Cloud application software can save users time and money.

If you’ve been in business any length of time, you’ve probably implemented a major application software suite — or two. You may even have some scars to prove it.

But if you’ve been in business any length of time, you also know that enterprise software solutions are evolving. If you’re not already in the cloud, chances are your next solution will be.

Cloud application software has many advantages over on-premise solutions. It allows customers to defer or diminish their spending on IT hardware, systems software, and large up-front software licenses. Cloud solutions can scale up or down easily, in sharp contrast to an on-premise data center. 

Cloud application software products can be implemented quickly and shift most of the software maintenance responsibilities to the vendor. This can be a major cost savings and allow IT organizations to redeploy their talent away from low-value added software maintenance to more strategic IT development.

It’s no wonder that the cloud software market is one of the fastest-growing marketplaces in the history of the industry.

But the advantages of cloud applications no longer are limited to speed of implementation and cost savings. Today, cloud solutions can add new levels of richness to reporting, regulatory compliance, analytics, operational insights, and more.

Any organization considering a cloud-based solution has much to think about. Those of us who have helped companies migrate to the cloud have learned a number of lessons that may help others venturing into this brave new world for the first time. Here are five:

  • Implementation starts now; but that doesn’t mean you’re good to go. Since there is no waiting for hardware or software to arrive and be installed, some key implementation steps that take on-premise developers weeks or months can begin almost immediately. Implementation teams are freed to spend most of their time discussing workflows and process maps instead of configuring servers and other hardware.

That said, those who will use the system  — general users, report designers, data conversion programmers and others — will need to know about the new software as soon as you’ve signed the contract. They will need to see and test how well the software fits their business needs and may need time up front for process design, training, change management and other processes. 

  • Users will likely find systems more intuitive to use, but they still will need training. While much of today’s cloud application software is easier to understand and use, even on today’s smart handheld devices, you’ll still need to train your people to capture maximum value. This is especially true as companies deploy cloud application suites on mobile and social technologies. Here’s why:

As workflows and processes are altered to support a more mobile workforce, you need to serve content — not just transaction screens — to users at the point of need. This content and the applications that support it must be designed with specific workers, workflows, mobile device type, and other factors in mind. You’ll need to consider social computing factors as well, since processes may need to support collaboration by colleagues within, and outside of, the organization.

  • Software prototyping and configuration tasks are often mandatory with cloud solutions. Cloud application software solutions provide a more direct connection between software configuration and process definition. That’s why you’ll need product experts who understand business processes to guide you with critical early design decisions. Some configuration tools can make future functionality changes difficult. For example, configuration utilities may include predesigned reporting templates, accounting treatments, account charts, process workflows, etc. It’s important to tread softly with configuration utilities and to fully understand the consequences and required order of decisions — they may trigger use of additional modules (at additional cost) and make it difficult to reverse previous configuration settings.

  • Multi-site environments can be implemented more easily and more consistently. Additional subsidiaries can be quickly added to the cloud solution, minimizing and sometimes even eliminating the need for reconfiguration.Businesses often adopt a whole new vocabulary (and some new tools) as they support on-premise-to-cloud integration, cloud-to-cloud integration and cloud-to-on-premise integrations. Our experience indicates that larger firms will require more integration points to more applications than will smaller firms.

  • The importance of change management is amplified. The frequency and quantity of product updates originating from a cloud provider may exceed some organizations’ ability to assimilate them. Preparing users for rapid and ongoing change, as well as establishing a change-control program for business users, is critical to launching and maintaining a cloud program. Users need to know what is changing, why it’s changing, when it’s changing, how it will affect them and where to go with questions.

While cloud capabilities promise tremendous benefits, they require companies to think differently about implementation if they want to realize the true potential of this modern technology.

In fact, the greatest benefits a company will derive from new software occur when all affected processes and business outputs are reimagined. Rather than viewing implementation in terms of cost and speed alone, companies must dig deep into the process and data models within the software, as well as consider what the solution enables outside of the core business system.

We’ve mentioned only a few of the key lessons learned over the years. Companies that move to new cloud application software solutions will surely learn their own, as they apply new techniques to unique environments and business practices.

For more information about Baker Tilly and the benefits of cloud computing, see: Cloud software benefits are not all in the cloud and Implementing cloud application software suites.