How Do I Find a Cloud Services Vendor?
There are many cloud services vendors for every need the cloud can address. But the availability of so many cloud service options to solve for so many business needs, how do you find the right partner? It’s overwhelming and potentially confusing, and we get that. Here at Framework IT, we specialize in strategic technology advising. From our many years of experience, we’ve learned the best practices on how to help businesses find cloud service vendors for your business.In this article, we will go into a 6 step plan that will help you identify and select the best cloud services vendor for your business. We will go into detail for each of the steps to help you understand and put them in practice.
Steps to find a cloud services vendor
- Define your needs for cloud services
- Define your decision criteria for cloud services vendors
- Research the best cloud services vendors
- Consult with your strategic technology advisors
- Assess your options
How to define your needs for cloud services
The first step to find a cloud services vendor is to determine the technologies you’re going to migrate to the cloud. 'Technologies' being defined as your software, collaboration tools, computing infrastructure, phone system, and data.
Once you have the list of technologies you’re migrating, create a needs list for each. You’ll likely have to consider a few cloud services vendors to meet your needs for each technology. Vendors that offer cloud computing don't always offer collaboration tools or SaaS. Even if a cloud vendor offers several solutions, you buy the services separately. So you should assess each independently according to your needs for each technology.
Here is a list below of potential needs to consider and start brainstorming. Your situation may cause more needs and requirements. I’m listing them concisely, but you should get more detailed with your requirements.
- Reliability and Performance SLA’s
- Certifications & Standards (especially if you’re in a compliance-driven industry)
- Integrations & Add-On Features
- Management or Support
- Management & Reporting Tools
- Migration Support
- Deployment Speed
How to define your decision criteria for cloud services vendors
Now that you have your needs defined, you’ll have to decide how you’re going to assign priority. How valuable is each need to your organization and how will you weigh each relative others? You may not find a solution that meets all your needs. You may find multiple solutions that meet your basic needs, but not with equal effectiveness. Even if many solutions meet all needs, you still need to decide how you’ll value each need to inform your decision. To help assess what’s most important, ask yourself questions like these:
- Is security your #1 concern? Or is reliability, cost, flexibility, integrations, etc.?
- Would you accept trade-offs in other areas to completely fulfill this need?
- Which needs would you be willing to accept as trade-offs?
- How would you rank your needs 1-10 if you had to rank them?
- Are there any needs that are uncompromising?
- You may need to require some certifications if you’re in an industry with compliance needs.
- Would you be willing to pay more for a solution that meets or exceeds your most important needs?
- Will the importance of certain needs change in the future?
- Should you change your prioritization now based on anticipation of the future?
If your preference is to get formulaic and create a complex spreadsheet to analyze, go for it! You don’t have to be that formal though. Just define your decision criteria, so you stay logical and impartial as you decide. Most people default to gut-based decisions when they don't take time to define upfront. This leads to lackluster results, and you can avoid this with a little effort.
Research the best cloud services vendors that meet your needs
A lot of websites and magazines compile lists ranking cloud vendors, and these are a great place to start. They're easy to find if you google 'best cloud vendors'. You can also focus your search by adding keywords for each cloud technology you need. As an example, search 'best online collaboration tools,' 'best SaaS solutions for CRM,' etc…
Here are some reputable sources for best of cloud vendor lists and reviews:
These lists will provide you a starting point for your real research. You’ll need to understand their solutions and figure out which needs they address and how well. This research can be challenging for some people. If you have a strategic technology advisor, we highly recommend involving them at this stage if you have not already.
Consult with your strategic technology advisors
If you outsource to an MSP, it’s wise to involve your vCIO or strategic consultant at your vendor. You should solicit their opinions, insights, recommendations, etc.. It’s important they feel comfortable with the solution(s) you’re choosing.
They’ll likely be supporting the transition and managing it ongoing. Also, they’ll screen options in a different light than you. They will assess from a technology angle to help you fully understand the pros, cons and costs.
Involve your other advisors too, such as a Board of Directors. These advisors can add a lot of value to the process by asking you questions you may not have considered. They know your business and can offer different insights than your technical advisor.
Assess your options
When comparing and assessing different vendors, there are several angles you need to consider:
- Assess it from a business function standpoint, particularly if it’s an application. Will it fulfill your current and projected needs? Is it conducive to your current or aspired way of doing business? Can your organization adopt it effectively?
These are questions you’ll need to answer. You should ask for feedback from stakeholders like key employees, managers, etc.. This is especially important if it’s an application. Modern business processes live in applications, so you want to be sure it works for your team and process.
- You’ll also need to assess the technology implications of adopting a cloud service. Is it compatible with your systems and other software? If not, what will need to change? You may need to upgrade infrastructure for optimal experience in the cloud, you may need to increase bandwidth, upgrade web browsers, etc..
You’ll need some sort of technology advisor to fill you in on technology impacts so you have a full picture view. The implications can be many, unique to your situation, and can lead to added costs you may never have thought of.
- You’ll also want to assess your plan for implementation and ongoing management at this stage. Involve a cloud consulting firm or MSP if you don’t have experience or time. They can provide a white-glove experience implementing and managing the solution.
If you have a competent IT staff with time, you may engage with the cloud services vendor directly. Your approach may also vary based on the type of cloud services you’re adopting. If you’re changing software to SaaS, the SaaS provider’s implementation and support may be fine for you. If you have complicated needs, you may engage with one of the SaaS vendor’s consulting partners. Transitions to SaaS are doable for most people with only the SaaS vendor's help. Moving your servers, email, and other tech to the cloud will likely involve outside help.
The key takeaway is to determine what your implementation plan would be upfront. Implementation and management difficulty and costs are important and should inform your decisions. A technology advisor can also provide good insight on implementation and management. They have experience with these transitions and know what will work well for you.
Review your decision criteria frequently while assessing. Rank the cloud vendors according to the importance of each of your criteria. How exactly you want to value the criteria is up to you. Take a thoughtful and organized approach. Impulsive decisions based on gut feelings about a vendor, or even worse, a sales rep, lead to bad outcomes.
Your goal in the assessing phase is to reduce your options to 3 or less for each technology going to the cloud. That is critical to making a successful decision in the next phase.
During your research you started screening out options. Once you start assessing, you cut down options even further. If you get to this stage and still have 4 or more options per technology, go back a step. It’s important that you do not try to decide with too many options. When there’s a lot on the menu, it’s hard to choose what to order. If you have too many, screen the cloud vendors against the needs and the decision criteria again and cut a few.
Revisit your needs during the process and at decision time. Revise your needs and criteria if your thinking has changed during the process. Go back to the research and assessment steps if needed based on your revised needs. Don't rush this decision, but don't get in decision paralysis mode and stall on this decision.
If you've done a good job with all the prior steps, you're only looking at great options at this point. You can't go wrong! Don't hair-split and delay needlessly. The cloud can provide tremendous benefits for your organization!
Do you need a strategic technology advisor to help guide you through this process? Do you want a partner to provide a white-glove experience for your cloud transition? We’re here to help! Contact Us!