With renewed growth prospects, SMBs looked to platform technologies to support new initiatives in still-uncertain times. Agility has become the watchword for new automation projects, and acceptable timeframes cannot be in months. There are few absolute certainties in technology, but one subject beyond debate is that the cloud has permanently changed how technology is deployed and consumed within SMBs. What are the key issues that SMBs are considering when planning their cloud strategy as they identify the portfolio of products/services that best meet their "new normal" business needs? Five key issues have become intrinsic to the development of SMB cloud strategy:

1. Cost

Within SMBs, the cost is always an issue in business decisions. However, with the cloud, the cost is taking on additional meanings. Cost is not only a reduction in CAPEX or OPEX. Cost also relates to the missed revenue that may result from an inability to address new market demands. Cost is a function of needing to recover from a catastrophic event within the business. Cost also relates to a perception that competitors are pulling away or realizing that business, as usual, is no longer enough – that traditional approaches are no longer sufficient. Cost, across these many dimensions, has become an essential factor in building a cloud strategy.

2. Available resources

For the most part, microbusinesses lack technical resources; in these situations, the cloud offers a means of adding IT capacity without adding internal or contracted headcount. In small and mid-sized businesses, the cloud is expanding the impact of scarce IT resources, but it is not a resource-free endeavor. Cloud requires an ability to connect new solutions to business user requirements and each other. Planning for support of cloud systems is becoming an essential aspect of SMB cloud strategy development.

3. Solution customization, consistency

SMBs find that Cloud business application solutions that are the primary option for non-technical buyers (business buyers) are relatively rigid. The applications accommodate a predefined set of features and uses, but often SMBs cannot easily modify beyond the predefined parameters. SMBs, therefore, focus on understanding the requirements associated with cloud application solutions in terms of functionality and integration, both process and technical integration, in developing a cloud deployment plan. Consistency across cloud systems is not an issue at the outset of the cloud. Still, it is becoming one as cloud scales across users and workloads, an incredibly important issue from an infrastructure perspective when creating an agile platform for future development and integration.

4. Manageability and migration

The cloud solutions that enhance the productivity of business users rely on data. SMBs are getting surprised by the effort and cost involved in migrating data to new cloud systems. SMBs that are adopting multiple cloud-based solutions are getting further astonished by the complexity of managing across various environments. SMBs are looking for a roadmap connecting their business's needs with their cloud and traditional technology options and requirements to minimize surprise and maximize manageability.

5. Security and data privacy

Security barriers to greater cloud adoption represent a multi-pronged challenge for the SMB segment. In the transition to the cloud or hybrid cloud scenarios, many SMBs find it challenging to define an integrated security strategy and seek to implement the appropriate tools needed to manage the security integration required in multi-cloud deployments. Regulatory exposure is another area connecting security concerns with hesitancy in cloud adoption. Beyond the cloud provider credentials, SMBs want to understand and implement efficient means of securing data in motion. Data privacy has become a complex issue that is becoming part of an SMB's responsibility to staff, partners, and customers - SMB's obligation to protect personal information according to legal and regulatory frameworks. Data privacy requirements, including issues around data classification, retention schedules in cloud contractual agreements, perceptions of data residency needs, and the legislation/legal process, are being examined.

It is incredibly difficult to draw a 'box' around strategy issues within SMBs: the connection between strategy and action is so direct that a discussion of design and planning often migrates quickly into a discussion of tactics and execution. In many ways, these create a perfect storm of opportunity for IT suppliers. SMBs are focused on business growth, and SMBs believe that the cloud contributes to this growth. Simultaneously, they are struggling with cost control – and cloud provides a straightforward means of reigning in CAPEX and opportunities to reduce management costs.

Before IT suppliers venture into explaining the "how"' of cloud to SMBs, they need to answer a fundamental question: what issues are driving the need to understand and invest in cloud services, what is prompting the demand, and what factors are relevant to an SMB executive?

As much as the cloud is considered a technology option, it is also a tool that SMBs are applying to improve business outcomes. As outcomes measure businesses, it makes sense for SMBs to prioritize business objectives in their plans. SMBs, therefore, align their cloud investments to deliver better productivity, better customer conversion rates, faster cycle times, broader customer engagement, better operations to enable cost efficiencies and innovation.