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3 Real-World Small Business Cloud Success Stories

Small businesses are increasingly adopting cloud services — and realizing a bevy of benefits.

Companies realize they must engage with their customers on a more meaningful level than ever before. For some brands, that means communicating through social media or publishing insightful content on blogs or company websites. Others partner with public relations firms that possess the know-how and reach to get their messages out fast and effectively.

As a longtime provider of media research and social and PR platforms, Cision is in the business of helping businesses tell their story. Now, the 123-year-old company has its own unique story to share: In the past year, Chicago-based Cision has acquired or merged with four competitors as part of a strategy to increase its product and services portfolio, move into new international markets and become a leading player in the global media intelligence market.

This long-term growth strategy resulted in a two-pronged challenge for DeAndre Hodo, Cision’s vice president of IT: how to integrate new acquisitions into the Cision environment so employees can seamlessly access tools and services on day one while simultaneously onboarding employees securely.

From the start, Hodo had a single focus in mind: the cloud. He has since been ramping up services through the cloud in steady progression.

“Leveraging the cloud is just more efficient from a cost management standpoint. It’s predictable, and we can implement services without making new capital investments or putting together complex implementation and deployment plans,” Hodo says, noting that the company now has more than 2,000 employees worldwide.

29.9%

Percentage of SMBs that consider themselves cloud-focused

20%
characterize themselves as cloud explorers

SOURCE: RightScale, “State of the Cloud Survey,” February 2015

Jumping In

After initially taking a wait-and-see approach to cloud computing, many small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are adopting cloud-first models for select — if not all — operational components, including collaborative and core applications as well as infrastructure needs, says Laurie McCabe, a co-founder and partner at SMB Research.

Her most recent survey found that more than 40 percent of SMBs have concrete plans to move their collaboration, marketing automation and customer relationship management applications to the cloud within the coming year.

The cloud is becoming pretty mainstream at this point,” McCabe says. “Businesses have had a chance to get used to it, whereas even two or three years ago, a lot of people didn’t really understand what the term meant for them.”

There’s also an industry shift driving adoption, she points out: Often, software makers now opt to replace perpetual license applications with cloud-based products.

But perhaps the cloud feature most appealing to SMBs, McCabe says, is the luxury of the pay-as-you-go model that lets organizations scale as fast or as slow as they like. It reduces the upfront investment in technology yet lets businesses tap services and expertise that they might not want to pay for (or might not be able to afford) in-house.

That certainly was the case for Cision. It was also true for Idaho’s First Federal Savings Bank and Maryland nonprofit Trees for the Future.

The CAPEX Advantage

“We can be agile; we can quickly scale to meet our growing business needs,” Cision’s Hodo says. “However, if it’s determined that we no longer want to provide a particular service, we can divest without having to carry the depreciation costs typically associated with traditional IT services.”

The company is already using Salesforce.com to handle its customer relationship management needs and recently rolled out Google Apps for Work for user productivity tools.

Now, Hodo has begun moving identity management into the cloud. The effort is designed to further speed and simplify the mergers and acquisition integration process. “With this in the cloud, as we acquire new companies, we can quickly integrate with them and provide federated email services and access to our cloud-based applications,” Hodo says. “Using this model, integration can be quickly achieved with a high degree of security, access control and management.”

Next up, Cision plans to launch cloud-enabled collaboration services, including Voice over IP and web and video conferencing, before moving the company’s traditional storage/compute environment.

Our infrastructure will be the last phase of our cloud migration strategy, as prematurely moving this to the cloud could result in unanticipated disruptions in our current environment,” Hodo says. “Once we’ve completed our enterprise application and office productivity tool migrations, we will systematically begin moving portions of our infrastructure to the cloud to gain additional flexibility to meet our growing business needs.”

Creative Overdrive

For the creative and marketing team at First Federal Savings Bank, a community bank in Twin Falls, the expanded access to just-released tools has proved valuable. Media Specialist Cornelius Brackett says his team moved to the cloud after Adobe announced its suite of creative desktop applications, including Adobe Acrobat Pro, Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator, would be available as a subscription-based service through Creative Cloud.

