Cloud is still a buzzword, trending across South African enterprises and is top of mind for many executives looking to achieve their financial and operational goals, according to Sadiq Munshi, product development manager: cloud solutions at Jasco Enterprise.

Cloud services have been promoted as the money saving, all-encompassing answer to any organisation’s IT and business needs, but many organisations are left disappointed as they discover that this isn’t always the case. While cloud services do indeed offer many benefits to business, organisations need to be fully aware of the realities of cloud before making the decision to migrate, or they may end up with a solution that falls short of their expectations.

A common misconception about cloud is that it is an across-the-board solution for any and every organisation. There are a number of pre-packaged cloud solutions that answer various business needs, but there are few – if any – solutions that universally answer the needs of every organisation. As the cultural behaviours, operational structures and business processes of each company are unique and varied, no cloud offering can act as an umbrella solution.

Cloud solutions need to be customised in order to fulfil the exact requirements of a business, a process that is often complex and usually not as cost effective as this effectively becomes a hosted solution.

Implementing a cloud solution is not as simple as ripping out existing infrastructure and replacing it with a cloud service, particularly in the case of large organisations. In order to ensure that companies get the best out of cloud, they need to take a number of factors into consideration before signing up.

Not only do they need to have a full and comprehensive understanding of what they need to achieve with the solution, but they also need to consider the impact to their operations, culture and processes. Large organisations with deeply entrenched processes that correspond to in-house systems and software are very reliant on their own infrastructure and may not fully enjoy the benefits of a public cloud service.

In terms of cost saving, there are many cloud solutions available that save on IT costs, particularly wherever they make use of shared infrastructure. But a cloud solution that has been tailored to fix the needs of an organisation may not necessarily be cost effective. This really becomes a private cloud or hosted solution.

Where a solution is long term, investing in one’s own infrastructure can provide a better return on investment. Additionally, where a company has already invested heavily in their own systems with regards to development or integration work. It may not make sense to replace these systems with a cloud solution, which will nullify their investment and end up costing money rather than saving it.

Security is another factor to consider. Cloud service providers generally invest heavily in security as their solutions are tied to their reputation.

However, cloud is not infallible. Organisations who place a high priority on security, such as financial institutions, need to carefully consider the security features of a cloud service offering before signing up. There are many cloud services that can benefit an organisation such as a finance house, but it often makes more sense to look at a hybrid solution comprising own infrastructure coupled with cloud services, opting for cloud where it proves more beneficial and cost effective.

Once a company has evaluated its needs and ascertained that a cloud solution will benefit them, they need to ensure they know what their solution entails. A cloud solution is more than simply putting systems and software in the cloud; it’s also about the back-end services. Does the solution offer redundancy? Does it offer monitoring? What are the security features? Often, these are add-on services that come at an additional cost, diving up the total solution price.

Cloud solutions definitely offer multiple benefits, but a customised, tailor made cloud or hosted service takes a team of highly skilled individuals to build and these skills generally come at a premium. Organisations need to consider the impact of a cloud solution on their existing infrastructure and what to replace or keep. They need to assess the impact on culture and processes and how these would need to be adapted to fit a new solution.

Organisations also need to consider the financial impact of a cloud service beyond migration, such as training and integration costs. These questions can all be answered in consultation with a suitable systems integrator who goes beyond being a cloud service provider and becomes a trusted advisor.

With all these factors to consider, companies should not be discouraged from looking at cloud services as a viable option. If a company is looking for flexibility in usage and paying only for what’s needed, then cloud is suitable. If a company is looking to restructure their IT department to focus on innovation and technical optimisation, then cloud will answer that need.

Cloud is an enabler for companies with multiple branches who need to centralise, or who want to enable a work-from-home workforce. Essentially, cloud offers multiple benefits, particularly for small to medium enterprises that are starting out or replacing old systems, or corporations with in-house systems that can integrate with cloud services for certain requirements.

But in order for organisations to not succumb to marketing hype by investing in cloud solutions that may not answer their specific needs, they need to consider their options comprehensively and holistically. Companies can ensure that they opt for the best solution to fit their needs by consulting with a trusted advisor who will make them fully aware of the pros and cons of a cloud offering versus their own infrastructure. A partner that understands an organisation’s business needs and how best to address them will be able to guide them on whether or not a cloud solution will work for them and if so, how to get the best out of it.