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Choose the right cloud service provider by asking the right questions

In the second of a two-part guest article series, OBTs Shane Muller looks at the questions people don’t think of asking cloud providers, but should.

1. “Have you withstood multiple economic downturns?”

The fall out from the dot com crash in the late ‘90s affected even the biggest IT companies, as did the global financial crisis. It’s vital to make sure that your provider has a proven track record in being able to survive a significant downturn in the economy. Understand that if you’re dealing with a large enterprise, you should seek clarity as to whether they have a long term strategy around cloud services, or whether it is the introduction of a new service because of it’s popularity in the marketplace. These are often the first to be pulled when times get tough. Knowing their internal KPI’s to ensure the longevity of the platform will be invaluable.

2. “Do you have a pioneering spirit?”

In a few years’ time, your business will have moved on. So will technology, and you’ll want the benefit of that. It pays to check that your provider adopts a progressive approach when it comes to embracing technologies. Find out what your provider’s policy is with regards to testing and piloting new technologies. The last thing you want is to be stuck with an out of date system or a provider that only has the same offering year in and year out. Has the provider pioneered new offerings/ technologies?

3. “What is your risk management policy?”

Ask your provider:

• Do you have a disaster recovery plan in place?

• Does this cover all vital areas such as operations, communications and links, equipment, and key personnel?

• What happens if your phone lines are down? How do you communicate with us and vice versa?

• Can you contact me if you don’t have access to the Cloud service?

4. “Do you have ongoing investment plans?”

Try to find out how up to date your provider’s infrastructure is. Ask what plans and policies are in place with regard to upgrading and renewing equipment? These are good indicators of your provider’s vision for the future, as well as their capacity plans and growth expectations.

5. “What level of contact can I expect?”

Look for personalised contact on a number of levels. Different people have different responsibilities in your own organisation. The same can be said for your service provider. The more levels you can engage at, the more you minimise your risk.

Examples of this would be mutual relationships at a senior management, operations, administration and technical level. Although only one contact is nice, it does have a high level of risk associated with it.

6. “Do your values align with our own?”

Finding a provider that is the right match with your own organisation goes a long way towards ensuring longevity of the relationship. The better a provider understands your business, the better they can adapt to your changing needs. If you are a fast-growing professional services provider, for example, you don’t want a provider who only offers fixed solutions. Is it acceptable to you to call and receive an automated message, or be directed to an off-shore call centre?

7. “Do you work with specialist software?”

A provider that excels in working with software that has been adapted and tested to run in an online environment is a huge advantage for any company. It indicates an ability to work outside the box and a willingness to tackle complex situations head on. On a practical level it removes many of the technical issues associated with the installation and running of software on your own system.

8. “What responsibility do you take for communication links?”

A good cloud solution is only as good as the communication links put in place to make it work. Your provider should have a team of telecommunication specialists on hand who know how to implement the right communications links, at the right price, supported and backed-up appropriately to minimise risk of disruption. Also, ensure the service provider offers multiple-vendor communications options as some times, a backup from the same vendor could be futile.

9. “What kind of training do you offer?”

Most businesses know the positive impact the right training can have on staff, especially when it comes to the introduction of new hardware and software. That’s why it’s important that your solution provider can provide the right level of training – to ensure you and your staff get the most out of your cloud services.

10. “Can you supply references?”

New technology often sounds good in theory, but as a prospective client, you need to know that what’s being offered works in practice. A reputable cloud provider will be more than happy for you to speak to existing clients about their own experiences. For larger companies, an on-site visit is highly recommended, so that you can get a hands-on feel for the service in question.

The questions above are all designed to help you evaluate the physical, financial and technical capacity of your potential cloud provider. But there are two final questions worth asking yourself before embarking on the cloud route.

1. “Will moving to the provider benefit my bottom line?”

If you can, evaluate cloud solutions on a total cost of ownership basis. It can help to look at the savings you make in terms of employee time, licensing schemes and risk mitigation – it is far more than just comparing the cost of hardware.

2. “Is my provider easy to do business with?”

As it’s likely you’ll be working with the technical and administrative staff of a solution provider on an ongoing basis, it makes sense to gain some kind of insight into what dealing with them is like day to day. Often you only deal with the business development or sales team – however meet and get to know the support and administrative team as they are the people who will carry out what needs to happen for you. Testimonials and references from current (and previous) clients are an invaluable way of doing this.

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