Professional Insight: Defining Best Practices in SMB Cloud

New report examines best practices in SMB cloud planning and strategy

The Toronto Cloud Business Coalition – a group of more than 80 Canadian experts drawn from the IT management, cloud services provider, channel, academic, VC/corporate finance and consulting communities – has published a new document designed to help Canada’s SMBs to define paths to use of cloud within their operations.

Planning for the Cloud/Cloud Strategy – SMB: A TCBC Best Practices Document was co-created by a working group representing many different perspectives: IT firms with expertise in delivering cloud solutions to SMBs (GoDaddy, Cloud A, Symantec), specialists in deploying cloud within SMBs (NewPath Consulting), consultants working with mid-sized enterprises on cloud strategy (PwC), and IT managers from SMB firms in the education and manufacturing sectors. This breadth of perspective helped the group to approach cloud from multiple directions, identifying the opportunities and constraints that SMBs need to consider as they evaluate how and where to deploy cloud.

SMB team
The Planning for the Cloud/Cloud Strategy – SMB working group. Tiop row: Alex Sirota, NewPath Consulting; Brandon Kolybaba, Cloud A); Jeff Lamboy, GoDaddy. Bottom row: Mathew Gancarz, de Souza Institute; Dave Collings, Do IT Lean; Matt Ambrose, PwC; Sangam Manikkayamiyer, Symantec.

 

As with other TCBC best practices documents, the group worked through a framework addressing four key areas:

  • Definition: what are the key issues in SMB cloud planning and strategy?
  • Business objectives: what do SMBs stand to gain, in terms of both technology and business capabilities, from use of cloud?
  • Best practices: what should SMBs focus on as they build their cloud approaches?
  • Metrics and milestones: what time frames and outcomes should SMBs look to as they calibrate their cloud strategy development?

The first step in the process was to develop a definition of SMB cloud planning considerations. This spanned four areas: decision makers (non-technical buyers and technology leads, in companies of 1-19, 20-99 and 100-499 employees), offerings (traditional infrastructure, hosted solutions, cloud infrastructure), key considerations (what are the most important planning criteria?), and buyer issues (e.g., cost, available resources, requirements, etc.). The group then explored the key inputs to SMB cloud strategy, refining the ways that cost, resources, requirements and issues like consistency across systems and manageability affect SMB cloud strategy options.

Best practices

The largest part of the document focuses on the best approaches to building a relevant cloud plan within an SMB. The working group identified 10 issues that apply across SMBs, plus specific considerations for developers and business buyers. Key points raised by the working group included:

  • Take the time to understand the data that will be used and produced by cloud systems – its dependencies and implications. Cloud offers neat point solutions to individual business problems, but these issues and solutions often affect other processes within the business. SMBs (or departments within larger enterprises engaging in shadow IT) need to understand dependencies so that they don’t create process bottlenecks, regulatory or audit problems, or other types of business exposure.
  • Build a thorough understanding of costs and payback sources before committing to a specific strategy. This is particularly important where cloud reduces requirements for internal resources: will these people be moved to other tasks, reassigned to other departments, and/or let go from the organization? And how will budgets reflect these changes?
  • Understand that an investment in a cloud strategy entails a partnership with cloud suppliers. The report notes that “In traditional infrastructure, IT services are delivered and/or managed by corporate employees, and there is an innate shared commitment that links IT delivery and IT service consumption. With cloud, this dynamic changes. Services that are used by your business on a daily basis are managed and delivered by third parties – often, by people you’ve never met, at locations that you’ll never see. There are advantages to this: cloud suppliers can access skilled resources that your SMB would have trouble hiring and retaining, they are able to develop deep domain expertise, they benefit from scale beyond what an SMB can develop on its own. However, the interdependency is a factor in business performance, and as a result, should be a factor in business planning as well.”
  • Predicate your final decisions on business rather than technology This is a common approach to many issues in SMBs – but one that is deservedly part of the formal framework for cloud planning.

The report includes this Figure, covering all of the Best Practices topics covered in the report.

SMB planning list

Metrics and milestones

In the final section of the report, the working group provided a general framework for SMB planning initiatives. It is comprised of four steps – “find a fit,” “build a plan,” “set up and orchestrate” and “review and refine” – which form a continuous improvement cycle supporting the evolutionary path to cloud adoption and use that leads on one hand to a hybrid IT infrastructure, and on the other to improved business agility.

About the report

The Planning for the Cloud/Cloud Strategy – SMB report is available immediately to TCBC members through the site’s library. Non-members can purchase individual copies for $995, or can instead consider joining the coalition as individuals or as corporate members.

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