Dubai in the cloud? Office 365?

December 7th, 2011 by Stephen Jones Leave a reply »

When you are starting up or need a new solution fast then a cloud based solution rather than an on-premise one  will get you up and running without the cash flow hit.  . . . at least in the short-term. However, if you implement a major business application then you still need comprehensive business process mapping, data cleansing, organizational change management, end-user training , data migration local support etc.

 The cost structure of cloud ERP avoids paying a lump sum up-front, either for hardware , software, product install, or day to day IT staff  but  organizations must pay for yearly subscriptions to their cloud provider. So it’s an easy way to amortize a large upfront expense witrhout punitive bank loans or mortgages.  You also don’t need to worry about the cost of applying patches and upgrades or resizing hardware, or the cost of back up tapes nor the space costs of a server room (what is the opportutnity cost of the space in a amjor city?)  and the energy costs that go with it, not to mention insurance and support costs for the hardware.

 However if the business cash flow should cash dry up, then you may find it  impossible to pay for the subscription – you dont just lose support, you may lose your entire system.   Vendors need to make a profit so ultimately they have to cover the cost of the up front finance. Cloud applications therefore generate more predictable revenue and higher long term revenue.

There are many successful solutions particularly in the CRM space.  Why am I writing about this now? Well Microsoft recently invited me to particpate in one of the partner surveys about our awarenes of, and our business plans, re the cloud and use/planned sales of specifically Azure and other providers like Amazon web  services. So I ahd to think – we sell some cloud solutions but we not likely to be a host  of the cloud – we implement and support. So how might it change our future and offerings?

In this region there has been cautious adoption . Of course most of us use the cloud  without thinking about it when we buy books on line or upload photos, or use web email, or Facebook etc.

So what about erp solutions like Dynamics Ax . We have been able to offer this for a long time on the cloud but clients in this region are still concerend about proven reliability – there have been some prominent site outages this year, and about  risks to their data. I am less conerend about secuirty – if you choose a major provider then they will have  a Fort Knox equivalent data centre physical security with appropriate back up,  disaster recovery, firewalls, virus protection, and skilled staff  etc that will be far safer than most on premise networks. For me the problem is more about the contractual and support side which seems much less clear..

 2. Will we still own our data? a crucial question to ask your ERP cloud provider before the purchase-  how and in what format will  the cloud provider deliver your data to you when you cancel your contract – how long will that take  .

3. How to choose the ERP cloud provider? Few will have a cloud track record, but  lots of satisfied customers is always a good sign .  Check the uptime guarantees, service level agreement (SLA) and other terms and conditions and whether these cna be substantiated and what happens if those are not met . Check the vendor is operating on a large enough scale with redundant infrastructure facilities in the case of a natural disaster at their primary facility. What is their financial stability. WIll your data be in the sama server as others on a shared database, or will it be dedicated for you? How does the application licensing work if the cloud provider is not the application vendor?

4. What if  we want to bring ERP back in-house? . Some vendors only support cloud deployment,

5. Will a cloud-based ERP system be able to integrate with the other line of business applications that we use?  ERP solutions with integration tools will allow you to integrate to other on premises and cloud based solutions. Can you customise for your business, or is it a common build offered to all clients – i.e if the system is enhanced for you then all other users similarly benefit. A common build will tend to be continually improved and be easier to upgrade maintain – Birch St is a typical product that works on this module for Hospitality procurdment.

6. Will there be connectivity and response time issues   Check the latency and   bandwidth requirement per client – consider report printing and BI.  Response time is a key factor for the user with a cloud based system. Flex system is a powerful user friendly cloud BI system – its in memory processing ensures exceptional processing response time. Ask us! Its a well kept secret here but is widely used in financial services in Asia.

7. What if the internet connection goes down? Consider a  redundant internet service to ensure continued operations even when your primary ISP goes down this may also help you to load balance and peak times . Many organizations find that a redundant system also helps with load balancing during high usage time.

8. What if the cloud provider is offline? The SLA (Service Level Agreement), should define   uptime guarantees and explanation of the redundant systems in place to protect against major system failure – 99.9% uptime  means in the worst case scenario that your system isdown less than 8.76 hours per annum – probably better than an in house system .

9. What  about add on customised developments?   Will these  work with a cloud based application ? This will become more common as the cloud usage expands, but there will be an additional cost to adding ISV applications to your hosted or cloud system.

What about office tools- these are less crtical than erp solutions Most of us use a hotmail gmail ,yahoo or equivalent mail account. Google apps has a large footprint of users – and Zoho also has its fans,

Microsoft has now entered this space with 2 million clients for Office 365 in a very short time. For small businesses this is a quick way to get up and running at a known cost with Office Professional, SharePoint, Exchange server and Lync with the only requirement being an internet connection,- instant productivity with the possibility of Skype or other VOIP phone systems. Ask us for details. However, it can also be a big boon for large companies as a way of outsourcing these IT functions – useful when skilled resources are scarce /costly, and when office rents are high, and the company wants to stay compliant with ITIL, and the latest technology, or has   variabe staffing e.g a project based company  or is experiencing rapid growth which is outstripping systems.

This seems to me where the cloud will get established and  will  lead to wider acceptance of erp on the cloud. Meanwhile apps stores are increasingly adding business apps and Microsoft now also runs an apps store to complement its products.  expect to see SaaS models evolve around web services e.g pay for a credit card gateway on an ad hoc  per use basis.

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