Even though we’ve been talking about it for a decade now, cloud computing has been a bit tricky to define for both IT channel companies and end users. It’s shifted from a hot new emerging technology to an established way of doing business, but there are still questions about the way cloud is integrated into IT operations and the benefits companies realize (especially when it comes to cost).

One big reason that cloud has been up and down is that there are two very distinct phases of cloud adoption. With cloud systems introducing an evolution of computing on par with the introduction of the PC, there are both tactical considerations and strategic implications. From a tactical perspective, a large percentage of cloud activity up to this point has been migrating existing systems into cloud providers. The strategic work takes place as companies realize that their entire architecture and workflow need to be modified to maximize cloud components.

As companies move to accelerate their digital transformation, the strategic aspects of cloud will become more important. This requires investment, which may not be in the immediate future for many businesses. As companies prepare for the future, though, they will almost certainly be expanding their cloud capabilities. Here are four areas where IT firms can drive value for their clients:

Building a foundation based on cloud software.

Driving business operations with software used to be a fairly expensive proposition. Software packages required licenses and upgrades, and many applications were out of reach for smaller businesses. Custom development required dedicated hardware and specialized teams. Cloud has changed that, with SaaS offering a wide range of applications at more palatable price points and IaaS offering more cost-effective methods for development. Both options still have pros and cons, but they are both levers that can be pulled as a company works toward full digital operations.

Orchestrating different cloud components.

CompTIA research has found that while initial cloud experiments may focus on a single provider, further adoption typically results in a multicloud environment. Companies build complex arrangements as they procure SaaS applications from different vendors, leverage multiple providers based on best fit, and explore a mix of public and private cloud options. This best-of-breed approach can be highly efficient, but only if all the pieces are working well together. Integrating for basic functionality is a first step, then ongoing monitoring and management ensures that things keep running as expected.

Modifying workflow in a cloud environment.

Digital tools only go so far as employee behavior. A new SaaS expense tool can eliminate manual steps and speed up reimbursement, but employees may still follow the familiar steps of printing out expense reports and delivering them to the finance department. This is a simple example, but the pattern holds true whenever new features replace an old way of doing things. Auditing existing processes, building new workflow, and educating the workforce are all possibilities for solution providers who want to help their clients get the most out of the technology investments they are making.

Automating routine steps using cloud connections.

As CompTIA’s IT Industry Outlook 2020 described, automation is the natural follow-on to integration. One of the strengths of cloud computing is the ability to connect different components together through APIs, and with these connections in place, the broader system can be automated. Automation is not a set-it-and-forget-it activity; the removal of routine steps can free up resources for innovative work, but there still has to be some amount of monitoring to ensure that corner cases are not causing problems and performance is meeting expectations. Automation is a holy grail for technology systems, and as such it does not come easily.

IDC recently published an update to their IT spending projection for 2020. They now predict that IT spending will decline by about 5% year over year. However, they also expect that IT infrastructure spending, driven by cloud computing, will see growth. Companies remain focused on digital transformation as a way to navigate uncertain times, and cloud computing will be the foundation for future success.

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