Cloud Services for Business Are Not “Self-Service”

 In advice, IT advice

Without a doubt, today’s small to midsize businesses are in a great position to reap the rewards of cloud services.  The availability of hosted computing platforms, cloud services, and mobile applications have given the SMB owner more computing flexibility and power for comparably less cost than ever before.  Take, for example, a sales-driven organization’s customer relationship management ( CRM ) solution.  A few years ago, even a company of less than 15 employees would have to purchase expensive server hardware and software and hire a qualified IT person to support their system. There simply wasn’t a choice for scalable applications.  That same 15-person company today could simply choose Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics CRM, pay a monthly per-user price, and get the same (or arguably more) CRM tools and business intelligence for its workforce.  That means less on-site hardware and software and possibly fewer support staff, not to mention greater availability from any device at virtually any location.  So, if cloud services are such a boon to small business IT, if these solutions just work “out of the box” with little or no interaction with human IT professionals, then can’t a small business owner just purchase and manage cloud services on her or his own and dispense with all IT staff, IT consultants, and managed IT service providers?  The promises within the marketing of the major players in the Software-as-a-Service ( SaaS ) sector seem to say just that.  But, how much of it is true when it comes to your business, your industry, and your needs?

The answer is, only an IT professional who is well-versed in both cloud solutions and more traditional IT infrastructure can give you an accurate assessment.  This is not to say that a business owner or manager can’t spin up a few Office 365 licenses or set up a Google for Work domain.  Today’s business owners (especially those under 40 years old) are more savvy than ever when it comes to technology.  But, getting on board easily with a couple of cloud services does not guarantee success in effectively managing those services as the company grows and needs shift over time.  In many respects, having disparate hosted applications spread out among both company-owned and employee-owned ( BYOD ) devices can be much more difficult to manage, especially with regards to security and compliance.  Relying on cloud services also requires a different set of tools when it comes to capacity planning and making sure you’re not painting yourself in a corner as future application needs emerge.

The profession of information technology is more akin to the legal or accounting fields than it is to a simple repair service that you call in to “fix a leak.”  Like law and accounting, IT is integral to plotting both the safest and most profitable course through an often times confusing and risky ocean of business concerns.  While some businesses require only minimal interaction with their accountant and attorney, others have full-time professionals on staff or a CPA or lawyer on retainer.  A business that foregoes financial or legal advice entirely is certainly more at risk than one that does not.  The same can be said for those companies who see no value in even the most basic targeted IT consultation.  It is a fact that businesses ignore at their peril: IT fundamentally shapes the way business is done.  To formulate the best overall system design and process for your entire business, IT concerns must be an integral component of business strategy, not an afterthought.

The needs for IT consultancy for businesses vary widely.  A company in the distribution or manufacturing industry may be open for business 24/7/365 and rely heavily on e-commerce. By contrast, a financial or legal office may only need standard office applications and minimal support needs, but may be bound by legal or compliance concerns that require expert advice.  To be sure, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, but it is extremely rare to find any business, small or large, that can operate without any technology services at all.  And because all businesses rely on technology, it is important for management and business leadership to regularly assess the extent to which that reliance affects their bottom line.