Knowing the right questions to ask when buying anything is essential. Sourcing cloud-based software is no exception. Cloud software can be tricky to evaluate because it’s bundled as a service to eliminate complexity. As a result, vendors are conditioned to provide little or no transparency to buyers. We are all too familiar with what happens when we make assumptions, right?
When you evaluate cloud software, break down each part of the service bundle and consider it individually. Here are tips to help you avoid a storm-cloud-based software solution.
Be sure to understand how the infrastructure is managed.
Cloud-based software is most often a shared infrastructure similar to the way we share public highways and bridges. This is called a multi-tenant configuration. The challenge is that heavy traffic and congestion at certain times can be a fact of life. Just as public transportation is not always suitable or convenient for transporting wide and heavy loads or private secure cargo, cloud-based solutions may not be suitable or convenient for supporting every unique business requirement. Larger and more sophisticated organizations can still make use of cloud solutions because the most sophisticated cloud vendors optionally support dedicated virtual machines for database, application, or even web servers. These configurations can eliminate many of the typical limitations of a shared infrastructure. If you need this today or in the future, choose a vendor that has the flexibility to customize the infrastructure to meet your needs.
On the infrastructure side of the cloud service, you should consider the following points before buying:
- Will the vendor support a private connection with guaranteed bandwidth to eliminate traffic and congestion from other clientele?
- What additional layers of security protection are optionally available?
- How is the service updated for new functionality and compliance?
- What are the intervals for applying maintenance releases and updates?
- What are the service-level guarantees for uptime that are provided by the vendor?
- What are the security policies for protecting your information from malware or other threats?
- What level of reliability and redundancy is built into the service infrastructure?
- Can the service be optionally configured to support dedicated hardware, virtual instances, or even in hybrid environment for companies with unique business needs?
Gauge how the system is going to perform in real life situations.
This one could really zap you if you’re not careful. Thoroughly evaluate performance, or you could be dead in the water and loosing revenue. Think in terms of your peak usage times or peak season and then make sure your cloud vendor understands your needs and can keep up with the influx of system activity that your company and others may need the cloud infrastructure to support. Get performance guarantees in writing.
Evaluate the functionality to be sure that it will serve your business needs.
Most of us instinctively think in terms of the web front-end functionality for this new cloud software we’re getting. But it’s not enough to just evaluate this piece alone with cloud solutions. Cloud vendors bundle the front-end that you see with the back-end functionality that you can’t see or touch. You need to know what is going on behind the scenes so you can ferret out what might be missing. Ask questions like:
- What devices, OS’s, and browsers does the vendor support?
- What level of customization can be supported to adjust the product to more closely match your requirements?
- Can you manage the customization or is this only handled by the vendor? How are customizations supported?
- How are integrations with third-parties handled?
- What about single sign-on or items like active directory integration?
- How do you access your data or even download your data for safekeeping?
- What functionality is not real-time and subject to scheduling?
- How are alerts managed?
- What are your options for reporting and analytics?
Understand the true cost of using the cloud service.
Take the time to truly understand the pricing model and your true costs. Don’t solely rely on the sales proposal and estimate provided by the vendor. Find out:
- How is the pricing incrementally adjusted for growth or shrinkage in the use of the service? Is it adjusted based on transactions or number of covered users or not at all?
- How is data storage and bandwidth consumption managed? Are limits imposed or do charges kick in at certain thresholds?
- What pricing guarantees can be provided to ensure that your price continues to be fair down the road?
- Does the vendor offer a scaled down use of the service after cancellation? What are the charges for this usage?
Check out the bricks and mortar behind the cloud service.
What services are available conveniently and affordably from the vendor? Don’t assume. For example, PeopleGuru’s payroll cloud service bundles services for ACH origination, garnishment processing, check printing, new hire reporting, and federal-state-local tax filing with a dedicated account management team but many of our competitors don’t. Clients that are used to these traditional payroll outsourcing conveniences that switch to a cloud service without a bricks and mortar support operation have the unique challenges of staffing up to support these functions in-house. So, be sure to understand what services your cloud vendor is offering:
- How is the vendor’s support operation structured?
- What level of support is provided during your implementation process?
- Does the vendor have a structured process for guiding your through the implementation?
- What tools does the vendor provide to facilitate data conversion into their product?
- How is training delivered?
- Are self-help tools available?
- Is technical support immediately available when you need it, or do you have to wait 48 or even 72 hours for a response to an email?
- Will you have a dedicated account management team and an escalation point of contact, or will you have to wait in a call queue to get the next available representative at a call center?
- Did you check two or three client references?
By considering the infrastructure management, real life performance, functionality, true cost, and bricks and mortar, you’ll avoid storm-clouds and will be able to identify the best cloud-based solution for your organization’s unique needs.