Cloud Migration for Small Business: What, Why and How

For the majority of small businesses, cloud-based solutions will be a preferred option, because they offer far more upsides than possible downsides. However, no solution is right for every customer in every scenario in every geography. No system ever has been— or we would all drive the same cars, use the same smartphones and have the same applications.

We came from a recent technology world where we mixed mainframe,minicomputers, local area networks, PCs, UNIX and other systems—each type supporting a specific business need and application. In the cloud world, we are seeing a mixed approach of different technologies: it’s a hybrid world that combines cloud, on-network, laptops, tablets, smartphones, office users and home workers.

I recommend that you look at whether the cloud model is right for your business’ use case and application needs on a case-by-case basis. An exception to this, however, is the fundamental issue of connectivity. If you cannot get an adequate internet feed to your business and users, then a cloud application is not an option. 

How Migrating to the Cloud Alleviates Communications Barriers

Having systems in the cloud which are easily accessible by employees allows workers to simply collaborate better.  They can easily engage from the device they choose at the time convenient to them. Reply to a Slack message while waiting for the kids at the school gate. Approve an e-sign document while receiving a front door delivery. Answer a customer call while waiting for the Uber to arrive at the train station.

Users with a breadth of cloud systems can easily switch tasks, unhindered, on their process journey. For example, a worker can respond to an email from a colleague with a customer complaint about a missed completion date by checking the shared documents folder of signed plans, then lookup the client’s communications and phone number in CRM, and call the client from their work number using the VOIP app. All of this can be accomplished just as if the worker was sitting at their office desk.The employee can then log that customer update back into the system after the call, and Slack a colleague with next steps. There’s no barrier or hindrance to the staff member on internal or external communications.

An employee can receive real-time updates through the cloud as well,reviewing the status  of a shared document a team is collaborating on, or requesting a live video call.

And consider the benefits to team members working in different time zones or in travel mode.  the value of flexibility that cloud communications brings is obvious. Gone are the dead spaces of time in which a customer waits for two workers to connect in real time, only to have them miss each other’s calls and voicemails or have multiple conflicting documents exchanged on email. We now have cloud systems to remove the 1st world barriers we’ve all complained about, empowering our most important and costly assets, our employees., with greater efficiency, the ability to converse and communicate better than ever, and  get things done and decisions made.

The ability to access systems, files, and people from anywhere, anytime and on any device improves agility, reduces business downtime, and has a positive effect across the organisation. Utilising cloud communications also supports an ever-increasing BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) community, allowing an employee to utilise their own phone and equipment to easily use work applications through the web and phone apps. This improves employee satisfaction and reduces the burden of cost and complexity on the business.

Such cloud phone systems allow employees to take calls anywhere and to increase productivity by up to 20% (Source: Harbor Networks). It is no surprise then that the cloud-based telephone market is estimated to grow at 12% per annum from 2020 through 2025, taking it from the 2018 $20 billion market to a projected $55bn (Source: Global Market Insights)

What Should I Consider When Planning My Cloud Migration Journey?

First, identify what type of cloud is the best fit for your business goal. If you have a legacy application that is custom-focused on a specific business process, evaluate whether it can be replaced by a more generic offering that can be configured to your processes.

If the legacy system is irreplaceable, consider moving it to a hosted model in a private or public cloud via PaaS or IaaS. This can make the application more resilient and reduce the amount of IT overhead it takes to maintain it.

SaaS (Software as a Service) is the most digestible format of cloud computing for the most common applications. The majority of businesses are using SaaS of one sort or another. Common applications for this include more generic business services such as email, office applications, CRM, file storage, messenger, video chat and, of course, telephony.

Many organisations have been ‘born in the cloud’, meaning they started their business in the midst of the cloud computing era and thus, have had the opportunity to adopt cloud systems from their beginning and did not need to migrate legacy pre-cloud applications. Imagine if your business was cloud native: what applications would you most wish to cloudify and do differently? Which would bring the most value to your customer and employees?

Consider which of your current applications are the most painful to use in the business, are the most unreliable, and where issues negatively impact the internal and external customer. Which hinder you the most? Which require tedious workarounds, or are an ongoing source of frustration? hese applications should be the prime candidates for cloud migration.

How Do I Create a Cloud Strategy for My Business?

I always advise that the 1st step should be identifying the ideal end state for your business. A good way to map this is to run a white-boarding session for stakeholders. Set the imaginary scene; you are all leaving the business next week to start a competitor. You have investment backing and your task is to build a new company that will take your customers by storm. You have no legacy systems to worry about and the phrase ‘we can’t because’ is banned from the discussion. The 1st phase is to paint the dream: with all the technology options available today and the knowledge in the room, how would you build a firm to do what you do, if you were starting it today.

Map out the way you would serve customers better, how you would make the business efficient, what systems you would use, and how you would structure the business and staff.  Dos and Don'ts: Migrating from On-Premises to the Cloud

Once you have this as the high level dream view, step back and approach it from the starting point you do have today in reality; you have legacy systems, a business that is running and cannot stop, not to mention people who will need to accept change and budget constraints.

