The advent of the cloud has radically affected the way business is now conducted. While modern breakthroughs in technology have similarly reshaped personal and working life in the 21st century (smartphones, the Internet of Things, drones), the cloud may have a claim to be among the most meaningful advancements to business. Companies of all sizes have jumped to adopt cloud strategies and solutions, enticed by the benefits of cost-savings, increased capability and newfound flexibility. It's created a sea change in the global business landscape.
Research firm Gartner predicted that by 2020 corporations are as likely to have a "no-cloud" policy as they are likely to have a "no-internet" policy today; that is, essentially unheard of. The cloud — with all its iterations, like public versus private — is on its way to becoming a fundamental piece of business infrastructure, especially when it regards software deployment, like for CRM applications.
Yet as Gartner noted, not everything will be dependent on the cloud. This is important for small and medium-sized businesses that often don't have comparable resources to enterprises that can host their own clouds, but want to benefit from the cloud trend nonetheless. There's a key distinction SMBs need to make as cloud use surges: What it means to be cloud-first, and what it means to be cloud-only. These two emerging personas of cloud adopters can help SMBs better understand what role the cloud should play in their businesses, as well as help them develop strategies for the future.
Historically (or, as historically as it gets in context of the cloud) SMBs have been largely hesitant to invest in the cloud. On-premise, legacy solutions are what SMBs know. More importantly, they know what such tools cost to maintain and run. Although the allure of the cloud is undeniable, and many SMBs take the internal stance of wanting to adopt, many practical barriers stand in the way.
A 2015 Techaisle survey of cloud vendors found the top SMB pain points included:
- Lack of in-house expertise (40 percent).
- Financial resources (31 percent).
- Lack of trust in cloud services (29 percent).
When implementing the cloud on full scale is not a realistic option for SMBs, they needn't entirely cast aside ambitions to leverage the cloud in some way. This is where taking the "cloud-first" approach is helpful. Borne of a U.S. federal government mandate to its agencies, "cloud-first" essentially means when looking to a solution, decision-makers consider the cloud as the first option. What it does not mean is that the organization is beholden to the cloud: If the first option (the cloud) doesn't fit, the business moves on to other choices. Fit could refer to any number of criteria — cost, skill needed to operate, scalability, security needs — and sometimes the cloud just doesn't line up as the best solution. Still, taking a cloud-first strategy can help SMBs find ways to get through the door when it makes sense.
If taking this tact, however, business leaders need to clarify and stress to other stakeholders that although the cloud comes first, it's never locked in. David Linthicum wrote for InfoWorld on the dangers of assuming cloud-first covertly means cloud-only.
"Fit needs to be your priority," he said. "I do a great deal of analysis to determine if my clients' workloads are a fit for the cloud. Although 65 percent of them, on average, may be a fit, the other 35 percent, on average, are not. If you take a dogmatic cloud-first approach, that means you're going to move about 35 percent of your applications to the wrong platform."
Having a cloud-first vision helps SMBs engage in the cloud only when it makes financial, personnel or strategic sense. Having enough latitude to address applications besides the cloud can help keep business on budget and still on trend with the cloud should an opportunity present itself. It's critical, however, to ensure communication between decision-makers and others, so that the strategy is not conflated with cloud-only.
While perhaps not currently as viable an option to SMBs as it is to enterprises, a cloud-only approach is increasingly seen as the future of business. Gartner predicted that by 2019, more than 30 percent of new software investments from the 100 largest vendors will have shifted to cloud-only.
Being cloud-only means working from the principle that the cloud is inevitable for every application (like storing CRM data, which many companies prefer to do on-site) and should be targeted as the primary solution for any software question or problem. This approach isn't exactly evangelism, either. Cloud-only adopters acknowledge constraints of the cloud, but lean into those limitations because getting ahead of the curve with the cloud is a strategic goal.
For SMBs, signing on to a cloud-only mindset can make sense in the right circumstances - like if a startup or boutique firm relies on DevOps to push through new products, updates and continuous delivery. Other variables include those considered in a cloud-first policy: in-house skill, finances and security demands. In any case, the culture of the business will play a big role, as many small and medium-sized businesses today were born in the internet age.
However, risks do exist for cloud-only businesses. Sacrificing on-premise solutions that would be more effective or efficient in order to gain future footing may not result in near-term benefits. Companies need to ensure they have the resources and wherewithal to make cloud-only work for them.
For any business, the cloud has some use in operations: whether simple tools like Google Suite or more advanced applications like customer data management. Interested organizations can contact ICS support today to learn more about how CRM fits with your approach to the cloud.