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Switch to the cloud in 4 steps

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Most of us have come to terms with what the ‘cloud’ is. But moving to it? That’s another kettle of fish, and it can be daunting.

Cloud computing is the delivery of computing and information technology services over the Internet (the cloud), instead of through a direct connection to a server. It supports faster innovation, flexible resources, and economies of scale. You typically only pay for cloud services you use, helping lower your operating costs, run your infrastructure more efficiently, and scale as your business needs change.

The benefits of operating in the cloud are too significant to ignore, especially in the context of running a small business in South Africa.

They include, among others:

  • Getting paid faster by embedding secure payment options into your invoices,
  • Easy and compliant VAT submissions, with direct integration into SARS,
  • Real-time cash flow dashboards, reports, and forecasts,
  • Secure payroll integration, and
  • Direct bank feeds for fast account reconciliation.

The best way to get the ball rolling is to stop thinking about the move to cloud as a giant, complex leap. Instead, break it down into its parts, then take it one step at a time. In other words, you need a cloud adoption plan.

1. Understand why you’re switching

First, you’ll need to document what you’re trying to achieve by moving to the cloud. The motivation for doing so will determine the structure and content of your strategy.

To get you thinking about what your business might need, here are common goals when moving to the cloud:

  • A reduction in IT-related costs (no on-premises servers/data centres, and no ‘IT guy/girl’)
  • Better cash flow certainty as IT costs shift from CAPEX to OPEX
  • Faster, anywhere access to company data
  • Scalability of cloud services (which can reduce overheads in lean times)
  • Improved internal communication and collaboration
  • Enhanced customer service
  • More robust data security (automatic software updates, encryption)

While you might like the sound of all the above, some outcomes will be more important than others. For example, if your customer service is below par, using the cloud to give your client-facing employees real-time access to the right data would have a much bigger impact on your business than a focus on shaving a few thousand rands off your IT costs.

It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t explore the full suite of benefits the cloud has to offer. But starting with the initiatives that’ll make the most significant difference to your business in the shortest time will give you ‘cloud adoption momentum’. Once you know your goals, make a list of the data and applications you’ll need to move to the cloud to achieve those outcomes.

2. Choose the type of cloud

There are four different cloud options: public, private, hybrid (of the previous two), and community. Depending on your needs, one will suit your business more than the others.

  1. Public: All hardware, software, and cloud infrastructure are owned and operated by a third party. You are one of many businesses that ‘rent’ cloud services via the web. Google Drive is an example of a public cloud, with benefits including low cost, no maintenance, and reliability.
  2. Private: Instead of sharing the services with other users, the cloud resources are dedicated to your business. The hardware can be located onsite or hosted by a third party offsite. Benefits include flexibility and control.
  3. Hybrid: Combination of the above two options.
  4. Community: Infrastructure shared between entities with common interests or goals, like government bodies or those collaborating on research efforts.

As a small business owner, the public cloud is by far the most popular and pragmatic option, but it pays to have the whole picture as you might not stay small forever. Be sure to do your research around potential cloud service providers. Compare their costs, level of technical support, and infrastructure capacity. Also, ask other small business owners which service provider they use.

3. Move your apps and data

Before you start moving anything into the cloud, ensure that everyone in your business has access to a fast, stable internet connection. Given how South Africa tends to relapse into load shedding, it’s essential that you have access to a generator. Alternatively, you can invest in an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) to keep your connection up when the power goes down. For reliable access to your data and functionality of your cloud-based apps, you cannot skimp on this infrastructure.

The next step is to make sure you have the right cybersecurity measures in place. Cloud computing systems are generally very secure, deploying the likes of firewalls, penetration testing, virtual private networks (VPN), and artificial intelligence to keep your data and apps out of the wrong hands. But these can be undone by human errors that take the form of weak passwords, out-of-date virus software on devices, and a lack of awareness around common hacking techniques like email phishing and social engineering.

Once you have the above in place, return to the list of data and apps you put together in point 1. Moving your data into the cloud should be a relatively simple copy-and-paste exercise; moving apps can be more complicated.

To start, choose the applications that require the least bandwidth to run to get a feel for the capacity of your cloud service. Once migrated, get all those who would likely use the app to stress-test its functionality. If it operates like you expect it to, move on to the next app from a bandwidth demand perspective.

4. Monitor and measure

While the benefits of cloud-based software relating to functions like accounting and HR are largely beyond reproach, it’s important to acknowledge that not all apps are better off in the cloud. For one thing, static apps (where bandwidth consumption doesn’t change) cannot use the scalability that makes the cloud so attractive. For another, apps that require huge bandwidth may result in unaffordable cloud costs for your small business. To find the right balance, it’s essential to monitor and measure the success of any data or app that has been migrated to the cloud.

Following these four steps will help your small business make a successful migration to the cloud.

In your cloud migration plan, document:

  • Why you are moving to the cloud,
  • Which data and applications you’ll need to migrate to achieve those outcomes, and
  • Which type of cloud you will use and why.

Make sure connectivity and security are sufficient, and then monitor and measure the success of your transition.

Remember that the purpose of your plan is to break your cloud adoption exercise into digestible chunks. That way, you’ll go from just knowing what the cloud is, to being in the cloud.

Ready to make the switch? Start here.

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