Four next-level must-haves for a bulletproof cloud

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If I were to ask you to name the top five factors of cloud service robustness, you’d probably rattle off some combination of scalability, uptime, high availability, speed, and security. It’s no coincidence the converse of this list corresponds, one for one, to some of the biggest and most newsworthy failures since the advent of the cloud.

When you talk to a cloud services provider — whether it’s a datacenter, infrastructure as a service (IaaS) vendor, platform as a service (PaaS) vendor, or software as a service (SaaS) provider — these five items will be the basis of their value proposition, I guarantee it.

Should the cloud service provider you choose have all these factors in spades? Absolutely.

Is it possible to have a horrible experience with a provider despite their presence? You’d better believe it.

These aspects — stellar scalability, uptime, availability, speed, and security — are requisite. If a provider demonstrates a problem in one of these areas, I’d advise you to head for the nearest exit.

But they do not assure a bulletproof cloud offering alone. What does, then? Encryption? Monitoring? Disaster recovery?

Let’s pull our heads out of the “cloud” for a moment and consider what it would take to make your cloud enablement bulletproof.

Four next-level cloud delivery must-haves

When you’re searching for a new cloud provider, there are four must-haves that rarely make it into the headlines:

You won’t see them in marketing collateral, nor will most providers think to point them out. But if you know how to spot them, I guarantee you’ll suffer far fewer sleepless nights at the hands of your cloud service providers.

Let’s take a deep dive into these important aspects — starting with a look at how your vendor’s culture can affect your cloud solution.

1. Customer-centric culture

Here’s a common scenario: You find yourself making frequent calls into a cloud services support line. One of the engineers stands out among the crowd — we’ll call him “Bob.”

As long as your calls get routed to Bob, you know you’ll be well taken care of. He resolves issues in an efficient manner, your users are happy, and the cloud service you’re consuming will maintain the strong ROI you expect of it.

You might even say to yourself, “Now there’s a company with great customer service.”

But there’s a good chance you’d be wrong.

Replace “company” with “person” in that hypothetical sentence and you’re closer to the truth.

How would you rate your experience when Bob doesn’t pick up the phone, and how can you find a vendor with stellar customer service across the board — a vendor staffed entirely with Bobs?

Here’s the key: Pervasive customer satisfaction-driven services are not a function of individual people like Bob. They’re a product of a rare company culture that subscribes to a customer-centric services paradigm.

Why rare? It’s all about incentives.

What are your vendor’s incentives?

Across the corporate landscape, commissions drive sales teams; utilization rates drive professional services teams; closure rates drive support teams; and everyone is subject to pressure from looming business-wide targets. While this is a significant oversimplification, it serves to illustrate a critical point: Businesses can (and do) exist, function and thrive with incentive frameworks that have nothing to do with customer satisfaction or retention.

As a cloud consumer, you are a commission, part of a utilization rate, a closure number and a piece of someone’s margin. Sobering, I know.

If you want to be more — perhaps even a valued customer — you’ll need to find providers who place emphasis on customer service across the customer lifecycle and above all other incentives. These are the vendors who have reached a level of maturity in understanding the substantial associated benefits. These are the vendors to whom you should give your business.

So how can you identify these companies before you sign a contract?

It starts with sales.

Companies that don’t subscribe to a customer-centric paradigm might be lucky enough to employ a “Bob” or two. Meanwhile, companies only interested in applying a customer-centric paradigm where it will give them the quickest returns simply drop the concept into Technical Support services.

On the other hand, companies with a pervasive customer-centric paradigm will show signs of their values all the way up through … that’s right, sales.

How to find a winning vendor

See if you can get your salesperson to:

Speak intelligently about customer satisfaction numbers within their technical support group. Salespeople are more likely to have this knowledge if they — and everyone they work with — understand the importance of care throughout the customer lifecycle.

Entertain suggestions for <<< insert an outlandish development or contractual request here >>> and respond to you with solid explanations as to why or why not the organization can fulfill your request. This works because a customer-centric paradigm is one that applies respect and empathy to all customers, even those with unattainable expectations.

