have 25 password-protected applications they manage, but only six unique passwords. Using a cloud management platform that provides employees with one password to access all their applications (called ‘single sign on’) will make for a better user experience while keeping your corporate information safe and secure.
9. Who you gonna call? When things break down (and they will) no one wants to be one of millions of Google users trying to get through to customer service. One of the drawbacks of managing SaaS apps on your own is the time and frustration that can come with dealing with multiple customer service departments. Like any other line of business, it’s all about rationalizing the process. Consider a third-party cloud provider to help find efficiencies and manage all your apps in one place, including escalations when issues arise.
10. Measuring value. Moving away from the traditional capital intensive approach to IT to a pay-as-you-go model has its share of benefits. But perhaps the most important consideration is the opportunity to your business. While SaaS might increase your monthly operating expenses, it can also give you more flexibility in responding to new opportunities. While harder to quantify, in the rapidly changing business world, being nimble can often mean the difference between success or failure.
Kevin Wright is the chief information office at Softchoice , a leading North American provider of IT solutions and services.