Despite the obvious benefits of the cloud, many businesses are still dragging their heels when it comes to adopting the technology. Some take the view that the cloud is fine for start-ups and small businesses, but certainly not for large corporations with complex legacy systems full of complex – and often sensitive data.

Yet, at the same time, even government departments are being urged to take advantage of the speed, cost savings and flexibility that working in the cloud brings. It’s estimated that the UK public sector could cut costs by up to 75% by working in this way. Businesses could clearly benefit in the same way, so why the reluctance?

One of the main worries is, of course, security. And, even as a provider of cloud-based enterprise content management (ECM) I believe this is a valid view. We live and work in a fast, evolving and volatile world. Sending key company information to be stored on the other side of the globe could be a wise business-led decision one day and a misjudged mistake the next as world politics, events and legislation shift our perspectives. There are also concerns too about cost and flexibility.

But this apprehension needs to be balanced against a host of other factors. As organisations’ information assets grow most are struggling with a mismatch of different IT systems and platforms and the need to constantly update their server rooms and turn them into modern data centres. This is holding them back and allowing younger, more agile businesses grab their market share.

So how can these businesses start to trust and feel comfortable in the cloud and start enjoying the benefits? I believe they should ensure any application they consider meets these criteria:

Choose A Solution Tailored To Its Function

If looking for a solution for a mainstream business need, such as storing and managing documents, Amazon, Google or Microsoft might be the first that come to mind. These global brands aim to be all things to all people, but largely, they are not designed for the complex needs of particular applications and industries. Vendors that are experts in specific vertical business areas are well aware of any particular security risks involved and will have designed their solutions accordingly to counteract these.

Ensure The Pricing Model Fits Your Requirements

For a business to feel comfortable about its choice of a cloud solution, it needs feel confident that it is not paying more than necessary. There’s no point in deploying an ECM system, for example, that charges by the bandwidth or number of downloads if you have a high volume of documents to process. Instead find a solution where the monthly charge covers unrestricted downloads.

Costs might also be decided by number of users, per GB, storage based or component based where you pay a monthly price or subscription for each functional module. Each model has pros and cons and can work well for different organisations. The key is in matching the pricing model to your organization’s specific needs.

Make Sure You Can Change

Once you are in the cloud, can you change back to an on-premise version if necessary? Or vice versa? Is there a choice between software as a service (SaaS) and owning the software, but it being hosted by vendor? Circumstances alter and what appeared to be the perfect solution at one point can become a nuisance if there’s a change of focus or strategy.

Keep Your Data As Close As Possible

The cloud doesn’t mean that data has to be held on the other side of the world. There’s no doubt that businesses have more trust in cloud computing when their assets are held close by. For UK businesses this means a data centre in the UK, rather than in another European centre or the US.

Keeping data close to its source means it is subject to local security legislation and guidelines rather than to the demands of foreign governments. For example, although the US Department of Commerce’s Safe Harbor principles comply with the EU’s Data Protection Directive, some European countries and organisations don’t consider it to provide strong enough protection, and prefer European data centres. Keeping data in its country of origin can also eases the process of checking security protocols and business contingency plans as part of the deployment process.

Business is all about managing risk and that means balancing possible risks with potential rewards. Although worries surrounding security, flexibility and pricing are reasonable, addressing them head on in this way allows for a rational business decision to be made. In a world that urgently needs to do more for less, businesses can’t afford to be too cautious, but still need to make informed decisions. Understanding the whole picture allows organisations to choose the right solution for them, to feel comfortable in the cloud, and deliver the associated benefits back to the business.