Riaan Pietersen| Memeburn

No, this is not going to be yet another article about cloud services and why, as a business owner, you should be embracing all things cloud-like. That ship has sailed. Medium-sized businesses are no longer asking if, but rather which components of their business they need to transfer to the cloud first.

Indeed, around the world small and medium businesses (SMB) are set to spend up to US$100-billion on cloud services by 2014, according to research from AMI Partners. Further findings from Microsoft and Edge Strategies say that paid cloud services are expected to double in five years, while the number of the world’s smallest companies using at least one paid cloud service will triple in the next three years.

As I said, the boat has sailed and you’re either on it or you’re not.

But how then do SMBs go about transitioning some of their most vital services to the cloud? Take communications, for instance. It is the lifeblood of any business, irrespective of your sector. Without it your business would die. So how then do you transition something like switchboard functionality to the cloud, in a risk-free way?

Here are seven tips for a risk-free transplant that will have you reaping the benefits of additional functionality and productivity, without letting your business skip a beat.

1. Savings VS service

Using cloud services can, of course, save you money, but this should not be your main consideration. If your vendor’s pitch is purely based on how much they can save you, beware. While you should save money in the long run and will certainly benefit from a virtual PBX being an operational rather than a capital expense, the point of cloud-based computing is not just to save money. Instead, it’s about increased control, functionality and extended features, giving you a more productive business. In addition, consider this: in a monopoly telecoms market, like South Africa, it’s impossible to compete on price only without taking some very dubious shortcuts. Shortcuts that are inevitably going to impact on quality.

2. Choose a vendor who cares

Does your vendor do a thorough investigation into how your company functions? Do they get to grips with the fact that nowadays very few companies are bound by four walls? Just because you and your staff are on the go, doesn’t mean business comes to a standstill. Based on this kind of in-depth understanding of your business, does the vendor offer suggestions on improving productivity in easy-to-understand, non-technical language?

3. Tools of the trade

What equipment does your vendor use? How is the service maintained? Does the vendor rely on actual site visits and on-site programming, charged to you at an hourly rate? Can the firmware outdate? Does your PBX reach end-of-life after only a few years? Is the system easily and inexpensively scalable at one user increments? Does the system offer redundancy? If the answers to these questions leave any doubt in your mind, reconsider your options carefully.

4. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it

Does your vendor insist that you need to do a complete overhaul of your infrastructure in order to benefit from a virtualised PBX? This is nonsense. Virtualisation is not a slam-dunk affair. There really are ways of migrating to the cloud that give you many benefits while you take advantage of the infrastructure you have already invested in.

5. Avoid smoke and mirrors

Does your vendor bamboozle you with overly technical descriptions? What they should be doing is giving you clear, future-proof solutions that can grow and that have the ability to adapt to your needs at any stage of your business, without extensive and continuous capital investment. Re-evaluate your business partner and make sure you’re with someone who delivers state-of-the-art technologies used by the top telcos from around the world.

6. Show me the money

Does your vendor have huge margins on hardware sales? Or does their business depend on the ongoing service they provide you? Think about who you would rather have on your side.

7. Show me the money, part 2

If your vendor is recommending a hardware-based PBX service, are they telling you the real cost of the service? It’s not just the one-off hardware cost you need to consider. Take into account things like call out, service, firmware and upgrade fees.

Armed with this knowledge, a final suggestion. Any time is a good time to get an expert in to review your communications setup. The worst that could happen is that you find out you are on track with your current setup. In my experience, it’s more than likely there will be some hole that can be plugged with a cloud-based service, thus enhancing the productivity of your business.


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