Cloud consulting services: Providers easing customers into the cloud

As customers look to providers for cloud consulting services, providers must sell appropriate services, while maintaining a profitable cloud business.

Not every application is suitable for the cloud, and most enterprises are not yet confident in their abilities to make that assessment.

Third-party consulting services can help with this assessment, but these services are expensive. Service providers are finding that customers and prospects are reaching out to them for IT decision making assistance -- especially when it comes to assessing cloud services. Some providers have developed cloud consulting services to educate potential customers about the benefits and pitfalls of moving applications and services to the cloud.

Service providers must balance between profiting from their cloud offerings and being trusted advisers who don't push customers into services that might not be appropriate for their businesses.

Cloud consulting service providers working with prospective customers

Regardless of whether a business has used the cloud for certain applications in the past or is mapping out a potential cloud strategy for the first time, outside expertise can help bring customers on board and make them more comfortable with cloud, said Agatha Poon, research manager for global cloud computing at the London-based consultancy 451 Research.

Dimension Data, a global IT service provider based in South Africa, recently announced its cloud readiness service, which helps organizations assess their ability to migrate applications to the cloud, as well as their preparedness.

The service -- available to both existing and prospective customers -- combines Dimension Data's cloud business and systems integration expertise to deliver a reliable and realistic cloud roadmap for customers that considers cost, security and migration, said Keao Caindec, chief marketing officer for the provider's cloud business unit.

The cloud consulting service begins with an online survey containing 20 to 30 questions that the prospective buyer completes to help them understand where they are on their journey towards the cloud. The survey questions help identify potential gaps in their IT infrastructure and the ways cloud computing might be able to address these challenges, said David Cottingham, group director of cloud consulting at Dimension Data.

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The second and third steps of the program are a cloud readiness workshop and assessment. This process, which can last a full business day, brings the customer's IT team together with Dimension Data's Consulting & Professional Services team to discuss such topics as security, application migration, internal readiness, billing, authentication and integration with other applications, Cottingham said.

The team works with C-level executives and IT decision makers to review their company's organizational structure, operations and technology over two weeks, and develops a cloud migration plan based on the findings after the assessment period. "We will provide some recommendations and a high-level cloud roadmap for short-term, actionable initiatives to get [customers] started, as well as some longer term initiatives to move towards cloud computing," Cottingham said.

The cloud readiness assessment will be useful for customers in any stage of their cloud strategy because they can drop out of the readiness service at any time, 451 Research's Poon said. "The program isn't about forcing customers into the cloud. It's up to the customer, and if they don't think they are ready, they don't have to move anything into the cloud," she said. "It's a nice step-by-step way towards making the customer more comfortable with cloud services."

Cloud consulting services depend on customer's internal IT resources

To create an effective and objective cloud consulting service, providers should target customers that have enough in-house IT in place to accurately participate in a self-assessment, said Tom Nolle, president of CIMI Corp. "If customers have bad data driving their decision from the start, they are going to make a bad decision unless it's a happy accident -- and that's the problem providers are running into," he said.

While many service providers' cloud readiness services are not specifically limited to customer size, the sweet spot for cloud consulting services is within the midsize business, Nolle said. "These businesses will have some IT resources, but that staff will probably be limited in their expertise. These businesses may need a recommendation for certain IT services -- like the cloud -- but they will also be able to judge the relevance and completeness of the provider assessment."

Cloud consulting services -- like typical IT consulting services -- can be great for helping customers make a transition from a traditional IT environment to a cloud environment, but not every provider wants to get into the consulting game.

Offering private and hybrid approaches is one way that providers can help move hesitant customers into the cloud and that is still profitable for themselves, 451 Research's Poon said. "Some customers really don't want to move into a service provider's cloud but want some cloud services in their own data center," she said. Service providers can offer private cloud implementations, a gainful move for providers and a less risky move for uncertain customers.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, News Writer, and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.

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