The Matrix Management Structure

Discussion of managers

Organizations exploit matrix management in various ways. A company, for instance, that operates globally uses it at larger scale by giving consistent products to various countries internationally. A business entity, having many products, does not assign its people to each product full-time but assign those to different ones on a part time basis, instead. And when it comes to delivering high quality and low cost products, companies overcome industry pressures with the help of many overseeing managers. In a rapidly changing environment, organizations respond quickly by sharing information through a matrix model.

Understanding the Matrix Management Structure

A basic understanding of matrix management starts with the three key roles and responsibilities that applies in the structure.

  • Matrix Leader – The common person above all the matrix bosses is the matrix leader. He ensures that the balance of power is maintained in the entire organization by delegating decisions and promoting collaboration among the people.
  • Matrix Managers – The managers cooperate with each other by defining the respective activities that they are responsible for.
  • Matrix Employees – The employees have lesser direct authority but has more responsibilities. They resolve differing demands from more than one matrix managers while they work things out upwards. Their loyalty must be dual and their relationships with managers must be maintained.

Characteristics of a Matrix Structure

Here are some features that define the matrix management structure:

  • Hybrid Structure –The matrix structure is a mix of functional and project organization. Since it is a combination of these two, matrix management is hybrid in nature.
  • Functional Manager – When it comes to the technical phases of the project, the functional manager assumes responsibility. The manager decides on how to get the project done, delegates the tasks to the subordinates and oversees the operational parts of the organization.
  • Project Manager – The project manager has full authority in the administrative phases, including the physical and financial resources needed to complete the project. The responsibilities of a project manager comprise deciding on what to do, scheduling the work, coordinating the activities to diverse functions and evaluating over-all project performance.
  • Specialization –As the functional managers concentrate on the technical factors, the project managers focus on administrative ones. Thus, in matrix management, there is specialization.
  • Challenge in Unity of Command – Companies that employs matrix management usually experience a problem when it comes to the unity of command. This is largely due to the conflicting orders from the functional and project managers.

Types of Matrix Structure

The matrix management structure can be classified according to the level of power of the project manager. Here are three distinct types of matrix structures that are widely used by organizations.

  • Weak Matrix – The project manager has limited authority and power as the functional manager controls the budget of the project. His role is only part-time and more like a coordinator.
  • Strong Matrix – Here, the project manager has almost all the authority and power. He controls the budget, holds the full time administrative project management and has a full time role.
  • Balanced Matrix – In this structure type, both the project and functional managers control the budget of the project. The authority and power is shared by the two as well. Although the project manager has a full time role, he only has a part time authority for the administrative staff to report under his leadership.

Successful companies of today venture more on enhancing the abilities, skills, behavior and performances of their managers than the pursuit of finding the best physical structure. Indeed, learning the fundamentals of the matrix structure is essential to maximize its efficiency. A senior executive pointed out that one of the challenges in matrix management is not more of building a structure but in creating the matrix to the mind of the managers. This comes to say that matrix management is not just about the structure, it is a frame in the mind.

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Matrix Management: Benefits and Pitfalls

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Matrix management brings together managers and employees from different departments to collaborate with each other towards the accomplishment of the organizational goals. As much as it is beneficial, matrix management also has limitations. Hence, companies should understand its benefits and pitfalls before implementing this management technique.

Benefits

The following are some of the advantages of matrix management:

Effective Communication of Information

Because of the hybrid nature of the matrix structure, it enables different departments to closely work together and communicate frequently in order to solve project issues. This leads to a proficient information exchange among leaders and subordinates. Consequently, it results to developed strategies, enhanced performance and quick productivity.

Efficient Use of Resources

Resources can be used efficiently in the organisation since it can be shared among functions and projects. As the communication line is more open, the valuable knowledge and highly skilled resources are easily distributed within the organisation.

Increased Motivation

The matrix structure promotes democracy. And with the employees working on a team, they are motivated to perform their duties better. The opinions and expertise of the employees are brought to the table and considered by the managers before they make decisions. This leads to employee satisfaction, empowerment and improved performance.

Flexibility

Since the employees communicate with each other more frequently, decision making becomes speedy and response is adaptive. They can easily adjust with diverse situations that the company encounters.

Skills Development

Matrix employees are pooled out for work assignments, even to projects that are not necessarily in line with their skill background. With this approach to management, employees have the chance to widen their skills and expertise.

Discipline Retention

One significant advantage of matrix management is that it enables the employees to maintain their skills in functional areas while working with multidisciplinary projects. Once the project is completed and the team wraps up, the members remain sharp in their discipline technically and return to their home functions.

Pitfalls

Here are some disadvantages of matrix management:

Power Struggle

In the matrix structure, there is always tension between the functional and project manager. Although their intent is polite, their conflicting demands and competition for control over the same resources make it more difficult.

Internal Complexity

Having more than one manager, the employees might become confused to who their immediate leader is. The dual authority can lead to internal complexity and possible communication problems. Worst, employee dissatisfaction and high employee turnover.

Heightened Conflict

In any given situation where people and resources are shared across projects, there would always be competition and conflict. When these issues are prolonged, conflicts will heightened and will lead to more internal problems.

Increased Stress

For the employees, being part of a matrix structure can be stressful. Their commitment is divided among the projects and their relationship with multiple managers requires various adjustments. Increased stress can negatively affect their performance in the long run.

Excessive Overhead Expenses

Overhead administrative costs, such as salaries, increase in a matrix structure. More expenses, more burden to the organisation. This is a challenge to matrix management that leaders should consider carefully.

These are just some of the advantages and disadvantages of matrix management. The list could go on, depending on the unique circumstances that organisations have. The key is that when you decide to implement matrix management, you should recognise how to take full advantage of its benefits and understand how to lessen, if not eradicate, the pitfalls of this approach to management.

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Keys to Successful Matrix Management

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Matrix management, in itself, is a breakthrough concept. In fact, there are a lot of organizations today that became successful when they implemented this management technique. However, there are also organizations that started it but failed. And eventually abandoned it in the end.

Looking at these scenarios, we can say that when you implement matrix management in your organisation, two things can happen – you either succeed or fail. And there’s nothing in between. The truth is, the effectiveness of matrix management lies in your hands and in your implementation. To ensure that you achieve your desired results, recognise these essential keys to successful matrix management.

Establish Performance Goals and Metrics

This should be done as soon as the team is formed, at the beginning of the year or during the process of setting organisational objectives. Whenever it is, the most important thing is that each team player understands the objectives and metrics to which their performances will be evaluated. This ensures that everyone is looking at the same set of objectives as they carry out their individual tasks.

Define Roles and Responsibilities

One pitfall of matrix management is its internal complexity. Awareness of this limitation teaches you to clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the team players up front. Basically, there are three principal sets of roles that should be explained vividly – the matrix leader, matrix managers and the matrixed employees. It is important to discuss all the possible details on these roles, as well as their specific responsibilities, to keep track of each other’s participation in the projects of the organisation.

One effective tool to facilitate this discussion is through the RACI chart – Who is Responsible? Who is Accountable? Who should be Consulted? Who will Implement? With this, clarification of roles and responsibilities would be more efficient.

When roles are already clearly defined, each participant should review their job descriptions and key performance metrics. This is to make sure that the roles and responsibilities expected of you integrates consistently with your job in the organisation, as a whole.

Manage Deadlines

In matrix management, the employees report to several managers. They will likely have multiple deadlines to attend to and accomplish. There might even be conflicts from one deadline to another. Hence, each should learn how to schedule and prioritise their tasks. Time management and action programs should be incorporated to keep the grace under pressure.

Deliver Clear Communication

Another pitfall of matrix management is heightened conflict. To avoid unrealistic expectations, the matrix leaders and managers should communicate decisions and information clearly to their subordinates, vice versa. It would help if everyone will find time to meet regularly or send timely reports on progress.

Empower Diversity

Knowledge, working styles, opinions, skills and talents are diverse in a matrix organisation. Knowing this fact, each should understand, appreciate and empower the learning opportunities that this diversity presents. Trust is important. Respect to each other’s opinions is vital. And acknowledgement of differing viewpoints is crucial.

The impetus of matrix management is the same – mobilise the organisation’s resources and skills to cope with the fast-paced changes in the environment. So, maximise the benefits of matrix management as you consider these essential keys to its successful implementation.

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Implementing Matrix Management

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Matrix management is a culture change. More than the hierarchical structures, lines of responsibilities, modes of communication and channels of decision-making, it is a concept that needs to be planned ahead and managed appropriately over time.

Implementing matrix management to any organization can be confusing. It is essential to ensure that it fits right to your business strategies, skills and competencies. With this, realizing matrix management should not be taken lightly. Careful stages should be considered, instead.

Here are the steps to proper implementation of matrix management:

Consider Your Business Context

You need to evaluate your organisation to analyse what are your development needs with regards to skills, products, services and market environment. This will help you decide on what type of matrix structure you will apply in your organisation. Consider the following questions in building up your context:

  • What is our strategy?
  • Where are the demands in our business?
  • What are the structures that our competitors currently employ?
  • What are the talents that my people possess?
  • What are other business organizations doing?

Set Your Implementation Scope

Next, you need to define the parameter and set the scope of your implementation. What area in your business do you think matrix management will successfully work? There are several things that you need to consider in setting your scope. You have to make sure that it works well with your overall business strategies, that it can be excellently communicated and easily understood. Also, you must ensure that you acquire the necessary talents and skills in the business to deliver the new system of responsibilities.

Implement the New Structure

When you have already decided what structure type you will implement, you are ready to give it a go. You will need to establish new communication channels so you can monitor the progress and receive feedback effectively.

Here’s how to apply the matrix structure:

  • Highlight your development needs
  • Define roles based on outputs and not inputs
  • Line up procedures and systems to support the structure and the behaviour that comes with it.
  • Invest in training and development
  • Support the key people in the structure by coaching them to better adapt in changes
  • Communicate regularly
  • Monitor progress and make necessary adjustments

Review the Matrix Structure, Roles and Responsibilities

Organisations that successfully implement matrix management adapt to the changes in their environment. With this, they do regular evaluations to highlight the need for changes and revisions. The review can either focus on the structure only or to the entire process as a whole. The results can alter the structure, the roles involved and the responsibilities taken.

The process of implementing matrix management follows a step-by step method. Each stage is equally important with the rest. Hence, if you plan to exploit it in your organisation, you have to recognise the purpose of each step and follow it appropriately. Balance is the key. And when you achieve stability in matrix management, amidst the complex changes in the world of business, then your organisational success is just around the corner.

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Benefits Realisation Frameworks – A Useful Handle

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One of the greatest challenges of project management is maintaining top-down support in the face of fluctuating priorities. If you elect to take on the role yourself and are peppered by other priorities, it can be a challenge to exactly remember why you are changing things and what your goals are. Sometimes you may not even notice you have reached your goal.

The Benefits Realisation Chart-room

The Benefits Realisation Model is a framework on which to hang key elements of any project. These traditionally include the following, although yours may not necessarily be the same:

  • Definition of the project goal
  • Quantification of intended benefits
  • Project plan versus actual progress
  • How you know you reached your goal
  • Quantification of actual benefits

Another way of describing Benefits Realisation Frameworks is they answer four fundamental questions that every project manager should know by heart:

  • What am I going to do?
  • How am I going to do it?
  • When will I know it’s done?
  • What exactly did I achieve?

The Benefits Realisation Promise

An astounding number of projects fail to reach completion, or miss their targets. It’s not for nothing that the expression ‘after the project failed the non-participants were awarded medals’ is often used in project rooms. We’re not saying that it is a panacea for success. However it can alert you to warnings that your project is beginning to falter in terms of delivering the over-arching benefits that justify the effort.

When Projects Wander Off-Target

Pinning blame on participants is pointless when project goals are flawed. For example, the goals may be entirely savings-focused and not follow through on what to do with the windfall. At other times realisation targets may be in place, but nobody appointed to recycle the benefits back into the organisation. This is why a Benefits Realisation Framework needs to look beyond the project manager’s role.

Realisation Management in Practice

If the project framework does not look beyond the project manager’s role, then it is over when it reaches its own targets – and can even run the risk of being an event that feeds entirely off itself. In order to avoid a project being a means to its own end, this first phase must culminate with handover to a benefits realisation custodian.

An example of this might be a project to centralise facilities that is justified in terms of labour savings. The project manager’s job is to build the structure. Someone else needs to rationalise the organisation.

In conclusion, the Benefits Realisation Framework is a useful way of ensuring a project does not only achieve its internal goals, but also remains a focus of management attention because of its extended, tangible benefits.

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IT Transformation Defined

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Businesses depend on IT to effectively manage business processes and to provide products and services to clients. As IT technologies advance, it is crucial that businesses update their hardware to remain competitive. But businesses should do more than simply upgrade their servers and should really strive to effect IT transformation.

What is IT Transformation?

IT transformation is the ongoing process of changing the way that a company uses IT to better align it with current business goals. Through the IT transformation process, businesses try to determine whether they are meeting mission-critical benchmarks through the incorporation of new IT technologies for corporate transformation.

For example, if one of the current business concerns is whether the company can improve customer service, the IT system will need to evolve in such a way that improves customer service in a measurable way.

Successfully Aligning the Technology to Business Goals

In order to successfully align the IT system with business goals, it is important to understand the newly integrated technologies to understand how they can change business processes. If a new feature is intended to make the server more secure, the management should know exactly how the feature will improve the security of the server and whether the new implementation is redundant.

Once the business objectives have been identified, IT transformation is carried out by changing both the software and hardware used by the company. An example would be the growing trend of server migration to the cloud. Cloud computing is the growing trend of making files and data accessible from anywhere. If an organisation believes that it can improve productivity through a server cloud migration, it will need a way to test this.

The IT Transformation Process

Given that IT transformation is directly related to the core business, the IT transformation process must begin by identifying which aspects of the company must be changed. Then, the company must determine IT services that could potentially be integrated into the business in a way that will help the company achieve benchmarks. After the key decision-makers understand the IT network well enough to effectively implement it, the company must efficiently manage the transformation process. Then, after the IT has been integrated, the company must have a system in place to measure business transformation in a numerical way.

For example, when assessing customer satisfaction, one effective strategy would be to distribute customer satisfaction surveys that ask customers to rate their experiences on a scale of one to ten. The company can then measure the results of the customer satisfaction survey to determine whether the new IT implementations are accomplishing their intended goals.

If the expected benchmarks are not being met, the next step in the IT transformation process is to determine if there is a specific reason for that. Is there a way that the feature can be better integrated to achieve desired business objectives? Are there other features that can help the company better achieve its goals?

Upgrading a network can be an expensive process and it is important to identify early on which options are the most likely to benefit the company’s bottom line.

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A Definitive List of the Business Benefits of Cloud Computing – Part 4

Data The Cloud Storage Information Concept

Lowers cost of analytics

Big data and business intelligence (BI) have become the bywords in the current global economy. As consumers today browse, buy, communicate, use their gadgets, and interact on social networks, they leave in their trail a whole lot of data that can serve as a goldmine of information organisations can glean from. With such information at the disposal of or easily obtainable by businesses, you can expect that big data solutions will be at the forefront of these organisations’ efforts to create value for the customer and gain advantage over competitors.

Research firm Gartner’s latest survey of CIOs which included 2,300 respondents from 44 countries revealed that the three top priority investments for 2012 to 2015 as rated by the CIOs surveyed are Analytics and Business Intelligence, Mobile Technologies, and Cloud Computing. In addition, Gartner predicts that about $232 million in IT spending until 2016 will be driven by big data. This is a clear indication that the intelligent use of data is going to be a defining factor in most organisations.

Yet while big data offers a lot of growth opportunities for enterprises, there remains a big question on the capability of businesses to leverage on the available data. Do they have the means to deploy the required storage, computing resources, and analytical software needed to capture value from the rapidly increasing torrent of data?

Without the appropriate analytics and BI tools, raw data will remain as it is – a potential source of valuable information but always unutilised. Only when they can take the time, complexity and expense out of processing huge datasets obtained from customers, employees, consumers in general, and sensor-embedded products can businesses hope to fully harness the power of information.

So where does the cloud fit into all these?

Access to analytics and BI solutions have all too often been limited to large corporations, and within these organisations, a few business analysts and key executives. But that could quickly become a thing of the past because the cloud can now provide exactly what big data analytics requires – the ability to draw on large amounts of data and massive computing power – at a fraction of the cost and complexity these resources once entailed.

At their end, cloud service providers already deal with the storage, hardware, software, networking and security requirements needed for BI, with the resources available on an on-demand, pay-as-you-go approach. In doing so, they make analytics and access to relevant information simplified, and therefore more ubiquitous in the long run.

As the amount of data continues to grow exponentially on a daily basis, sophisticated analytics will be a priority IT technology across all industries, with organisations scrambling to find impactful insights from big data. Cloud-based services ensure that both small and large companies can benefit from the significantly reduced costs of BI solutions as well as the quick delivery of information, allowing for precise and insightful analytics as close to real time as possible.

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A Definitive List of the Business Benefits of Cloud Computing – Part 3

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Strengthens business continuity/disaster recovery capabilities

Today’s business landscape calls for companies to have reliable business continuity and disaster recovery capabilities. After all, when the system goes down, customers and even employees would rarely ask ‘why‘ or ‘what happened‘ but instead go directly to the ‘how soon can we get back up‘ part.

So unless they’ve been struck by the same unforeseen disaster your business is also experiencing, a couple of hours downtime is plenty enough for most of these people. What’s worse is when they simply don’t wait until they get access again and just go to other providers that can offer the same services. In short, your inability to provide continuous IT and business services could translate to lost opportunities which your competition would only be too willing to gain. And that’s not even counting the possibility of losing essential data and other potential negative impact that critical IT failure can bring about.

The answer to avoiding such a scenario is of course, having a sound business continuity and disaster recovery plan in place. But this is actually easier said than done.

Traditionally, setting up a business continuity plan entailed some tedious procedures in addition to very costly infrastructure. We’re talking here about acquiring and maintaining practically a replication of the hardware infrastructure and environments currently existing for business-critical systems and data. Note that these mirror systems should be set-up, housed, and maintained in a remote facility or location.

Making the deployment even more complex is the constant need to update the data in storage as well as keep software applications in sync between the system in use and the one on standby mode. This process would involve the physical transfer of data and syncing of applications, which is cumbersome and again, expensive.

While large enterprises would not even think twice about having to spend so much to ensure that operations would never come to a grinding halt, most small and mid-sized organisations would not have the required financial means for them to even start considering this option. Often, the bulk of their disaster recovery plan would simply consist of some tape backups, and a lot of hoping that they would never have to suffer from any outage or IT failure.

But all that can be changed with the arrival of cloud computing.

A cloud strategy offers an affordable solution for business continuity and disaster recovery for SMBs with limited resources and even big companies trying to minimise expenses by looking for alternative options.

A reliable service provider would already have the required infrastructure and software vital to a viable BC/DR plan and complete with the appropriate security measures. Organisations need not spend upfront for these facilities, but get to benefit from having updated data backup and a virtualised mirror system that would allow them to quickly get back up in the event of an outage or catastrophic disaster.

When looking to the cloud for a cost-effective BC/DR plan however, it’s worth keeping in mind that not all cloud providers are created equal. That’s why businesses also have many important factors to take into account before signing cloud contracts.

Yes, provision for continuity and and taking necessary precautions against outages are inherent in the cloud service itself, but you’d be surprised how many of these providers don’t actually take responsibility for service interruption. To give organisations some assurance of the cloud company’s capacity for continued service, contracts should stipulate availability guarantees and liability for downtime that the provider is willing to answer for.

Once these relevant issues are ironed out however, it’s easy for business to see how cloud-based data storage and computing can significantly lower the costs involved for SMB BC/DR while greatly improving efficiency, mobility, and collaboration capabilities.

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Cloud Computing Trends: Where is the Cloud Headed Next?

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Cloud adoption has been quick and painless at the consumer level. For instance, everyone’s on Gmail, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter on a daily basis yet most think nothing of the fact that they’re already using cloud-based services. Small businesses have also discovered how cloud solutions have raised efficiency in the workplace up a notch or two, while also bringing about significant cost savings. Cloud applications, particularly those for communication, file sharing, office software, backup and storage, and customer management, have rapidly grown in usage among SMBs.

In the same manner, large corporations are starting to see the potential of moving some of their IT department, whether its infrastructure or network management, to the cloud. By all indications it would seem that whether we are ready for it or not, cloud computing technology is here for the long haul.

So where is the cloud headed to next? In this post we examine the trends in the world of cloud computing and what likely lies in store in the near future for cloud users.

Focus on Security

Security has always been a key concern in the cloud computing industry and this will not go away anytime soon. If anything, data security in the cloud will only get to be in the limelight even more as cloud adopters grow in number. That’s why we expect professional cloud services providers to start implementing measures that will help slowly build up confidence in cloud security.

We should soon see more advanced security techniques and protocols that would increase the overall level of privacy and protection for cloud-stored information. Tighter security for login encryptions and prevention of unauthorized access are priority although there are a lot more issues that may need to be addressed. Now it remains to be seen whether these moves are enough for corporate clients to put their full trust in the cloud. But then again, they can always find ways to stay secure while making use of cloud computing where they can, which brings us to the next cloud trend.

Hybrid Approach

Large businesses are taking a longer time to get used to and actually use cloud services, and understandably so. After all, these companies have more at stake when it comes to dealing with such valid issues as security, compliance, outages, legacy systems, and more. However, they also cannot ignore the very appealing characteristics of the cloud. For big companies that have substantial IT needs, scalability, business agility, and faster deployment are listed as the biggest draws of the cloud.

This is why analysts predict that as as these businesses look toward leveraging the benefits of the cloud while at the same time maintaining control over mission critical data and systems, the use of a hybrid approach, i.e. putting some services in a public and at the same time opting to utilize a private cloud for other applications, will see enormous growth.

Mobile Cloud Computing

The BYOD or Bring Your Own Device business policy is another emerging trend that would not have been possible if not for cloud technology. This practice involves having employees bring their mobile devices to work, allowing them to access company files, data, and applications from their personally-owned gadgets in and out of the workplace.

As with any new business practice, the concept of BYOD can be both advantageous and disadvantageous. On the one hand, some believe it helps increase employee productivity and lifts their morale, while reducing overall IT costs. On the other hand, BYOD also opens up a whole new set of problems that are quite consistent with what many businesses take issue with with cloud technology: security. Do the pros outweigh the cons or vice versa? This much isn’t clear yet but what is evident is that more cloud apps are going mobile.

Efficiency, Innovation

While cost savings has always been one benefit that cloud proponents are quick to point out, its capability to improve and streamline business processes, thereby increasing efficiency and agility within the organization, is another key opportunity that the cloud offers. This is evident when you take a look at the most commonly used cloud services: backup and archiving, business continuity, collaboration tools, and big data processing.

Moreover, the cloud is making it easier for individuals to create new products and produce new lines of business. With access to higher IT capacity at lesser cost and at faster deployment rates, businesses can scale into more innovation without having to worry about the availability of computing resources.

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Knowing the Caveats in Cloud Computing

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Cloud computing has become such a buzzword in business circles today that many organisations both small and large, are quick to jump on the cloud bandwagon – sometimes a little too hastily.

Yes, the benefits of the cloud are numerous: reduced infrastructure costs, improved performance, faster time-to-market, capability to develop more applications, lower IT staff expenses; you get the picture. But contrary to what many may be expecting or have been led to believe, cloud computing is not without its share of drawbacks, especially for smaller organisations who have limited knowledge to go on with.

So before businesses move to the cloud, it pays to learn a little more about the caveats that could meet them along the way. Here are some tips to getting started with cloud computing as a small business consumer.

Know your cloud. As with anything else, knowledge is always key. Because it is a relatively new tool in IT, it’s not surprising that there is some confusion about the term cloud computing among many business owners and even CIOs. According to the document The NIST Definition of Cloud Computing, cloud computing has five essential characteristics, three basic service models (Saas, Paas and Iaas), and four deployment models (public, community, private and hybrid).

The first thing organisations should do is make a review of their operations and evaluate if they really need a cloud service. If they would indeed benefit from cloud computing, the next steps would be deciding on the service model that would best fit the organisation and choosing the right cloud service provider. These factors are particularly important when you consider data security and compliance issues.

Read the fine print. Before entering into a contract with a cloud provider, businesses should first ensure that the responsibilities for both parties are well-defined, and if the cloud vendor has the vital mechanisms in place for contingency measures. For instance, how does the provider intend to carry out backup and data retrieval operations? Is there assurance that the business’ critical data and systems will be accessible at all times? And if not, how soon can the data be available in case of a temporary shutdown of the cloud?

Also, what if either the company or the cloud provider stops operations or goes bankrupt? It should be clear from the get go that the data remains the sole property of the consumer or company subscribing to the cloud.

As you can see, there are various concerns that need to be addressed closely before any agreement is finalised. While these details are usually found in the Service Level Agreements (SLAs) of most outsourcing and servicing contracts, unfortunately, the same cannot be said of cloud contracts.

Be aware of possible unforeseen costs. The ability of smaller companies to avail of computing resources on a scalable, pay-as-you-go model is one of the biggest selling points of cloud computing. But there’s also an inherent risk here: the possibility of runaway costs. Rather than allowing significant cost savings, small businesses could end up with a bill that’s bound to blow a big hole in their budget.

Take for example the case of a software company cited on InformationWeek.com to illustrate this point. The 250-server cluster the company rented from a cloud provider was inadvertently left turned on by the testing team over the weekend. As a result, their usual $2,300 bill ballooned to a whopping $23,400 over the course of one weekend.

Of course, in all likelihood, this isn’t going to happen to every small and midsize enterprise that shifts to the cloud. However, this should alert business owners, finance executives, and CEOs to look beyond the perceived savings and identify potential sources of unexpected costs. What may start as a fixed rate scheme for on-demand computing resources, may end up becoming a complex pricing puzzle as the needs of the business grow, or simply because of human error as the example above shows.

The caveats we’ve listed here are among the most crucial ones that soon-to-be cloud adopters need to keep in mind. But should these be reasons enough for businesses to stop pursuing a cloud strategy? Most definitely not. Armed with the right information, cloud computing is still the fastest and most effective way for many small enterprises to get the business off the ground with the lowest start-up costs.

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