“To be honest, we weren’t very taken with the idea at first because it was so different from the way we’d always done things, but when we learned that all of our print houses, sign makers and other partners were making the switch, we really had no choice but to go to the cloud,” Brackett says.

Ultimately, with access to the always up-to-date apps and the latest features, First Federal’s creative team has enjoyed a quantum leap in its ability to innovate, speed its workflow, work with partners and scale its operations, Brackett says.

In fact, with the new tools, he moved the bank’s brand design and marketing content development in-house to support all 11 branches. The staff can now create high-end TV commercials using 3D modeling and animation, and the logo and messaging are so consistent and familiar it has helped the bank increase its profile and grow into new regions.

“We’ve gotten some of the nicest and weirdest compliments ever since we started doing everything in-house,” Brackett says. “People sometimes accuse us of being a national bank because of how high-quality and professional our ads and television commercials come across, and it’s helping attract new interest in and new customers to the bank.”

Because of security regulations on financial institutions, Brackett and his team can’t perform in-process work in the cloud, so they have to download apps and work directly on their desktops. The cloud, however, provides immediate access to the latest upgrades and patches, an integrated set of additional fonts and an online storage component that lets bank staff easily deliver large files to publishers, TV stations and other partners.

In addition, during downtime, the bank’s creative team taps the Adobe cloud to learn and try new approaches. Brackett says his team downloads less familiar Adobe apps so they can experiment and expand their skills. “We have that freedom of access to everything that’s available, and when we pull something down, it quickly goes from software we don’t normally use to software that we normally use.”

Leveraging the Core

The IT team at Trees for the Future, a nonprofit that works with rural communities in developing countries to plant trees and help retain and revitalize topsoil, is also leveraging the cloud to achieve new results.

The organization, based in Silver Spring, Md., was an early adopter of Salesforce.com to manage and maintain its contacts; and of Google Apps for Work to provide anywhere, anytime productivity tools to its well-traveled users.

A year ago, however, Trees for the Future discovered the cloud could improve its mission effectiveness in a way it never could have done with an on-premises environment, says Hank Dearden III, senior director of operations.

Dearden did this by deploying a suite of mobile technology tools, designed for use by nonprofit staff working in remote areas, that runs atop the Salesforce.com platform. Trees for the Future gives a smartphone outfitted with the app to in-country contractors, who enter information on the status and care process of newly started or replanted trees. The data immediately feeds into the company’s Salesforce.com database for analysis.

“This is giving us rigorous feedback on a scale we’ve never ever had, and it’s real-time,” Dearden says. “We planted 17 million trees last year, and some of them didn’t survive because they were planted wrong or in the wrong season or they were wiped out by a plague of locusts or a tree disease. Now, we can take all those data points across all the people who are feeding data into our system and determine what we need to do next time to improve our survival rates. If we can improve just 1 percent, that’s 170,000 trees we’ve saved.”

Slow and Steady Wins in the Cloud

For its part, Cision is fully embarked on a cloud-first strategy, but that doesn’t mean Hodo and his team plan to rush adoption. “We want to be careful as we move forward, and not haphazard,” he says. “It’s not just, ‘Hey let’s get everything to the cloud because that’s cool.’ ”

In fact, Hodo employs a decision tree to make sure the cloud is a perfect fit for each business component for which it is considered. Any move must take into account security, accessibility and usability — as well as existing IT investment. If relevant hardware is still early in its depreciation cycle or there are long-term contracts in place, then a move to the cloud might need to wait.

“If there are areas within your IT environment that are not fully depreciated or remain under an existing service agreement, these factors could influence your decision and timing to perform cloud migrations,” Hodo says. “A move to the cloud where there is already sunk investment or financial commitment could potentially have a negative impact on the bottom line.”

Ultimately, the decision to transition a business component has to make sense. If Hodo can’t show the migration will cost less than a business component’s annual run rate, then it probably doesn’t justify transitioning to the cloud, he says.

When all of the criteria are met, however, a move to the cloud provides the agility needed to advance the business, Hodo says.

“We get a more predictable IT environment by leveraging cloud-based services and utilities; however, the real value is in stronger global collaboration, quicker speed to market, and an increased ability to drive and foster innovation.”

Bob Stefko
Jun 03 2015

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