Now, get red, orange and green pens and rank your “dream” changes on two axes: how easy or hard a change it would be, and how high the beneficial impact would be. For each idea, underline it on the basis of whether this is a hard change (red), an easy change (green), or midway (orange). Next to each, mark a colour-coded + to indicate the impact of the change. So an item that is massively beneficial to change might have 3 green +++ next to it, but if it has an enormous cost to the business, it would be underlined in red.

At the end of this process, you’ll have a map of all the available options, how beneficial they would be and how difficult/costly. This alone often brings interesting debate and learnings across the management team and identifies any easy wins. For example, if one has two green ++ and is underlined green it poses a real win that is easy to gain. The challenging and debatable items are those with a positive benefit but hard to change. Do not ignore these, but put them in the mix for further discussion. Often enduring some pain can bring great value when you do get to the other side.

One you have identified this list of key value wins vs. effort and difficulty, you can look at these areas in more depth, considering which cloud form factor is appropriate to achieve the value for the business. Often, these will naturally fall into the SaaS (Software as a Service), or lift and shift a current application to hosted as the easier ones. In this phase, consider all the options from rehosting the application, refactoring (rearchitecting the actual original application code to better support a cloud platform), re-platforming (a mix of lift and shift and refactoring with less code changes), rebuilding (re-write the application from scratch) or replacing (SaaS).  As you can see, lift/shift and replacing are the two most digestible and least risky for most firms.

In the cloud telephony arena, for example, a business starting in this form factor choice can trim its start-up costs in this area by up to 90% (Source: Tech.co)

In your migration strategy, also consider the resources you can apply and the timing. You may wish to take application moves piecemeal, moving one at a time as a discrete project, in order to avoid interrupting the flow of business.

Pitfalls to Avoid when Migrating Business Communications to the Cloud

The biggest error businesses  when migrating to cloud communications platforms is to assume functionality, quality and resilience are the same for every vendor. Not all clouds are created equal. The good and bad of cloud is that it promotes and enables innovation. For this reason, in any area of cloud application you will find a plethora of vendor offerings both from known brands and newer, unfamiliar names to you.

The easiest mistake to make is to assume a system has the functions you take for granted, perhaps led by your experience of your current phone system. Start by making a list of the common use cases you have today, the things you do with your existing system that are key for the new solution.

Focus on the function itself, not the process: For example, transferring a call is essential, what button you press or if it is one key or two is not. Once you have listed these as the fundamentals, define any issues with the current system that frustrate your users, or use cases you wished you could do and have these as the 2nd list to compare by.

Finally, think more generically and list what is valuable to you. For example, perhaps you want monthly billing, or you have users in the UK and USA and want to understand how the provider’s system will provide for the quality of calls in both regions.

Consider your current provider’s cloud offerings, but do not be limited to these only. Some have innovated and invested more in cloud than others. Some legacy communication brand names are stronger than others in their commitment to the cloud and how they migrate their customers across to the new model.

Check if their cloud communications offering is aligned to your size of business or is it an enterprise system that is simply sold in a smaller package? Look for understanding of your size of business in ease of use and function and the support wrapped around it. Are they committed to getting their customers into the cloud or have they put it in place purely as a stop gap option against customer churn?

Overcoming potential pitfalls it is easier to recognise the benefits such as ease of setup, no longer requiring cabling to the desktops or phone jacks, cloud based voicemail, calls finding the user anywhere for remote and office workers, better sound quality, cloud based call analytics and integration with other systems such as CRM’s being far easier.

Now Is the Time to Plan Your Migration

The cloud cannot deliver the same, exact outcomes and benefits for every company and need.  Each cloud provider and service function has different benefits, functions and costs. What it does bring is scale and affordability that enable the average smaller business to no longer be priced out of using the best technology. The Thumbs Up Sign: New Symbol of White Supremacy | by Think | Medium

Businesses are gaining competitive advantage by moving to cloud-based systems that empower them to deliver improved or new services to customers and allow their staff to work more productively and flexibly—which, in itself, helps staff retention and engagement.

Cloud has become a vital utility service for businesses and adoption continues to accelerate all over the world. With 74% of employees now preferring to work remote or partly remote (Source: Robert Half), we have to look at new ways to support this hybrid model and to do it now. If you have any doubts that this is already happening, 46% of data in Europe was held in cloud storage in 2020 (Source: Business Wire). Small businesses are reporting that it is 40% more cost effective to use cloud systems versus running IT in house (Source: Multisoft).

Now is not the time to rush to buy cloud for cloud’s sake, but certainly a time to re-evaluate your existing business needs from your customers and users, to review how you address these, and— before renewing any existing contracts— consider what valuable options are now available to you. Do not get distracted by perceived effort of change, nor legacy opinion against a new-fangled cloud.

Resistance to change is your biggest impeding factor.

This post was sponsored by Mitel, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent Mitel’s positions or strategies.

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