Whether its public, private or hybrid, cloud is redefining how SMEs use IT. Businesses of any size can now acquire high-quality, IT software and technologies when they need it.
According to the latest research, total cloud adoption in the UK now stands at 88 percent and no longer are SMEs trailing behind larger corporates, with adoption rates reaching 82 percent in 2017.
This is certainly great news, but high adoption rates do not mean cloud is being used effectively. There is a tendency for businesses to jump straight in without thinking about the long-term impact, wasting money and resources in the process.
So, if you’ve decided cloud is for you, how do you pick the right cloud strategy and leverage it to achieve your long-term business goals?
Fail to plan, plan to fail
Implementing a successful cloud strategy doesn’t happen overnight. It may sound pretty obvious but like with any major business decisions, you should take a step back and think about what it is your business really needs, not just now but in 1, 5 or even 10 years’ time. That’s the beauty of cloud, it can contract or expand in line with your business.
Public cloud is the most common, delivered over the internet by a third-party service provider with flexible cost options like pay as you go and reserved instance types over a longer period. It’s also reliable, using a vast network of infrastructure to ensure against failure, offers near-unlimited scalability and provides instant global reach.
On the other hand, as the name suggests, private cloud is a platform dedicated solely to your organisation. This way, it’s easier to customise resources to your specific IT requirements and gives greater security as it’s not shared with other users.
If you want the best of both worlds, hybrid cloud bridges both private and public cloud services, giving you the opportunity to build a new digital environment and migrate gradually with more flexible cost and operational models.
A short and sweet “lift-and-shift” approach can seem tempting once you’ve got access to cloud but this limits the ability to find the true value and elasticity of using cloud services, which could invariably cost you in the long run. The more you move infrastructure and refactor applications into code, the better it will run on the cloud.
Make no mistake, migrating to cloud is a serious investment. However, it’s essential to view it as a revenue generator and enabler of innovation, rather than a business cost.
As a driver of efficiency, cloud can streamline the way your business operates. For starters, cloud can underpin a successful remote working strategy by connecting teams and giving easy access to business programmes and data on the move.
Perhaps most importantly though, cloud technology can increase an SME’s competitive edge. Being able to respond to your customer’s demands quicker than anyone else, test new solutions in a closed environment and gain intelligent data insights to inform your decisions can set your business above the rest.
To fully leverage the benefits of cloud, you need to have employee buy-in. A global PwC report on ‘digital IQ’ says the single most important ingredient to master digital transformation is renewing focus on the human, employee experience.
When moving to cloud you can’t just buy cloud and hope everyone catches on to the concept overnight; becoming cloud in a gradual process of change.
Help your staff by providing as much clarity as you can; translate top-line goals and priorities into specific metrics and KPIs for employees at all levels. Allow them time and space to experiment with new technology and let them know it’s OK to get things wrong.
Keep your cloud secure
According to the latest Zurich SME Risk Index, almost one in six UK SMEs have fallen victim to cyber-attacks in the past year, costing a fifth of victims over £10,000.
Whether data is stored on-premise or in a public cloud, it must be kept secure. Often, cloud is not the problem, it’s the way cloud is architected and used which causes security incidents.
To protect workloads in the cloud, practice “data minimalisation”, storing only data you need to. By adopting the principle of least privilege, you’ll also be able to prevent employees accessing data they don’t need to. At the same time, when access to sensitive data is no longer needed, all corresponding privileges should be revoked.
Another line of defence is encryption where only authorised parties can decode and read data. Most enterprise-quality cloud services provide some degree of encryption.
You should also make use of backup services offered by your cloud provider to protect your business against data loss. Schedule backups to run monthly, weekly or even daily depending on the needs of your business.
It may sound obvious, but passwords are crucial in keeping data safe. Given the variety of attacks on weak passwords and the difficulty in constructing (and remembering) unique ones, its recommended small businesses use technologies such as Single Sign On, Password Managers and two factor authentication to ensure systems are hard to breach, without relying entirely on employees following best practice.
New techniques, such as social engineering, are increasingly being used by hackers to exploit people’s trusting nature by encouraging them to give up confidential information.
Test how well your employees can spot these and improve user knowledge based on the subsequent results. For example, you could send fake spear phishing emails to the internal network to see who clicks on the links or attachments and who flags it.
The final, and perhaps the most important point, is to keep your IT systems up to date. Naturally, the longer any product has been available for, the more attacks and malware are generated to exploit these.
A good patching policy is essential not only to ensure the best functionality but also to guard against these threats as much as possible.
However, with public cloud Software and Platform as a Service offerings becoming readily available and more accessible. Security vulnerabilities, patching and upgrades are very much integrated as part of the service offerings, so certain types of risk can be effectively outsourced.
Preparing for cloud’s next phase
Cloud computing is now a mature technology, but one that’s constantly evolving as new trends emerge and usage patterns change.
So much so, in the next 10 years cloud will become so ubiquitous that it’ll simply be known as “computing”. The good news for small businesses is, as cloud-based storage increases, it’ll also become cheaper.
The future of cloud is undeniably hybrid, with businesses leveraging a host of cloud platforms (public and private). This will help overcome the common problem today of unintended vendor lock-in where organisations face huge obstacles if they want to migrate to another cloud provider or move between them.
Cloud will also become more intelligent, enabled by artificial intelligence (AI) technology. At home, we’re already used to using AI-based systems like Siri, Cortana and Alexa.
Businesses that can harness “intelligent cloud” will put themselves head and shoulders above the competition. Vital business functions like turning data into useful intel and predicting future customer behaviour will become considerably faster.
While this may seem out of reach for most SMEs, AI-as-a-service is increasingly being offered to help smaller businesses come up with innovative solutions to help overcome those tough-to-crack problems.
About the author
This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Dean Gardner, Chief Technologist for Cloud at Softcat, one of the UK’s leading providers of technology solutions and services to businesses large and small.
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