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Startups head to the cloud

The excitement evoked by the word ‘entrepreneurship’ too often drains away when the business leaders of tomorrow start trying to turn their ‘big idea’ into reality. Along with challenges around securing funding, building a client base and finding skilled staff, the challenges around setting up the essential IT organs required for running a healthy and secure small business is possibly one of most daunting prospects.

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Beyond a great idea, two things drive successful startups: speed to market and keeping the burn rate to a minimum. The cloud can help startups do both and is quickly proving a competitive advantage. By freeing up valuable time and capital, the cloud can help fast-track a great idea into a successful business. Entrepreneurs need to spend as much time and focus as possible providing early life-support for the business, not becoming technology support agents. IT solutions should be fast, easy and agile thereby lending that extra level of professionalism at inception.

Cloud computing holds a great deal of promise for small businesses – simplicity, affordability and efficiency. In an emerging market country like South Africa, small businesses are faced with mixed views about the cloud. The majority of SMBs in SA have seen that cloud can positively impact their business; 27% said that mobility was a key factor, 13% chose business flexibility and a further 12% opted for cost saving. These statistics are based on the responses of more than 5,000 SMB owners and senior managers as part of the National Small Business Chambers’ (NSBC) 2011 Small Business Survey.

However, an alarming 44% of SMB owners or senior managers in South Africa said they were unsure about how cloud could impact their business and when asked what was preventing them from adopting a cloud service, 44% said they did not understand the value, 33% identified cost and 27% highlighted the perception around security.

Concerns like this shouldn’t completely derail small businesses from considering the cloud, but should get them thinking about what they can do to protect their information in the cloud. So how do you know if cloud is right for you? The following tips will help small businesses ask the right questions before they lift off into the cloud:

Bigger isn’t always better: Research cloud service providers and you’ll find many large companies staking their claim on an increasingly crowded cloud market. The service provider’s reputation and how long they’ve been offering cloud services, should trump size. Look for a cloud specialist with reputable technology that knows the industry inside out.

Understand your security needs: There has been much hype surrounding the security of the cloud, but there is very little difference between the trust you place in your ISP and your other technology providers. With that in mind, every organisation’s security needs and expectations are different so it’s important to understand how the vendor can meet those needs. Check the vendor’s references and investigate case studies with organisations similar to your own.

Know the basics of data back-up: Know how the cloud provider backs up data and in the worst-case scenario, what would happen if they went out of business or if you wanted to move data to another provider. Get a feel for the provider’s storage reputation, the number and location of their data centres and redundancy of their infrastructure.

Secure good SLAs: Industry certifications capture a moment in time and don’t necessarily indicate good performance. The best way to ensure good service is with solid Service Level Agreements (SLAs) with clear contractual language. Look for vendors who publish their performance and have clear financial penalties for underperformance.

Evaluate customer service standards: The best customer service departments for cloud services are staffed with cloud specialists who are available 24×7. Ensure that your chosen vendor’s customer service specialists can meet your organisation’s needs.

Test the service: A key advantage of SaaS is that it makes it easy to deploy a free trial and most vendors offer this to those considering their services. Start small with the trial and once satisfied, you can expand the service to include confidential data and other mission-critical systems.

Cloud has levelled the playing field for passionate entrepreneurs with ambition and a big idea by empowering them to focus on innovation and revenue generation by taking essential IT services like email security, archiving, information protection and data management off premise and removing the drain on their cash flow.

Ultimately, the cloud makes startups more nimble and gives them a competitive advantage over larger companies that will not be able to deliver at the same speed.

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