Let users choose enterprise cloud applications

It will benefit your organization, make you look like a hero and increase your job security

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

Asked whether he was considering a cloud application for his company, a CIO of a mid-size organization said the downside risk of ripping and replacing the company's existing on-premises application outweighed the productivity gains the cloud application might bring. Part of that risk, he felt, was his job security.

That sentiment is common. IT professionals, after all, are responsible for keeping the organization's applications running and ensuring the security of sensitive data. When they do decide to make a software change, IT leaders traditionally consider criteria such as:

  • Will this application meet the requirements set forth in the project plan?
  • Have I used this application at a prior company and did it work?
  • How does this application fit with what we have today, and will have in the future?
  • Do I have a personal relationship with this vendor?
  • How would expertise and/or certification in this application help my career?

Not that IT historically has had many options given the high barrier to entry for new enterprise technology companies. But that has changed with the emergence of thousands of cloud applications that specialize in every enterprise niche. Cloud applications enable incredibly quick and widespread adoption across an enterprise, often without committing to a long-term contract or agreement.

In fact, as we've seen with the BYOD/shadow IT phenomenon, end users are effectively conducting market research on cloud apps themselves, and this presents a significant opportunity. What if we flip the application selection process on its head by leveraging users to select new cloud applications? While this is not a popular suggestion, there is a way you can approach this opportunity that will not only benefit your organizations, but make you look like a hero and increase job security at the same time.

Empowering users

Going back to the CIO referenced earlier, the decision to make a change should not be focused on an IT leader choosing a cloud technology for productivity or collaboration. While chances are good the "safe" choice will guarantee one's job, at least in the short term, the downside of this decision-making process is the likelihood that the organization will miss out on emerging tools and products that make users more productive and happy. Instead, that leader should understand what his or her users want and need, and guide the organization toward a solution that's right for both users and IT.

For example, all of the modern mobile device management solutions and their features -- managed encryption, containerization, selective wipe and the general device-agnostic nature of most -- were driven by this ground-up trend. Nowhere is this more evident than in the emergence of Apple products in the enterprise. Even five years ago, workers needed to retain their Blackberry smartphones for office use while using their iPhones on nights and weekends. Today, Apple claims nearly 70% of the enterprise market and most users love carrying one device to get more work done.

If IT leaders empower their users to select cloud applications, they will experience fewer tickets and change management challenges, and cultivate more champions while reducing complaints within their user base. The now well-known advantages to the cloud come to play through this process by enabling instant acquisition and company-wide access.

Many cloud applications also offer free trial periods or monthly contracts rather than a large upfront investment, further easing the process. While this may result in more upfront work and interaction with the end users in the short term, the long term benefits of happier workers and a more productive and efficient company will quickly outweigh the initial investment.

Rather than forcing change, empowering users will position IT as a helpful guide. Here are some tips that will help the transition:

* Survey your users on their thoughts. SurveyMonkey and other free applications are great ways to anonymously gauge the applications people are already using and those they're interested in trying out. If possible, determine what Shadow IT is already connected to business processes. Common tools like API Access Auditing, your Firewalls and 3rd party tools can let you approximate what's in use and where and is often very telling.

* Run internal betas of the most popular products within departments. Whether it be for mail, chat, storage, collaboration or other functions, there's a good chance some user populations have already found a great tool for improving existing company processes. This step is the time to drive the tests, make sure the products work as intended, can scale, and has the level of security and management your organization requires.

* Develop software champions. The internal test groups will be your champions; incorporate them in the roll out to improve your likelihood of buy-in across departments, as a bubble-up approach will be much more effective than a trickle-down one. Often the best rollouts involve non-IT software champions with some sort of experience related to the domain of the new app.

* Merchandise success. Build internal case studies and document the metrics of success (time saved, email exchanges avoided, price reductions, user satisfaction improvements). Watch every new app closely. Use uptime or performance tracking tools so you can deliver metrics against the old system. Check your SLAs. For example, Forrester reports that users save an average of 12 minutes per day simply by using Google Apps as their communications suite, totaling approximately 52 hours a year per employee.

* Roll out. With buy-in from your key users and support from your team, it's time to implement the new cloud software in a deliberate and controlled fashion across the organization. For more complex cloud apps your training needs to be highly tailored to specific use cases. Encourage good habits and reward power users with tips and advanced training.

* Gauge adoption. Once the product(s) have been rolled out take the organization's pulse and measure total adoption. If there are units or departments with issues, focus on special training to bring them into the fold and ensure uniformity.

There are many new end-user cloud productivity applications gaining converts and boosting productivity across the world, including Dropbox, Slack, Hipchat, Google Apps and Office 365, to name but a few. In fact, your company probably already has a population using some of these applications, whether on work or personal accounts. There is a reason your users have these apps, and like them -- they are all class leading in what they do.

Pushing back against these upstarts only provides a temporary finger in the dike, ensuring people will figure out a way to use the applications they want to use but in secret. After all, IT is not there to be punitive, it's there to enable users with awesome applications while keeping them secure.

Above all, you shouldn't delay the decision to implement new software out of fear. Users today have a much higher tolerance for change, and when it's really bad they're not even afraid to start asking directly for it, particularly when they understand how the new software will make them better at their jobs, save time and reduce menial tasks.

Done the right way--with ample communication and empowering the very people who will be using it--migrating to new cloud apps will fundamentally change the way your business operates. It will even help you secure your position in the company as the hero and set your organization up for the coming decade or two. There's no question that change is difficult. But champions exist in your organization right now, all you need to do is find them.

For more information, see BetterCloud.com.

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