By James Whitemore
The cloud. It seems like everyone from technology pundits to mothers in TV commercials are is talking about how computing is moving to the cloud—the delivery of applications to distributed users from a central location rather than putting software on individual PCs or local servers.
There’s certainly an element of truth to that. Gartner estimates the cloud market will reach $150 billion by 2013. Among the reasons for this sudden interest in cloud-based computing and communications are:
- The need for collaboration among the increasing number of remote and mobile workers;
- The addition of new branches;
- A desire to improve customer service; and
- The need to improve operational excellence while reducing technology equipment and management costs.
But what does that really mean for credit unions? Do you now need to abandon your current technology investment and move it to the cloud?
If you don’t perform a complete rip-and-replace right now, do you risk being left behind and losing market share to more cloud-savvy competitors?
That’s certainly how some so-called experts make it sound. Yet many of those with their heads firmly entrenched in the cloud are ignoring the realities of business in general and financial institutions in particular.
To help you decide whether you’re ready to move to the cloud, here are five important elements to consider.
1. Distributed vs. centralized enterprise
The first consideration should be whether your credit union operates out of a single location or has multiple branches (like most mid- to large-size credit unions).
If all of the staff work out of one facility, and that’s all you plan to have, you may not need a cloud-based solution. But if you have multiple locations or a significant number of mobile employees who need full, instant access to your network, moving to the cloud simplifies management of communications and applications—which, in turn, improves collaboration between employees.
With cloud-based unified communications, for example, the technology is hosted in a single branch, and services are then delivered to the others. This method eliminates the need to have information technology (IT) staff in each location, or have them travel between locations to provide support.
It also makes it easier to keep software and services up-to-date since the central host is being updated rather than each individual user’s equipment. Users can work together more efficiently through features such as Web conferencing and manage their individual communication needs in a way that fits the work they perform.
2. IT staff size and capabilities
The next consideration is the size of your IT staff. In the past few years, many financial institutions have pared their IT staffs, particularly in maintenance functions.
Additionally, while technology has continued to advance at an ever-accelerating pace, little has been spent on training or upgrading skill sets.
As a result, as we come out of the economic downturn, your IT staff may not be prepared to help you take advantage of new technologies internally—especially with the complexities and robust security requirements of today’s communications technologies.
Cloud-based computing solves that issue because the burden of keeping up with technology advances shifts to the service provider. Your staff can continue to focus on clients and difference-making projects while outside specialists manage commodity services, such as voice and video.
You maintain overall control, but don’t have to expend staff time (and budget) to keep commodity services at peak levels.
Next: Ditch the public Internet