Cloud technologies now offer the best ways for firms to leverage technology for competitive advantage and containing costs – and they’re available for SMBs and even small start-ups.
Companies have learned that harnessing information technology can be a competitive advantage, but are frequently challenged by how to best leverage technology without spending cost-prohibitive sums on building and maintaining server rooms, data centers, servers, and applications.
Now the game has truly changed: Between the growth of open source software, telecom investments, new virtualization technologies, and an evolution in application services that were once called ASP (Application Service Provider) or SaaS (Software-as-a-Service), a rich suite of cost-effective technology services are now available to all.
For firms to leverage these cloud technologies, a cultural shift in IT-think is usually needed: The IT leadership must communicate the need for an intense focus on the core business and instill an IT culture of driving the firm’s competitive advantage and building value while containing – or lowering – costs.
In most cases, IT organizations have spent a large percentage of their time building and maintaining infrastructure, such as data centers, servers, etc. For most firms there’s no immediate value in these activities for the business stakeholder in terms of revenue, customer engagement, etc. – yet, until recently, there were few reasonable alternatives. To move many IT operational activities to the cloud – and outsourcing them – requires that IT moves closer to the business.
Technologists can partner with the business to not only solve problems – at which many of them excel – but also find new ways to meet today’s business challenges. Working closely with the business by the IT organization being properly aligned and organized to business functional areas will also foster greater synergies and support value creation.
The consumerization of technology is driving dramatic changes in technology-related services – that were previously cost-prohibitive for SMBs.
- Server and network hardware. Now you can buy a little (a “slice”) of a server or even buy a dedicated server(s) on a monthly, as-needed basis. Servers are now a real commodity and an especially cheap and viable option for small firms. You can outsource the IT operations managing the server, also – a significant cost savings. If all you need is a website and email, you don’t even need concern yourself with the server-specifics.
- Building and maintaining data centers / server rooms. Unless this is your core business – or you’re a huge firm – there’s no longer any reason to engage in data center management. Data center hosting services are offered everywhere, but all levels of vendors. Professionally managed and architected, secure and redundant, data centers are available around the globe. There’s no way most firms can provide the same level of services, bandwidth, geographic and load-balancing redundancies that most of these data center providers offer as routine — and at a fraction of the cost of doing-it-yourself. Besides the big guys (IBM, Verizon, AT&T, HP, Amazon), there are smaller providers including Rackspace and NeoSpire who offer services in this area.
- Legacy telephone PBXs, IVRs/VRUs, and handsets. Not only are hosted PBXs available now, but the world moved (quite some time ago) to VoIP – think of Skype, Vonage, Google Voice. There are many PBX hosting vendors, all offering services via the cloud.
- Desktop and PC/laptop provisioning and support. This area has been a significant challenge for years for IT, requiring hands-on provisioning and creating endless security and audit issues. There are desktop management solutions out there now that are almost mind-boggling, brought about by tremendous strides made in data storage capacities, telecom bandwidth, and major players’ new offerings (Citrix, Cisco, etc.).
- Business continuity via offsite data backups and SANs. Outsourcing data center services – and the corresponding IT operations – can also include outsourcing the database backups. Alternately, one can utilize a cloud offering for a second-site storage-attached network (SAN). You can purchase disk-on-demand, providing you with safe, off-site storage of your critical data.
The cloud has changed the game, particularly for small-to-midsized businesses.
If your business is still fully-engaged with infrastructure-related activities, it’s time to evaluate other offerings that may save you 25% or more in annual spend. From virtual data centers, virtual servers, to virtual desktops, there are growing offerings related to outsourcing and cloud services that can alleviate some of the IT operations burden on businesses – particularly small to midsized enterprises.
So, while leveraging the cloud can change how your IT group spends some of its time, it’s more about their focus – as in, focusing on value and managing the outsourced services.
So what’s holding you back?
Be sure it’s not your IT staff. If they are objecting too strongly to the concept of outsourcing some of these basic infrastructure and IT operational responsibilities, they may need some coaching.
Remind your IT leaders about how IT needs to help drive the top line.
Show them this blog post to get them started on being smart about IT by leveraging technology – and leveraging cloud services to contain or lower costs, while freeing up some time for IT to focus on helping drive the top line – increase revenues and profitability.