Cloud computing offers a range of benefits to SMEs. But there are many different options with cloud, both in terms of what it can offer you and how you can access it – and this can be confusing for the business owner. 

IT-as-a-service now comes in so many shapes and sizes. There is Platform-as-a-Service (Paas), Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) to name but a few. Indeed, just about every kind of IT resource you can think of is available as a service these days. This sounds great – but company directors still need to remember the essentials of purchasing IT.

If you’re considering a move to the cloud, you need to remember two key points. As we have seen, it is perfectly possible to outsource the provision of some or all of your IT – whether infrastructure or applications – but ‘service’ and ‘management’ of these IT provisions remains your responsibility, and you will need to allocate resources to make sure your IT function is still performing as it should do.

Furthermore, there is no need to simply replicate your old IT model in the cloud. Indeed, the cloud enables you to think bigger. Cloud computing has democratised technologies which used to be the preserve of large enterprises, and made them more accessible for SMEs. Think about how you might take advantage of that.

In order to gain the greatest benefits from the cloud model, IT services need to be at the centre of any cloud computing strategy. With the right approach, you’ll be able to transform simple IT ‘provision’ into an agile service that frees you from legacy in-house IT constraints.

For example, let’s say that you want to launch a new product. Using a traditional IT procurement model, you’ll first need to decide on the system that you want, then obtain quotes, calculate the capital expenses required, buy the equipment, and then wait for it to be delivered and installed. Even using conservative estimates, this whole process can take between three and six months, and will often tie you into a long-term service contract as well.

By comparison, a vendor that offers managed services via the cloud will typically have all of the equipment and functionality that you need ready and available, which means that the same project can be up and running in a fraction of the time. As a result, you’ll never to need to be hampered by a lack of resource. You can take the product to market much more quickly and easily.

A key point to remember, however, is that buying a cloud solution doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be getting good service along with it. To give a very simple example, you might decide to buy a cloud-based version of Microsoft Exchange for your company’s email, and then think ‘perfect, that’s email sorted, we’re done.’

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. With something like email, you’re bound to be adding new users with reasonable frequency, and also setting up distribution lists, creating new mail folders, disabling accounts and so on. At the moment, many SMEs are being led to believe that their cloud vendor will help with all these tasks, but that’s not always the case.

By making sure that professional IT services form a key part of your cloud strategy, SMEs can benefit from extraordinary agility and flexibility and at the same time be assured of the service quality and day-to-day support. In fact, by combining cloud computing with managed services in this way, IT resources can simply be scaled up – and then scaled down again – as and when needed, both quickly and affordably.

For all of these reasons, even if you choose to implement what seems like a ‘straightforward’ cloud solution, you’ll still need to think carefully about the role of IT services. This critical ingredient will play a key role your cloud computing success, since your IT systems will still need to be integrated and managed properly in order to derive the greatest value from your cloud computing investment.