How to Choose a Cloud Provider: A Comprehensive Breakdown
Communications systems are often the single largest technology purchase a business of any size or type will make. They span millions of use cases, from treating patients to providing services to selling retail goods — or something else entirely. And the technology enabling communications between you, your people, and your customers will almost literally form the backbone for everything else.
Knowing your business needs a cloud provider and knowing how to choose a cloud provider are two very different things. Considering the options and making a selection are learned skills. One business may be better suited to these tasks or have more resources available than the next. But there are also things every organization can improve upon as they search for and implement the tools that power one of their most vital aspects: communications.
With that in mind, let's take an in-depth look at what to consider when choosing a cloud provider, with a focus on the communications tools that keep industries running. Our white paper, How to Move Communications to the Cloud, is a key resource, so be sure to give it a read for even more info.
Why Your Business Needs to Move to the Cloud
First and most importantly: If you've found yourself asking if your business needs to move to the cloud — or if you've wondered if your organization needs to lean more fully into the technology — the answer is almost certainly a resounding yes. That only becomes more important when the questions revolve around cloud communications.
You've undoubtedly already noted some of the amazing things businesses are doing with cloud communications. Chances are that you've even thought about how similar technologies could work for you. From a general industry perspective, here are just three of the numerous benefits an organization can expect when it embraces cloud technology:
Greater flexibility: COVID-19 changed the way we work, including a historic increase in the need for tools that support communication between field-, home-, and office-based teams. Video platforms powered by the cloud greatly raise the possible levels of connected productivity, making it an important tool for any business that would benefit from better teamwork.
Better scalability: Cloud adoption and growth go hand in hand, and cloud tools typically come with pricing models that allow businesses to only pay for what they need and grow their capabilities as fast as their business requires. That's far better than tools built from monolithic platforms (that often involve more restrictive pricing models).
Stronger futureproofing: Cloud is the future, and businesses that embrace cloud-powered communications give themselves access to a greater selection of tools in the future, whatever their changing needs may bring.
How to Choose the Right Cloud Provider
Once you've made the decision to go cloud-based, then comes the daunting work of picking who will help you get there. The sheer number of providers, each with their own unique hook or marketing spin, is overwhelming enough, on top of recognizing what services and features are actually relevant to you. It can be difficult to even determine what your business needs when every source has a different answer.
Certain factors can help simplify and inform your decision-making process. These four, sampled from a list of eight in the full white paper, are among the most important:
Specific capabilities: In other words, look beyond the name. In the case of cloud-powered technology like unified communications, for example, two providers' platforms may offer completely different sets of utilities, features, and overall benefits. Knowing precisely what their platforms can do relative to your organization's needs is critical.
Reliance on microservices and level of modernization: This consideration goes a bit deeper because it involves the way cloud technologies actually operate. More detail on single-cloud vs. multi-cloud is provided below, but the basic idea is that it's better to buy technology from a single provider instead of one that uses solutions from multiple providers under a single name.
Locations: Your provider should operate in the same places you do. This ensures your communications have less overall travel time and gives you a better quality of service and more reliability from the get-go.
Initial deployment time: You may have a lengthy timetable for your cloud plans, or circumstances may force you to purchase in a hurry. Either way, you should know exactly how long each provider you're researching will take to fully implement their services.
Our piece on building a request for proposal mirrors what the white paper says about support: Many providers say they offer 24/7 support, but the actual level of the support behind that number is what really matters.
What you need to ask — and what needs to be in your request for proposal — are questions about how the service is provided. Where are support agents located? How quickly can they be reached? How do they handle voice over internet protocol (VoIP) quality issues? Are they proactive or simply looking at historical outcomes? Are they actively sampling calls? Demand clear, concise answers free of heavy tech jargon or assertions that "it's never been a problem before."
How to Evaluate a Cloud Services Provider
Your purchasing journey will eventually come down to a narrow list of potential providers, and you'll then need to take a deeper look at the offerings each brings to the table or compare your current provider against these competitors. Again, you'll want to look beyond the marketing — go past talking points and dive into how the provider can meet your organization's specific needs:
Look at uptime rates: As the white paper and other sources note, uptime rates and service level agreement (SLA) rates are different and shouldn't be confused with one another. Take a company offering a 100 percent SLA as an example: They aren't saying they guarantee their service will always be up; rather, they're saying they're willing to pay you for any instances of downtime. It's a small distinction on paper but a substantial one in practice. Make sure you ask specifically about the uptime rate if the provider doesn't make it readily available to you.
