Cloud computing is here to stay. It has quickly earned a reputation as a powerful business enabler based on benefits such as scalability, availability, on-demand access, rapid deployment and low cost.  To date, IT savvy users in development and test functions have quickly adopted the cloud model to accelerate application lifecycles. With recent innovations in self-service access, functional users in consulting, training, and sales demo areas are also becoming the direct consumers of cloud services.

As these mainstream users adopt cloud services, many companies find “infrastructure” oriented cloud services to be intimidating and difficult to use as they were designed by developers for IT users. To be of value to functional users, a business cloud solution must be simple and self-service oriented, much like iTunes. This is especially important as many companies do not have significant IT resources to help set up, code and customize cloud services.

In other words, a business cloud solution should be usable from day one.  Not just codable.

Here are five tips to determine if a cloud solution is usable for your business:

1. Verify that the cloud directly addresses your business problem

What business problem are you trying to solve with the cloud?  Having this type of focus can help you avoid the technology trap. If you’re evaluating a cloud solution for multiple functional users including support, training or business analysts, be sure that the cloud solution addresses this need. A cloud that just offers pure infrastructure will make it hard for functional users to accomplish business tasks without a UI framework to guide the workflow. If you are moving to the cloud to enable better collaboration across the team, ensure the cloud service provider offers a granular user access model that enables teams to assign rights to users based on their roles.

2Focus on usability

Business users at today’s enterprises need a self-service cloud solution that is simple, and enables them to implement new ideas and collaborate with customers. Usability includes key requirements such as configurability, self-service access, collaboration, visibility and control. Ask yourself: Can the cloud be easily configured for different use-cases? Does it deliver team management capabilities to enforce policies and role-based access? Can your employees to collaborate with prospects, customers and partners, and work on parallel streams without being constrained? Does the cloud provide detailed usage reports and control mechanisms? These are key requirements to enable business agility no matter the size of your organization or the technical maturity of your team. These capabilities will be applauded by your business users as they don’t have time to build new IT skill sets and sit through hours of cloud training.

3. Determine if the cloud runs existing applications without any rewrites

Most users are already familiar with the business and technical applications they use today, whether its email, training or sales demo applications. Clouds that power these applications without any changes will deliver immediate value across your organization. Over the years, we have learned firsthand that business users won’t wait for IT to build or rewrite applications for use in the cloud. Time is money, and neither the business user nor IT department have any to waste. As a result, the ability to run existing application without any changes is a key factor in determining if a cloud is easy to use.

4. Assess if the cloud aligns cloud operating costs with business value

Cloud services do not require an up front capital investment. However, a usage based pricing model can also lead to “sticker shock.” To ensure that your cloud costs are in alignment with business value, check to see if the cloud provider offers a service that measures the value you receive on a per user basis. You can also ask if the cloud provider offers distinct pricing for users at different levels. This can help you avoid paying the same fee for light and heavy users within your organization. It is also wise to determine if the cloud allows you to apply quotas to individuals and business units to cap usage at soft or hard budget limits. You will also want to ask if you can automatically suspend resources when they are not in use to avoid the overuse of the cloud and resulting costs.

5. Pay special attention to responsive support

Success in new technologies, such as cloud computing, often requires a responsive support organization that can attend to your needs. Assess whether you can call a cloud provider directly or if you must work through an online form or email inquiry to communicate about a cloud service. Also ensure that the support team will respond to your inquiries within a few hours versus a day or more.

Following these five simple tips can help you determine which cloud will be the most usable for your organization. As a result, organizations will be empowered to drive business agility, reduce costs, and accelerate your key business activities.

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