Cloud computing has become dramatically more prevalent over the past few years, thanks in large part to investments from technology giants like Microsoft, Amazon and Google. However, the cloud industry is still fairly young, and as such there is still some disagreement about what exactly "the cloud" is and should be. Currently, "cloud computing" describes a number of Internet-based services, including software and business process programs, infrastructure application platforms, and various storage and retrieval programs.

For the time being at least, there is a significant difference between top-line and bottom-line improvement solutions (like expense management software) in the cloud, each with substantially different strategies. As a result, while there is no single value proposition for cloud-based solutions as they relate to businesses, ignoring the cloud altogether is an increasingly unacceptable risk for organizations. When considering cloud-based solutions, three main goals and your company’s true ability to actually achieve them should be addressed. Avoiding or ignoring any of these goals puts your company at risk.

1. SAVING MONEY ON IT AND INFRASTRUCTURE COSTS

One of the fundamental goals behind cloud computing is leveraging economies of scale. Cloud solutions typically are housed in centralized locations, where massive amounts of IT infrastructure allow for significantly larger economies of scale than even most enterprise-level companies could utilize on their own. An increasing number of IT services can be outsourced to cloud-based solutions.  Remember that the cloud is still not an IT panacea; "cloud only" strategies run the risk of falling victim to unforeseen problems in the young industry. One of the biggest risks comes from the fact that cloud services have yet to be standardized. What is acceptable up-time? Or back-up time? Or software security level required? There are many standardization and best practice questions yet to be answered. Until this happens, mission critical reliance on a single cloud service that fails could put a company at unnecessarily-high risk. Ultimately, cloud computing can reduce costs, but only in specific circumstances. Be aware of all the risks of running your software, and the type of software, remotely from a cloud provider.

2. RENOVATING IT INFRASTRUCTURE

This goal is based on the idea that cloud computing is more efficient than typical decentralized enterprise computing. Some of the largest corporations are even creating their own private clouds, with the belief that centralization can occur within their own enterprise instead of being outsourced elsewhere. While internal cloud infrastructure lends itself to rapid scaling up or down of IT services, some services still require the personal attention of IT professionals. Ultimately, private clouds can help scale certain functions, but should not yet be used as an enterprise's complete IT infrastructure. IT departments should begin viewing themselves as Hybrid IT groups that not only provide corporate enterprise services but also broker services of cloud providers.

3. INNOVATION AND EXPERIMENTATION

By starting and experimenting with cloud projects now, companies will be ahead of the curve as cloud computing becomes more and more relevant in the corporate world. Remember that cloud computing solutions are best utilized in small-scale and limited functions so that your overall IT risk exposure is lessened. Cloud computing provides very low barriers to entry for enterprises to pilot and test new services. Regardless of whether a new service grows or fails, overall company risk and investment is low.

Ultimately, each of these goals address different aspects of cloud computing. While companies should begin to introduce cloud computing into their overall strategy, care should be taken in identifying IT services that are completely outsourced vs. those that remain in-house. 

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