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Cloud Computing: Balance Risk and Reward

Cloud computing has been hailed as a revolutionary IT delivery model. It has changed the ways companies access, store, and share their data with:

  • Privileged employees
  • Customers
  • Business partners
  • Investors
  • Auditors and regulatory agencies

To reap the most benefits from cloud and Software as a Service platforms, company executives need to mitigate their risk when migrating their information, and managing their data there over time.

The cloud offers many benefits to businesses, organizations and individuals.

  • Cost Savings- You minimize the need for servers and related software, such as databases, web server software, and on-premise software. You reduce your IT overhead significantly, including maintenance, upgrades and utilities like power and cooling. Zero-client applications can extend the life of company endpoint devices like laptops, desktops and all-in-one or thin client hardware.
  • Flexibility – Cloud apps offer opportunities for companies with mobile staff, to deliver company information assets to field sales representatives and consultants, on their device of choice. Employees spend less time in the office on administrative costs and more time with customers delivering value.
  • Ease of Use – Cloud systems tend to be much easier to use and configure than on-premises software. Companies can dedicate their IT personnel to the configuration of systems for ease of use, and to map to their organization’s business processes.
  • In industries like financial services and legal, information workers and billable employees don’t need to spend as much time learning new systems. User experience and self-service training delivery are top priorities for SaaS providers. These are leading factors which impact customer retention, which is vital to the success of cloud service providers.
  • Scalability – Service levels from cloud services companies provide great opportunities to manage large volumes of traffic to applications and websites. Safeguards like failover and load balancing are widely available, and additional computing resources can be added quickly to respond to peaks in demand.

All of this sounds great, but let’s consider potential risks of cloud services.

The (Potentially) Dark Side of the Cloud

Entrusting another company with your valuable information is, in itself, a great risk. Due diligence on the provider’s industry reputation, known breaches and security practices is vital for any company adopting cloud services. The cloud service provider is a source of potential data loss, though your own employees are also targets for hackers. They might knowingly share your information with outsiders who shouldn’t have access to it.

Companies that adopt cloud services need to:

  • Implement acceptable use policies for the internet, company devices and applications
  • Limit access to information, and sharing tools to those who need them.
  • Take a pragmatic approach to “Bring Your Own Device” practices, and set standards for mobile device and external access to corporate data.
  • Evaluate and adopt tools which have been proven to secure data at rest, as well as data in motion like when users send files like contracts and other documents.
  • Establish role-based access within your organization to the client and internal data. Ensure terminated employees have their access revoked immediately upon dismissal.
  • Ensure WiFi and cellular network security safeguards are in place, along with device protection for lost or stolen tablets or smartphones.
  • Adopt a common document management and file sharing system, to eliminate information duplication, and create a “single source of truth” for trusted corporate data.

Following these practices can help you make better use of the cloud, and provide guidance to your employees to treat your information assets with care online.

Lack of Control

Limiting maintenance and IT costs could come at a steep cost if practices like those above aren’t followed. It’s like handing over the keys to your car to a mechanic, you want to make sure the online services provider has been adequately trained to ensure your data is:

  • Secure
  • Available when, and where needed
  • Isn’t corrupted, or deleted by accident

Security breaches happen to very large companies, just as they do to small businesses. Yet companies who are in the business of delivering secure, available cloud services tend to have people, processes and technology in place to minimize the chance your files will be hacked.

Security Breaches Exist, Be Prepared!

When you’ve adopted cloud applications, some of the safeguards you can put in place include:

  • Two-factor authentication for cloud apps that support it
  • Document expiry dates for third party access
  • Digital rights management to control if documents can be emailed, printed, or shared with non-standard applications like Dropbox or Google Drive.
  • Effective permission management tools
  • Anti-virus, anti-malware and email security tools

There are many cloud platforms and SaaS platforms in the market which provide excellent opportunities to manage, distribute and protect structured and unstructured information. Contracting with a reliable, proven cloud technology provider is an excellent step to ensuring your documents and other files are secure and available.

Beyond that, your business needs to ensure total employee commitment to information security and data privacy. Investing in the right tools for cloud security is only as effective as the people using them.

Is your business cloud-ready? If you’re ready to make a strategic move to the cloud for secure document collaboration, we’re happy to guide you the way forward.