You've surely heard this: Cloud computing has the ability to transform your business. The problem is that that phrase is missing an importance piece. The whole truth is that cloud computing has the ability to transform your business if it's implemented properly. Moving to the cloud has to fit your corporate strategy, it has to be handled by your infrastructure and you have to have the right people managing it. Cloud strategies based on constant updates, new functionality and engaging the business can move you from an IT department the business largely tries to avoid, to an IT department they look to for solutions. Here are the basics of getting started.

Make Sure That Cloud Computing Fits Your Strategy

Cloud computing is not for everyone. If your company is risk averse and very cautious then being in the cloud is not for you. However, if the goal is to add functionality, become more mobile, increase collaboration, cut down on costs and become a more progressive company, then hop on board. Although it's still a relatively new technology, cloud computing is the right direction for many companies. For some, however, it might not be the right move right now. (Learn more about the benefits of cloud in The 5 Ways Cloud Computing Could Change the IT Landscape.)

Check Your Infrastructure

Ever wake up on Christmas Day to find a huge box, beautifully wrapped and waiting for you under the tree? You were probably pretty excited, right? But what if you open it up to discover that it's filled with paper or socks or something that just doesn't deliver on the promise that big box seemed to hold? That sort of let-down is very similar to moving to the cloud on infrastructure that can't handle it. Even though you may move a large portion of your data or tools to the cloud, which is on someone else’s infrastructure, you're going to be using your network and directory system far more than before. Make sure it's up to the task.

Decide What Should Go in the Cloud

I like to split the information technology field into two distinct categories: ERP and end user. This is an over-simplification, but it makes it easier to look at these type of situations. I think a great starting point is to look at your end user category. This means look at your mail, calendar, team site, communication channels, intranet, chat, office productivity tools, storage, and enterprise search. I find that the risk involved in deploying these types of applications and tools into the environment is lower. ERP solutions, such as SAP, have a direct impact on product moving in and out of your business. That's why when you're implementing cloud, it's probably best to test the water with the productivity toolset first. It also appears that the productivity tools have been deployed in the cloud longer, so the process here is a little more ironed out and presents fewer issues. A few cloud-based enterprise solutions for the end user category include Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365.

Create a Transition Plan

Create an outline of what you have now and what you are moving to. Then, look at the dependencies of the before and after. It's likely that you will have a lot of similar dependents, but some that may need to be configured differently or updated. You will also find several dependencies that are not related and will need to create a plan to decommission the old ones and implement the new areas. A deep and thorough analysis will need to be done on the network, infrastructure and directories. There will probably need to be some heavy lifting done in these areas, so getting a plan in place early is very important.

Create an Organizational Change Management Plan

This is very important. Moving to a cloud computing solution is a big change for any organization. The organization needs to fully understand how it changes the way they work, where their data is stored, how to share content, who to share content with, and why the move is happening. There should be a detailed plan around training, communication, end-user adoption and project management. There should be road shows to give demonstrations and field questions to corporate offices as well as any plants or warehouses that are impacted. This is usually the first area that receives budget cuts, but in a change like this, it is utterly important that change management stay a part of the project.

Eliminate Risk and Perform a Smooth Cutover

The No.1 piece of advice when moving to the cloud is to avoid disrupting the business. Pretty straightforward, right? Basically, implement changes during off hours and ensure the switch is a pleasant experience, not one that leaves everyone scratching their heads about why the change was made. Yes, that's a lot to ask, but it isn't unreasonable. So, do thorough testing: Load testing, user testing, test early adopters and make sure there is executive buy in. Schedule time with specific executives impacted by the change and make sure they are aligned with the go-live and the end results. Make sure the admins are happy and ready for the change. This is the one group that is most commonly forgotten and can most easily make or break a deployment. Do not forget them.

Enhance and Improve Capabilities and Communication

One of the best assets of going to the cloud is the fact that there are upgrades, new tools and improvements all the time. Please do not implement a cloud solution and then let it sit at that version forever. Take advantage of the new simplified environment with the added functionality and keep it going. Move forward and become a progressive IT department, make constant new updates and release new tools. When you do add these new capabilities, focus on the change management aspect and remember to communicate that they have been released and what value they add. Soon you will become the IT department everyone loves to interact with rather than the group that they have to go to.