For the past 2 years, cloud-based computing (the cloud) has been seen as a game-changer and now everyone is hankering for a piece of the action. The benefits being trumpeted appear to make the move to the cloud a 'no-brainer'. We’re told development costs are cheaper, the need for powerful services is reduced, data can be accessed anywhere at any time and the solution is almost infinitely scalable. There's also something very alluring about being in constant touch with colleagues whilst on a beach in the Caribbean sipping cocktails!
With the advent of 4G downloads and 'superfast' broadband services, earlier limitations on latency (the time taken by data to leave your device, reach the server and get back to you) and on download speeds appear to be behind us. However, despite these advancements, the dangers of running systems in the cloud are not negligible, so any move to cloud-based computing needs to undertaken with caution.
Let’s look first at business interruption. On average, an internet service provider will experience three major business interruption 'events' a year, each on average 4.7 hours, when systems and data may not be available. Other technology providers are likely to fall victim to similar outages. Even 'best in class' suppliers suffer from at least one event per annum; the laggards between four and five.
Imagine the worst case scenario; all your equipment fails during a Saturday evening service, when your ISP is manned only by a skeleton team who can respond to your problem. Suddenly you understand how your cloud-based supplier can keep costs low: support staff and backup service levels are pared down at non-peak times. This can be disastrous for your business.
Resilience is much talked about. This is a critical area to check before you commit to a cloud solution. In the restaurant and hotel trade, it’s imperative to be able to trade at all times, so firstly ensure that there is offline capability and redundancy within the system. This means that your systems and data pass immediately to another server in the case of failure.
Secondly, ensure that both your ISP and your technology provider have suitable disaster recovery arrangements in place. Disasters come in all shapes and sizes. 40% of them can be attributed to human error; others will be natural phenomena such as floods or fires, even electro-magnetic interference. Imagine telling a customer a solar flare was responsible for a delay in processing their order!
When your systems operate in the cloud, you lose a certain amount of control over your data. It no longer sits on a server in your head office or under the table in your office. You need to know precisely what your ISP or technology provider is doing with your data and be convinced there’s a failsafe recovery plan in place to prevent data loss.
Equally, you must be confident in the security of your data. Reassure yourself that the customer details you've painstakingly collected through loyalty schemes and feedback forms aren’t being sold to third-parties without your knowledge or used in advertising campaigns that may benefit competitors. In short, you need to be absolutely certain your data is being handled with complete confidentiality. And always check it’s being backed up!
Take a long hard look at the cost of a cloud-based solution. We recently looked at changing one of our van tracking systems. One company wanted a flat £1,000 per vehicle for an unlimited licence plus a £20 per month support fee for an excellent system. The other, cloud based and less functional, option was an affordable £200 per quarter. Let’s save a few pounds up-front and go with the second offering, we thought. However, after calculating the total cost, we realised the monthly fee would set us back an extra £680 over the lifetime of the vehicle but would offer a much better system. So, when comparing the cost of traditional deployment versus the cloud, calculate the costs over the contract’s lifetime and weigh that against the functionality offered.
That said, where we have been able to confidently opt for a superior system, we have moved a number of systems to the cloud. We will continue this migration, at each step carefully considering the potential impact of moving a system out of our control. We advise all hospitality business to be similarly cautious and to take the same care when assessing and adopting the system options now available to them.
What are your experiences with moving to the cloud? Leave your comments below and add to the conversation.