Talk specifically about their company culture. A customer-centric paradigm is an extension of a healthy business environment. If they don’t have one, they won’t want to talk about it.

The bottom line: Cloud providers with the right mix of internal incentives and a customer-centric culture understand that your success is the key to their success. Build your business upon those relationships.

Speaking of relationships, even some of the most customer-centric vendors may not be the right fit for your organization. It doesn’t mean either party is doing something wrong — you just aren’t a match. But for the most bulletproof cloud, your cloud vendor — and its solution – needs to have compatibility with your business operations and goals.

2. Compatibility

The concept of data-driven decision-making goes something like this: The more supporting data you have, the greater confidence you can have in your decisions. There’s no way to gather all the data you need, so what you don’t know — you have to assume to the best of your abilities.

Assumption is a balancing act, a reality of doing business and, to a degree, a quantifiable/justifiable risk behavior. After all, you weigh estimation, approximation and assumption against your own business model, processes and financial requirements every day.

So, what does this have to do with the cloud?

When you sign up with a cloud services provider — public, private or otherwise— you become a consumer of some part of the cloud services spectrum, and you’ve got company … lots of it.

Just as you take calculated risks every day, your cloud provider is making assumptions about YOU as a customer and taking risks on your behalf — sometimes with little first-hand knowledge of how your business operates. This isn’t as scary as it seems, if you understand what drives your provider.

Compatibility means working together

There’s an adage for software developers that goes something like this: If you took everyone’s suggestions and put them in the product, you would end up with an unusable, unsupportable behemoth. The remedy is, of course, to focus on selected features and functions that cater to the consumer majority.

It’s safe to assume your cloud services provider is doing this very thing. If you, as a product consumer, let the provided cloud-based tools drive your processes, you may never exit the warm and cozy confines of this “safe” majority.

If, on the other hand, you like to stretch the limits of the tools you use, you may someday find yourself pulled into the consumer minority — also referred to as the “cutting edge.”

At this point, the tools, software, services or platform you consume may no longer be an airtight fit for your requirements, and the long-term remedies (customization or additional tools) may be costly.

Riding the cutting edge with your processes can also be rewarding, provided you understand this: The further from center you fall, the more you might find your cloud services provider’s assumptions about you are incorrect.

$ Robert Tipton$

Riding the cutting edge with your processes can also be rewarding, provided you understand this: The further from center you fall, the more you might find your cloud services provider’s assumptions about you are incorrect. That’s why it’s so important to find the right provider with the right platform and a culture that lends a listening ear.

The bottom line: The only way to get 100% of what you want is to build the tools that drive your ideal business processes in-house OR to let the tools drive your business.

Since you’d likely prefer not to do either, but instead operate somewhere in the middle, ask yourself which way your organization trends. Keeping this in mind gives you a better shot at maintaining a harmonious relationship with the cloud services you consume. With the right provider, you might even be able to turn your “cutting edge” needs into the next round of standard features. The way forward is arm-in-arm, not nose-to-nose.

3. Stability in a sea of change

These days, it might feel like you’re always adjusting to a moving target. Social, cultural and political upheaval aside, the technological landscape is in a state of constant refresh. This means finding a stable place in cyberspace to pin your processes and services might seem like an insurmountable task.

The last thing you want to hear after you sign up for a service is that it’s going to change into something you neither need nor desire. Or, worse yet, your vendor is going to cease offering it altogether.

The bad news: You often have limited control over whether the aforementioned will happen to the services you rely on.

The good news: A little legal savvy and research can drop these risks down to a reasonable level.

The reality is, all parts of the cloud services spectrum — from advances in hardware to revisions of software and (to a lesser degree) new managed and professional services offerings — are moving targets. It’s a safe bet the version of cloud service you’re consuming wasn’t around six months ago.

In fact, the provider may not be much older. You can begin to see the trend — constant change equates to “new,” and “new” sometimes comes with baggage in the cloud world.

So what is a cloud consumer to do? After all, there are many reasons why hosting software solutions in the cloud is the way to go.

