“Is the cloud really right for me?” mused an exasperated IT manager, sometime in the late 2000s.

The days of debating “to cloud or not to cloud” are long behind us, and the market has evolved at an amazing rate over the past several years. The worldwide market for cloud software and services has gone from zero to nearly $100 billion in just a decade, according to a new market estimate from Synergy Research.

Cloud IT infrastructure reached $32.6 billion last year, while public cloud racked up a combined $65 billion. Enterprises, on average, are using 935 cloud apps. That’s right — nearly one thousand apps.

What's It All About, SMB Owner?

So what does this all mean to you, as a small-to-medium sized business (SMB) owner? It means it’s time to develop a thoughtful cloud strategy and get moving.

The debates that once raged around cloud return on investment (ROI), performance and security have long since been put to rest. While SMBs may not be using a thousand apps, 64 percent are already using cloud-based apps and 78 percent indicate they are considering purchasing new solutions in the next few years.

Before diving head-long into the cloud, it’s important to understand the realities of implementing a cloud strategy. After all, how you begin your transition to the cloud can have a big impact on your processes for years to come.

3 Strategies to Know Before Cloud Migration

Below are three vital strategies to understand before migrating to the cloud:

Start Small and Realize the Cloud Will Not Solve All Your Problems

Too often, businesses move to the cloud anticipating that it will solve all of their IT and cross-departmental collaboration problems. We’ve all dreamed that the cloud would effortlessly contribute a boost to our productivity, teamwork and agility by 200 percent.

Unfortunately, this is not always the reality. While moving to the cloud will certainly make things easier for your company and increase your business efficiencies, you’re only as good as your strategy and tactics.

Your IT department must put together an organizational technology program that encourages and facilitates the right attributes. If you take an unorganized approach to the cloud that avoids the big picture, you’ll find just as many stumbling blocks as you did with your legacy systems.

Treat your decision to migrate to the cloud as an opportunity to reassess how IT infrastructure can streamline how you do business. Start small with your transition to the cloud. Like any overhaul, it is a process that must be done in building blocks. Pick one process, perfect it and expand from there.

Avoid the Frankencloud and Choose a Single Platform to Stick With

In the early days of cloud, businesses adopted multiple cloud applications in an ad-hoc fashion, often implementing applications on different hardware, database and OS environments.

Different departments chose these tools based on their individual needs, without consideration of existing IT infrastructure investments. As a result, companies found themselves with a so-called Frankencloud, stuck with immense integration issues and a disconnect between front and back office applications.

Successful cloud implementations require a strategic approach, which is exemplified by a single cloud platform that can support the entire business. Often, this means a centralized system of record that automatically aggregates data from all of your departments and takes the guesswork out of your day-to-day operations.

Learning Opportunities

Without a centralized system that can integrate critical customer and account data, you may face significant challenges when trying to quickly scale. SMBs realize this very challenge when using programs like QuickBooks, which tend to create serious growing pains for businesses trying to balance upticks in complex transactions.

Make Social a Big Part of Your Decision-Making

Any platform worth significant investment needs a suite of collaboration tools that empower cross-divisional teams to operate with real-time information; think Bloomberg Terminals for SMBs. Successful leaders know that if your sales, support and finance teams are blind to each other, winning challenging deals can be an impossible task.

Instant messaging, while helpful, isn’t enough these days because of one major flaw — it doesn’t take customer data into account.

Everyone, from a sales manager to a CMO should have access to the same data and be able to make informed, real-time decisions. Imagine if your back-office knew what your front-office was doing, and vice versa. Imagine that accounting knows not to try to collect an invoice because they can see the salesperson is finalizing an upsell.

This sort of collaboration is not just great for business, but it’s also a reflection of how the workplace is changing.

The next generation of workers desires transparency and opportunity for collaboration — and most companies are failing to deliver. The cloud can improve how work is completed and support your employees in understanding their value to the business. While data is no doubt valuable, the most important part of the equation is how you use it.

In a rush to the cloud, businesses have failed to develop a comprehensive, overarching adoption strategy. Their “best-of-breed” approach (sales choosing one application, HR another, and finance picking yet a third app/platform) is a common mistake — and often a costly one.

There has been some course correction among early adopters, but let us be frank: for SMBs, the margin for error to move to the cloud is razor thin.

Your company needs a holistic view of its business and lacking such unified data poses a major challenge, whether you are gauging key metrics like customer retention, employee happiness or supply chain logistics. If you don’t build a solid foundation, you’re building your business on shaky ground.

Title image by Alessandro Pellacini Benassi

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