Are you thinking of moving to Google Apps or Office 365? Or do you already use Dropbox, Box, Webex, Salesforce or one of the many Cloud services now on offer? Or do you want to know why you should even care?
Cloud providers can offer more flexible services at a cheaper price than most enterprises can achieve by amortising their equipment and maintenance costs over a large number of customers.
More important than lower prices, Cloud services promise to improve productivity. Users or business units can receive required capabilities “now” rather than wait for months for IT to design the answer to their wishes.
You also receive fault-tolerance, disaster recovery and uniform access from many device types – all contributors to productivity by helping your employees get their jobs done, whenever and wherever they are.
Cloud services can also improve productivity in the IT department by freeing up IT staff to focus on solving company-specific problems rather than looking after consumerised infrastructure such as mail servers, file repositories, CRM systems and the like.
Few companies gain significant competitive advantage by having a “really well set up mail server” – they’re a dime a dozen, yet expensive to maintain internally.
So why burden your IT staff up with mundane tasks when they could be designing business-specific process improvements and extracting business intelligence that will help your bottom line?
While moving to the Cloud offers clear productivity benefits, there are pitfalls to avoid in order to reap these benefits fully.
One of the most significant challenges is about how to manage all those logins. Users are required to remember many passwords when they use a range of Cloud services such as email, online apps, CRM and accounting services.
While passwords are essential, their proliferation is bad for both productivity and for security.
The productivity problem posed by password proliferation is that people may choose to not use an app to avoid login logistics - or even worse, “build” a simpler, less secure alternative to do the job.
In addition, complex passwords generate many ‘forgotten password’ calls to the Help Desk, wasting time all round.
Security is undermined when many users write down their passwords or choose the same bad password for everything
There’s also the problem of entering passwords on mobile devices, which is both tricky and annoying - and a security hazard if your member of staff enters their password in a public place.
The answer to both these productivity and security questions is Single Sign On (SSO) authentication, which frees your staff from needing to remember usernames and passwords.
SSO is not just a big productivity win for the people who use your IT infrastructure. It also boosts the productivity of your IT administrators.
An SSO solution greatly simplifies de-provisioning Cloud apps by tying all logons back to a single identity store such as Microsoft Active Directory.
This avoids IT staff needing to track down all accounts for manual disabling, a tedious, time-consuming and error-prone task that requires a highly privileged - that is, expensive - operator.
A good SSO solution makes de-provisioning a straightforward “disable user” operation for staff on the Help Desk: Trivial, quick and almost impossible to screw up.
After initial SSO roles are set up, day-to-day maintenance is trivial, requiring virtually no extra training. This eliminates the need to train or retain application specialists to merely "add, move, change, delete" etc.
The Cloud is here to stay because of its productivity promises rather than just its price.
Businesses wanting to embrace the Cloud need to sidestep those pitfalls in order to reap productivity benefits that can boost the bottom line.
Matt Ramsay is Asia-Pacific Regional Director for Centrify, a leader in Unified Identity Services across data center, cloud and mobile. More at http://www.centrify.com
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