Successfully managing perpetual newness

First and foremost, we must understand what “new” entails. If I were to ask you to describe a new car, words like “shiny,” “efficient” and “cutting-edge technology” might come to mind.

If I were to ask you to describe a new piece of software, though, you might say things like “unstable,” “buggy” and “no support.”

“New” has the potential to be all these things — simultaneously exciting and filled with risk. Finally, we have identified something we can quantify and address: Risk.

If you fear… …then
The software, service or platform will crash or become unavailable… then make sure you have an uptime/availability SLA in your agreement with the provider.
You will get the run-around from provider support personnel… then make sure you have a support response SLA in your agreement.
The service could be hacked and your sensitive data stolen then make sure there are stringent security, access and encryption control requirements detailed in your agreement.

Successfully mitigating risks

You can see where I’m going with all of this. Contracts and master services agreements are nothing more than risk mitigation roadmaps. We advise you to write out your fears and what-ifs and pull in your legal counsel to help navigate the muddy waters of the contract world. You’ll be happy you did.

The bottom line: You’ll never take the “new” out of cloud services, but you can take the risk out of the “new.” Stability in the sea of change is nothing more than a few well-placed contract clauses … mixed with proven organizational compliance on the part of your vendor.

> Read more | Mitigating disaster: How cloud computing and risk management go together

4. Compliance

In the tech world, the best way to believe in something is to see it with your own eyes. The second-best way is to have someone you trust see it and give you a thumbs-up.

$ Robert Tipton$

Want to know whether your cloud services provider is actually delivering the software, SLAs, services and security it says it will?

Ask.

If the answer you get isn’t codified in a contract or evidenced in a third-party report, be prepared to do some digging.

Even if your provider is forthcoming with the information you ask for, the list of what it actually delivers is longer than you realize (trust me on this), so it may not make much sense for you to see it with your own eyes contract, report or otherwise. Besides, you might miss something.

Auditors won’t.

Your trusted “second set of eyes” in the services world are the auditing agencies and the compliance reports to which they attest, such as SSAE16 SOC I, SOC II and III, PCI and ISO reports your services provider should be familiar with.

A SOC report in-hand goes a long way when it comes time for you to justify the integrity of outsourced services to your end users, IT staff, executives and those who are auditing your processes.

Do this diligence before you ink a contract, even if you don’t have a current need for compliance with your provider. Most compliance attestation periods span six months or a year. Make it a point to request copies of your provider’s reports.

The bottom line: Never be afraid to ask. You need the answers, and your cloud service providers (the ones who listen to their customers) will appreciate knowing the scope and extent of your compliance requirements.

Build an invincible cloud

When it comes to the cloud, you’ve got choices. Thanks to the competitive landscape, many of these choices will measure up to the scalability, uptime, high availability, speed and security standards you require. In an otherwise flat-value-proposition landscape, there will be significant variation in quality and corresponding hefty costs associated with recovery from failed or short-term provider relationships.

Provided you make the right choices, these costs are avoidable, and that’s where it pays dividends to look for the anomalies of quality: Customer-centric culture, high compatibility, options for stability and a healthy compliance record.

Remember, “bulletproof” is as much about what a services provider stands for as what it advertises.

Simply put, it’s what’s holding up the armor that counts.

Hyland and cloud computing

Learn more about Hyland in the cloud:

Hyland on AWS

Hyland is listed on the AWS Marketplace. Learn more about the benefits of purchasing there, including the ability to:

  • Streamline procurement
  • Implement controls and automate provisioning
  • Manage software budgets with cost transparency

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Robert hails from our Olathe office and is a 14-year Hyland (Perceptive) veteran of the cloud services world. Most recently, he's been tasked with bringing focus to operational improvements and efficiency as our director of strategy and project governance.
Robert Tipton
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Robert Tipton

Robert hails from our Olathe office and is a 14-year Hyland (Perceptive) veteran of the cloud services world. Most recently, he’s been tasked with bringing focus to operational improvements and... read more about: Robert Tipton