Is Your Business Ready for the Cloud?

Scott M. Sachs discusses what can be expected in 2020 when 70% of IT is projected to be in the cloud.

Financial data. Operational data. Competitive data. Data collected through websites and email marketing campaigns. Some estimates suggest that the volume of business data worldwide nearly doubles every year. And this influx of data is putting unprecedented strain on IT departments as they look to store and manage data while protecting its security. When companies then try to make use of this data, now being generated through a host of new technologies, they are pressed to keep up. And the people charged with accessing, interpreting, and making business decisions based on this data are especially challenged.

The Cloud and Dark Data

Enter the cloud. While they may not be aware of it, most people are accessing the cloud in one way or another during an average day. While many businesses are deciding how they can best utilize the cloud, others are already transitioning their ongoing data storage needs from physical servers to the cloud. And why not? The cloud can significantly reduce the cost and complexity of managing data while also giving companies greater security and a better option for recovery should some type of disaster or another incident occur.

[To read more of Scott M. Sachs’ thought leadership click here]

But every company has very specific needs when managing and accessing their data. And while the cloud may, indeed, be the best solution for them, moving every byte of data to the cloud is generally a waste of money. That’s because much of the data that companies collect and maintain is not being used. This unused data is commonly referred to as “dark data.” Gartner Inc. further defines dark data as “information assets that organizations collect, process, and store during their regular business activity, but generally fail to use for other purposes.”

Asking Questions, Assessing Skills

So, which data should your company put in the cloud for ready access and which can be archived or used in another manner, such as data mining? And what do you do with all that dark data that resides within your systems?

Consider conducting an assessment with your IT team and others who regularly access and use company data. This first step in the process is determining whether the cloud is right for you by asking questions like:

  1. Will moving my data to the cloud provide distinct cost and accessibility advantages for my company versus maintaining the data on existing servers?
  2. Will the cloud make it easier for my employees to locate and collaborate with the data they use daily?
  3. Is my data storage currently meeting industry compliance and industry specific regulations?
  4. Does my staff continually update and/or create different versions of documents and would the cloud improve their collaboration with the prospect of data anytime, anywhere, any device?

If the answers to these questions ultimately lead you to the cloud, you’ll then have to address another issue. Does your IT department have the capability to effectively manage and mine data from the cloud? Often, the answer to this is “no.” In the cloud computing world, two critical skills are needed. One is the cloud strategist who is responsible for driving the vision of your company’s network on the internet, building connectivity among various internal and external systems, and deploying new cloud-based applications when the time is right. The other is the storage/data governance specialist who oversees the processes and procedures for collecting, sharing, protecting, cleaning, and securing data assets. It would also primarily fall on the data governance specialist to tackle your company’s dark data problem.

In its Roundup of Cloud Computing Forecasts, 2017, Forbes predicts that more than 50% of IT spending will be cloud-based in 2018 and, by 2020, the cloud will garner up to 70% of all software, services, and technology spending.

Transitioning to the Cloud

Once you have determined that the cloud is right for your company, it’s time to develop and implement a process for migrating your data to the cloud. In doing this, it often makes sense for your IT team to hire a cloud solutions consultant to guide your transition. However, here are a few steps in the process that your company should consider:

  1. Conduct a data assessment that begins with scanning a small portion of your data to get an idea of the overall makeup of this data. Chances are, you’ll uncover quite a bit of dark data during this assessment step.
  2. Remove redundant, obsolete, and trivial data from your systems (eliminate your dark data).
  3. Design and implement a formal data management/data governance program for the cloud. This may include adding those new skill sets – cloud strategist and/or data governance specialist – to your IT team.
  4. Implement new standards and procedures to reduce your risk should your data become breached.
  5. Meet with several cloud solutions providers to assess the infrastructure, platform, and applications that will best serve your needs – today and as your requirements expand in the future.

Looking Ahead

In its Roundup of Cloud Computing Forecasts, 2017, Forbes predicts that more than 50% of IT spending will be cloud-based in 2018 and, by 2020, the cloud will garner up to 70% of all software, services, and technology spending. This is not surprising. As companies large and small seek greater agility and empowerment of increasingly mobile work forces, the cloud offers them distinct benefits in managing and disseminating data. But the cloud is not perfect and may have disadvantages for certain businesses.

In considering your transition to the cloud, follow a strategic, methodical approach that may, at first, involve moving only certain types of data to the cloud or looking at only a few cloud-based applications. Proceed with caution but, without question, consider the cloud and how it might improve your data storage and access needs moving forward.

[For more on Cohn Reznick’s approach to Accounting click here]