Using cloud solutions can help your small or midsized business move faster, reduce costs, and adopt the latest technology—all without buying new hardware or adding excessively to your management burden.
But you can’t settle for just any old solutions provider. This is your business we’re talking about. Consumer-grade or poorly designed solutions won’t provide the security, power, and reliability you need.
Whether you’re just starting down the path or looking to take the next step, here are a few things to examine when choosing your cloud solution provider.
1. Are they a strong and reliable company overall?
Almost any company can spin up a cloud solution and offer it worldwide—but that doesn’t mean they deserve your business. You want a solution provider with a strong track record and the financial health to keep going long-term. Do they have governance and risk management practices in place? Do they perform audits to prove they can meet regulatory and compliance standards? Do they offer financially-backed service level agreements? Knowing the answers to these questions can help you decide if the small business cloud solutions provider you found is mature enough to meet your business needs.
2. Do they understand your business?
Take a look at the company’s case studies and client list. They need significant experience supporting businesses in your specific industry, and the technology to meet your real-world needs.
3. Do they give you the information you require?
Ideally, cloud solutions operate mostly hands-off, but you still need information to guide your day-to-day decisions. A reputable solution provided will provide performance reports that show how well the solution is working, and ways to track and monitor services, changes, outages, and all other relevant aspects of their offerings. Look for reports that are targeted to your needs—detailed enough so you can make decisions, yet not overwhelming you with technical information.
4. Is billing clear and accurate?
Cloud services are usually paid for like utilities—you buy only what you use. You need to be able to monitor usage accurately so you don’t run up unexpected bills. They should also provide easily accessible support for billing-related issues in case there’s a discrepancy.
5. Does their technology meet your needs?
Regardless of what you’re using cloud solutions for—email, storage, productivity, data analysis—there are some technical capabilities any reputable solution provider must have. The small business cloud solutions should be easy to deploy, manage, and upgrade—to the extent you have to do those things at all. Any back-end connections such as application program interfaces (APIs) will use industry standards so they will be compatible with your existing solutions.
6. Can they support hybrid solutions?
A hybrid solution combines both on-premises technology (such as physical servers) and cloud technology in a seamless mix. For example, many companies choose to keep some data on their own infrastructure for compliance reasons while taking advantage of the cloud to analyze that data. There are many other hybrid scenarios, and even if you don’t plan to use one initially, you might want to pick a solutions provider who can support them to maximize future flexibility.
7. Do they take security seriously?
While security is often a key concern when initially adopting cloud solutions, most major cloud solutions providers can provide a higher level of security than a typical small or midsize business can achieve on their own. Still, there are some specific capabilities you should look for when making your choice. First, they need comprehensive security policies and procedures in place for controlling access to their systems, and they should be able to tell you what those policies and procedures are. Strong identity management can prevent unauthorized changes to applications and data. Data backup is a must, as it is knowing what the vendor will do with your information should you ever choose to leave the service. And, you should be confident that they can protect your information even in the event of a disaster.
Before you get out your company credit card and commit to one cloud solutions provider, take some time to look deeper at the provider to make sure they’re a provider you can trust. Read reviews, talk to customers whose situation is similar to yours—and trust your instincts. The right solutions provider becomes like a partner to you and can deliver a long-term strategic advantage to your company, so it pays to choose wisely.
This article originally appeared on Microsoft