…but don’t forget to watch your back(end)!

It’s a bad feeling when you learn that a service you’ve been using (or selling) has been discontinued or when you realize that it’s not meeting your needs anymore.  And the feeling is much worse when its Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), which means that you have already forgone many physical solutions to leverage the power and convenience that cloud-based solutions can offer.

This bad situation escalates when you also have channel customers that rely on you to provide these essential cloud services.  Last year, McAfee Email Protection became yet another cloud service to exit the marketplace.  And while Intel Security was quick to identify another provider with a similar service, customers were still required to either start from scratch to find a different provider or to take Intel’s advice and go with the next guy.  Both options still required all mailboxes to be provisioned again, along with complete data migration to another system – not convenient and not without risk.

So as a channel provider, is there a way to avoid being in this position?  Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet, but there are steps you can take to cut down on risk.

      1. Align yourself with providers who specialize in cloud-based services.
        In such a dynamic industry where capabilities and solutions are evolving daily, the hunt to find consistency and stability in an intangible The cloud industry may not be in its infancy anymore, but it is still exclusively a creation of the 21st century.  Companies that were born in the cloud are typically more apt to stay in the cloud.  Many larger technology providers have attempted to gain cloud traction through acquisition.  However, we’ve seen repeatedly that successful cloud-based companies tend to be leaner and more capable of adapting quickly to industry changes.  Larger corporations who’ve acquired cloud-based divisions to enter the market often find that it’s easier to cut their losses and exit rather than to adapt their core business and development models to fit the cloud market.  As with any acquisition or merger, the risk when joining two businesses is that the cultures may be dissimilar.   Bottom line: when you need to open a can, don’t try to find the multi-purpose tool when a can opener is right in front of you.   The right tool for your needs is always the best solution.
      2. Take small steps to avoid big pitfalls.
        It’s not difficult to find robust, powerful tools that support a successful business continuity plan.  From cloud backups of emails and communications to physical safeguards such as generators, modern businesses are now in much better shape to avoid financial disaster when disaster strikes.  But aside from complex technology solutions, consider that a key function of your business continuity plan should be an in-depth yearly review.  Take the time to reevaluate exactly what you or your customers need.  Look around.  Evaluate other services or products.  Don’t sign long-term contracts if you can avoid it – what works today may be obsolete in six months.  Have a contingency plan (even if it’s written on a napkin!) so that if you ever face the end of life for a service, you won’t be out of options and you’ll know how to make your next move.
      3. Read the fine print.
        Cloud-based services typically come with Service Level Agreements (SLAs).  While not necessarily engaging prose, SLAs are typically very detailed in covering exactly what you can expect as a customer and what your rights are if the service doesn’t perform to guaranteed levels of uptime.  Most will also include explanations as to your rights if the company ever declares bankruptcy.  Find out how long you have to recover your data if a situation ever occurs.  Review your SLAs and contact your provider with any questions.  If you’re looking at a new service or provider, be sure to review their SLAs.  Make sure services and providers align with your infrastructure.  If you ever need to leave a service, ensure that your data can be retrieved in a readable and useful format.  Diligence is its own reward since the answers are usually found in the fine print, regardless of how obscure or vague they are made.

At the risk of sounding like a bumper sticker, hope for the best but prepare for the worst.  Your business is your livelihood so you owe it to yourself and to your customers to keep your options open so that you can react if needed and put yourself in a position to succeed.

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