To paraphrase Ken Kesey in the Kool Aid Acid Test you are either on the cloud or off the cloud; or possibly it is better to say in the cloud or out of the cloud. Either way the crap fight that is the global economy will be one of the defining factors in whether a business survives or dies and cloud computing will play a major part in propping up that fragile bottom line.

This is not scare mongering or mindless waving the flag for online business methodologies it is a stark fact. Cloud based working practices also improve efficiency and if applied correctly will give a cloud-side company an edge over their conventional, terrestrial competitors.

Cloud-based apps

Research analyst IDC predicts that 80% of all new commercial enterprise apps by the end of 2012 will be cloud based and that HTML5 will be a key factor in the adoption of mobile cloud computing. It’s happening now folks and you have to get ready for that leap of faith.

That isn’t to say that you should lunge into the cloud like a demented lemming hurling itself over a cliff.There are substantial issues to consider. Some of these, such as security, are pretty obvious but there are other issues closer to home that need to be addressed. These include:

  1.  Carry out a process audit

How does your company work? Look at the way that information flows in, out and around your business. What tools do you use – email, telephone, fax (remember that!). How many locations do you operate from? If you have offices abroad are there local legal considerations that need to be addressed (data protection laws are very strict in Germany and Switzerland compared to other countries, for example.)

Key thought: Every system that has been hacked was once thought to be impenetrable.

  1.  Carry out a data audit

It doesn’t mater what sort of organisation you are data is your key asset, the company’s crown jewels. Customer information, research information, technical specifications, sales records, are all invaluable to competitors and should be guarded. Carry out an audit on your proposed host/s and see what safeguards are in place and whether or not they host rival companies.

Key thought: If you had the opportunity to hack into a competitor’s data bank would you behave ethically? Neither would they!

  1.  Involve your staff

You won’t be the main user of any system you opt for so involve those that will. For example, there’s a major difference between the Google Apps and Zoho office suite interfaces. It doesn’t matter how rational a decision is in that paper submitted to the board, human nature can and probably will wreck every good intention so it is better to iron out human frailties and possible opposition before any Big Decisions are made.

Key thought: The person in the post room may well have a better idea of how information flows around your company than you do.

  1.  Create a security strategy

It doesn’t matter how robust your cloud computing security strategy is if the host provider won’t implement it on their system. Talk to potential hosts about their policies towards security and see how they match your own. The odds are that they have more experience in this area than you so will have strong strategies in place so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Don’t forget the simple things. What will be your policy on pen drives in the workplace, for example?

Key thought: There’s no device known to mankind that will prevent people from being idiots.

  1.  Think long term

If you think that going into the cloud is just about buying storage space from a provider like Amazon and keeping your data there you have already lost the battle. There are more substantial issues to consider, not least how your staff will access data and from where. The economy through increased fuel and transport costs may – no, make that will – force companies to look at employees occasionally working away from the concrete ans glass edifice that is HQ. How are they going to get at that data to allow them to work from home or the local coffee shop.

Also, mobile access via smartphones, tablets etc is going to come to the fore. To ignore this is tantamount to sticking your head in the sand leaving your butt exposed. Start having cognitive processes on the exterior of cardboard packaging – I just hate the expression “thinking outside the box.”

Key thought: Remember the UK army motto – Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance!