Managed cloud services

How the Small Business Can Audit Vendors & Managed Cloud Services

September 27, 2016

Would you dare go long periods of time without examining and auditing your own internal processes and services? You shouldn’t expect that managed cloud services can go long without being checked and audited, either. Regular auditing of your external partners and vendors assures that you’re getting what you expect from your contracts and relationships, what you’re paying for under your agreements, and what is necessary for your business to thrive. Reviewing and auditing your vendors also keeps you out of hot water with regulators, legislators, and your customers and business partners. Here are the steps you need to take to keep managed cloud services and other vendor relationships in tip-top shape.

Look for Vendors Willing to Offer Short-Term Contracts

This isn’t about finding a vendor you can bail on quickly. In fact, it’s the very opposite. You’re trying to find one you will be happy partnering with for a long time. What you’re looking for is a vendor willing to earn your business on an ongoing basis, not one that merely tries to wow you into signing a contract and then offering the bare minimum in terms of support and service.

Short-term contracts mean the managed cloud service is willing to earn your business over and over — a sure sign of a vendor you’re likely to keep for years to come. Those asking for longer commitments from their customers might be those that go the extra mile during the sales and contract negotiations process, but fail to deliver on customer service and support over the duration of the contract. This isn’t always the case, but it’s one factor to consider when evaluating cloud services and other vendor relationships for your small business.

Also, be sure you’re comfortable with the duration of the product given the length of time you’ve been in business. For example, if your company is just one year old, a one-year contract takes you out twice as long as your business has even existed. If you aren’t comfortable making plans this far in the future, look for a cloud provider willing to offer a month to month contract, or perhaps a contract that renews on a quarterly basis.

Take a Closer Look at Vendor Security Protocols

Security in the cloud isn’t a dirty word. Actually, managed cloud services have proven to be better at providing excellent security than the companies they serve. But you wouldn’t hire an employee without vetting them to make sure they aren’t the kind to make off with thousands of customer records or your proprietary secrets. Use the same precautions with your vendors, who are actually just extensions of your own workforce, handling much the same data as your employees do. Find out what their hiring processes are, what their physical site security entails, what their security record is, and what security precautions and protocols they have in place. This includes their incident response plan to address security breaches after the fact.

An incident response plan doesn’t mean the cloud service provider is planning to fail. It merely means that they are prepared to respond quickly and decisively if something does occur. Hackers are better funded, more highly trained, and have access to more sophisticated tools than ever before. Managed cloud services should take this seriously and be prepared to act in any eventuality.

Work With Vendors Familiar With Your Business

It isn’t necessary to work only with managed cloud services and other vendors that have specific experience in your industry. But your vendors should have a working knowledge of how your industry works and how your business fits within the industry. For instance, if your key selling point is the speed of your service, your cloud vendor needs to know this. Similarly, if your key selling point is offering the lowest possible price or the highest quality product available, your cloud service provider needs to understand that.

Look for a vendor that understands what sets your business apart within your industry so that they can be a valuable contributing partner with you when it comes to helping you meet your customers’ needs and address their specific pain points.

Make Sure Vendors Can Easily Scale Up or Down

Most of the articles you read about selecting a managed cloud service talk about the vendor’s ability to scale upwards. This is important, because all growing businesses need to partner with vendors that can grow with them. But it’s equally important to find a cloud vendor that is able and willing to scale downward, if need be.

For instance, say after a few years of success with your initial product line, you decide to roll out another product line. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the market for this new product line doesn’t take off right away. Maybe you have to make changes to the initial design, or perhaps you have to wait out a temporary downturn in the economy before the new product is a viable option for your customers. You’ll want to know that your managed cloud service can scale down your plan so that you aren’t stuck with those additional costs while trying to keep losses for the new product line to a minimum. No small business owner wants to plan for failure, but having a plan for backing out or putting things on hold is excellent insurance for the ongoing solvency of your business.

Check the Customer Reviews & Ratings Outside the Vendor’s Website

Which customer reviews do you post on your business’ website? Do you post the comments from the customers who left mad at you and your business? No, you post those comments that make your company look its absolute best. You post comments and reviews from happy customers only. So do your vendors. Don’t depend solely on the comments, reviews, and testimonials your managed cloud service posts on their website. Turn to outside sources for reviews. Having said that, don’t automatically rule out any vendor with a bad review, or even a few bad reviews. Always read reviews and comments carefully and consider their validity and the relevance of those comments to your vendor relationship. Look for vendors that go out of their way to respond to reviews — even negative ones — and that do what they can to make things right.

Take Advantage of Trial Periods

Most managed cloud service providers offer a free trial period. These free trials are valuable for assessing how the service works, what features they offer that you need, what features they offer that you don’t need, and what features they may not offer that you do actually need. Free trials are also a good time to access the level of support they provide their customers. For instance, if you have a question or problem, how easy is it to get in touch with them? How fast do they address the issue? Is it remedied to your satisfaction? It’s actually a bit silly for a small business to contract with a cloud service or other vendor without taking advantage of any free trial periods they offer. It’s like paying for a month of services that you could get for free.

Keep Vendor Communications Open & Honest

Is your business in the habit of communicating with your vendors only when it’s necessary? This is a good habit to get out of. Think about it this way: what if the only time you heard from your own customers is when they were upset or had a problem. It wouldn’t take too long for you to determine that all your customers had only problems all of the time! Your own cloud service providers and vendors are the same way. Establishing a good rapport can’t be done when all you do is call or email when you have a question or a problem. It requires ongoing communication for the duration of your relationship.

There is another benefit to regular communication, and that’s just human nature. When you speak to someone regularly and openly, you build trust and camaraderie. Then, when there is a problem, it’s human nature to want to do something about it in order to protect that valuable relationship. Don’t shelve your managed cloud service provider until there’s an issue to be addressed. Keep communications open, honest, and regular, so that you get a prompt and satisfactory response when you do have a problem to address.

What else does the small business need to know about contracting for managed cloud services? Find out now when you download the white paper: Managed IT Services For Small Businesses.

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