3 common cloud pitfalls IT should avoid

It can be difficult these days to come up with sensible reasons why businesses shouldn't embrace cloud-based productivity tools such as Google for Work or Microsoft Office 365. The benefits of the cloud are many and expanding. However, a number of common pitfalls for IT professionals exist and can have lasting negative implications on any organization. 

Here are three mistakes IT professionals making a switch to the cloud should avoid:

1. Cloud means lots of support for staff 

Greg Meyers, corporate vice president and CIO of Motorola Solutions, says the surest way for IT leaders to avoid the most common cloud pitfalls is to learn from others' mistakes. 

[Related Feature: 4 tips to move from Office 365 to Google for Work (or vice versa)]

"The biggest mistake I've seen others make, and we've tried to avoid, was underestimating the change to employees and being unprepared to support them through the trauma that is changing the tools they have used daily for decades," Meyers says. "Be prepared to explain over and over why you're changing, stay committed to your principles, have empathy for those who won't be happy and provide overwhelming training, support and change management."

2. Limitations of cloud's one-size-fits-all approach

Finding the right tools and applications that meet key business objectives and requirements is paramount to the success of a shift to the cloud, according to Liz Herbert, a vice president with Forrester Research. 

"One of the biggest challenges I see is the one-size-fits nature of the cloud," Herbert says. Simplicity and ubiquity drive many of the cloud's obvious benefits, but the change can be a "huge challenge for CIOs" moving to environments that don't play favorites or tailor contracts to special interests. "The reality of the software as a service (SaaS) model is there are things about the model that cannot be changed for any one client."

The cloud offers more of a "take-it-or-leave-it" approach, according to Herbert, and some CIOs aren't comfortable with contracts that are not as explicit as others they negotiated in the past.

[Related News Analysis: Microsoft, Google earnings shed light on cloud war]

IT leaders need to conduct due diligence with the vendors they consider to avoid painful surprises, she says. Businesses should weigh everything from the technology at play, to the upgrade cycle and specific terms of support before choosing a vendor, according to Herbert. "The upfront [research] is more important than the contract because there's a lot of things that if they don't meet your requirements, no contract can fix that."

3. Proactive planning for growth objectives

Companies can grow in new ways and improve business practices thanks to the cloud, but these things don't happen on their own. IT leaders need to rethink how their businesses run and determine how assets — software, hardware and data — can be optimized to drive business value, according to Matt Katzer, founder and president of the IT consulting firm Kamind.

The transition to the cloud is an ideal time for IT professionals to reconsider what their businesses are trying to achieve, Katzer says. This time of reflection can result in new ideas, but IT needs to be strategic in implementing them. "Every technology, every solution has shiny points and dark points, and it depends which side of the fence you want to be on," Katzer says. "If you don't have the business processes in place and the infrastructure you need to grow the business, everything falls apart." 

Cloud-based tools are incredibly powerful, but businesses need to do their homework, know the challenges they'll likely encounter and develop plans that incorporate new organizational visions, as well as realistic business goals.

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