The Cloud-Forward Company: Transforming Business

This is part one of my five-part series on the “cloud-forward” movement, its benefits and risks.

Software as a Service (SaaS), delivered through an increasingly sophisticated cloud infrastructure, is a significant advance in IT that offers businesses a fundamental opportunity to reinvent themselves. By taking advantage of the ever-increasing variety of tools and services available via the cloud, companies can unleash their innovation potential, and become more competitive.

 No matter the size of a business or the industry it operates in, pretty much every business will make the transition sooner or later.  The key to success, however, will depend on how they approach its adoption.

While the cloud could be a great equalizer, not all companies will benefit from this transformation equally. Any company can subscribe to cloud-based services, turning itself into a “cloud first” operation. But the greatest value will go to “cloud-forward” companies – that is, those companies that adopt SaaS intelligently, from a user’s perspective, rather than from the more restrictive, top-down approach that many companies use instinctively.

This difference between cloud first and cloud forward is crucial for companies who want a competitive edge. It’s not about being “all in” when it comes to the cloud; it’s about allowing your employees to get “into all” the services they need and to tie together all the services they want to use.

This requires thinking beyond the cost savings that are the most obvious benefit of SaaS, and instead considering the more significant benefits of supporting new ways of working and collaboration this makes possible.

Cloud applications are ideal for today’s mobile and “virtual” workforces, by allowing ad-hoc teams to come together seamlessly to work on a particular project, or streamlining work across company or international borders, and to mix and match exactly the tools needed for each job. This in turn facilitates new ways of thinking about problems and new ways to solve them quickly, respond to customers and the market, and stay one step ahead. It really represents a transformation of how people work, and therefore, how companies do business.

Cloud-forward companies are at the vanguard of this intelligent transformation. They understand that by considering how to make the user experience the most flexible, they can unleash all the hidden potential in their business and make the most of the talent inside and outside the company. And when ideas flourish, results happen. This is especially relevant for growing businesses, because flexibility, innovation and collaboration deliver better products, better services and a higher degree of customer satisfaction. It’s an edge over larger, slower competitors that can be accomplished with a minimum investment.

Of course, there are challenges and risks a cloud-forward company needs to understand. One is simply identifying the most beneficial apps and services for the business, and enabling employees to use them easily. Individual services don’t always interact with one another smoothly across vendors, which can create hurdles to productivity. This is made even more challenging for businesses that have limited IT resources and budgets (which, often, is what attracts them to SaaS in the first place). So having the ability to intelligently select and then manage these services is a vital component to success.

The other major challenge is how to have this “into all” approach without exposing the company to risk. The more apps being used, and the more access and information are shared, the greater the security risk. The cloud-forward company doesn’t ignore security – just the opposite; they understand it is important, but they also understand that you can’t lock up your talent when you lock out the bad guys. The challenge is to identify and put in place a solid security solution that doesn’t create any impediments to flexibility and collaboration.

The goal for every business, from startup to global enterprise, should be to make this transition to a cloud-forward company – to recognize the benefits and the challenges, and to make a few intelligent choices about how to make the transition. It’s all about the right way of thinking about the transition – and implementing the right tools to manage a cloud-forward business. Those things together, plus the inherent talent, is what will spell success.