Ask about their history of innovation as well as where they're going: As our white paper notes, artificial intelligence (AI) could be the biggest change agent in communications ever. That is mirrored by the proliferation of AI-powered communications tools from third-party partners in fields like HR, retail, and healthcare. A provider with a history of innovation and a strong slate of current AI offerings (think of configurable chatbots and virtual contact center agents as just two examples) has helped shape the industry as it is now and knows where the industry is going. Considering things like the real benefits AI-based tools currently provide in fields such as retail, it's worth weighing whether or not your present-day or near-future needs include AI.
Investigate their ability to integrate: Modern cloud communications systems are extremely high-utility, with functions that enable collaboration across multiple points of the business — even when the individual units within that business rely on different tools to get their jobs done. For example, think about how research teams and field teams provide two different services but frequently collaborate. The strongest contenders among your cloud candidates should offer deep, fast integration with the tools your business currently relies on. They may offer this as an out-of-the-box feature, such as immediate integration with your existing scheduling and email clients. But it may also take some configuration to get it working right, such as when you come to the provider with a need to integrate with industry-standard software. In both cases, you should know how the tools intersect and how long they'll take to get working in tandem.
The Most Important Requirement When Choosing a Cloud Services Provider
The size and style of a provider's cloud architecture should be at the top of your priority list. Why? A provider with single-cloud design will almost always provide a better experience and product than those pulled from several different providers to build a multi-cloud service.
Just as you would prefer not to buy one set of TV channels from one cable provider and one from another, plus a premium movie package from a third, you don't want to deal with your business's communications coming from a scattershot collection of sources. That approach invites needless cost, complexity, and trouble.
The reasons in favor of going with single-cloud architecture break down to two angles:
You don't want a DIY approach: Trying to build functional communications by buying multiple products from multiple providers is risky and almost certainly too expensive. One program going down could mean a critical break in the chain for all your communications, and any technical concerns will likely require a game of "who's fault is it" to get them resolved.
A multi-cloud service is just as complicated: Buying a group of collected third-party services from a single provider is somewhat better than going full DIY. That doesn't mean it's the best option, however, because many of the same problems are in play. Your communications platform may seem cohesive on your side, but it's probably being run at risk of multiple points of failure on the provider's side. So when a usage or billing issue arises, your vendor may have to harangue their vendors to get solutions. That creates frustration, lost time, and unnecessary expense.
By contrast, a single product from a single vendor on a single cloud gives you — and the vendor — the best level of fine-tuning control, integration, and quality, all with products that tend to be cheaper and have better levels of customer support.
Benefits of Choosing a Single-Cloud Provider
It's easy to see the ways in which single-cloud providers stand out over multi-cloud alternatives: better customer experiences, faster problem resolution, simplified purchasing and integration, and other benefits. But just as important is a single-cloud provider's ability to prepare your business for the future — since futureproofing is a key reason for moving a communications system to the cloud to begin with. Here are a few things that going with a single cloud offers:
Integration with your apps and software: This is a big one, and it's one that stakeholders who don't have an inclination for tech may not consider at first. A single-stack provider will have access to a deep collection of APIs, many of which can be built directly into the systems a business uses, including any proprietary software. That might mean building video calling into a customer quote app, adding text-based appointment reminders to the current scheduling system, or something else altogether — including things your business doesn't know it needs yet.
Quicker access to modern features: It happened when SMS messaging hit the scene and again when smartphones changed the world: Customers adopted the new way of doing things, while businesses scrambled to follow. By going with a single-cloud provider, you give yourself the best chance to utilize new and exciting capabilities at the cutting edge (think AI, chatbots, and other game changers) because they're already working with the people making those advancements.
Even faster scaling: Expected seasonal spikes and unplanned volume growth are just two reasons you may need to quickly expand your communications capabilities. A single-cloud provider makes that as easy as logging into a web-based portal and making a few clicks. Compare this to a multi-cloud provider who may need to call other vendors to get things right with your system, and the disconnect becomes clear.
Next Steps to Take
Now that you have a better idea of how to choose a cloud provider, your next steps could go a couple of different ways, depending on your needs and the business's current technological status:
If you're a new business or simply building your cloud communications from scratch: It's important to understand everything cloud-based tools can do for your business because there's a lot to take in. We strongly advise you take a look at communications transformation before deciding in full what you want.
If you're looking to upgrade your current stack or switch to a better provider: Understanding why businesses like yours have largely decided to move all their communications systems to the cloud can provide valuable perspective.
Either way, coming in with a strong idea of what you want from a platform and a better notion of how to choose a cloud provider should help as you advance the journey of your business.