By Boyd Carr
Legacy is a positive when referring to a club’s culture, but not it’s so with IT (Information Technology) systems.
So maybe it’s time to consider a cloud-based solution. With aging infrastructure and no clear technology plan your club could be heading for a disaster. We can all agree that being prepared and getting out in front of potential issues will always save time and money and the headaches associated with any issues.
Here’s a list of the top questions club managers ask about cloud-based solutions when reviewing their IT options.
How does this improve upon the way we’re handling IT now?The cloud provides you access to enterprise class systems, fully managed, supported and commoditized making it affordable to even the smaller clubs.
Location, location, location (data center safety, security & peace of mind): I’ve seen servers in coat closets, armoires, in corners on the floor with coffee cups stacked on top and $5 fans covered in dust, humming loudly for all to hear, or well-kept network closets only accessible with a fob where the AC recently died and several pieces of hardware were lost.
Wherever your server is within the club, it’s potentially a window or door away from being physically compromised. If there’s any sort of disaster it’s at risk of being destroyed, potentially with all the data it holds.
In comparison, data centers provide multiple levels of redundancies, from security, cooling, fire suppression, raised flooring, inner walls, power and bandwidth, and they perform stringent audit requirements to assure industry standard compliance. Within the cloud provider’s racks, additional hardware and software redundancies are in place to protect your data.
Fully managed (monitoring & client support): Ideally you want a fully-managed solution, be it onsite or in the cloud. Your local IT provider can only do so much if they’re stopping by once a month to make the rounds and monitor your systems.
If there’s been a security breach, an undetected malicious virus or a failed backup, this will be their first chance to catch it, and it may be too late. You cannot respond until you’re aware and you cannot recover until you’ve responded. Proper monitoring tools and the people to use them should be in place.
As an example, I’ve worked with a club where the GM was under the impression their data was being backed up nightly but a true backup hadn’t run in over 13 months! This may not be the norm but it’s definitely not the exception. What would the cost and likelihood have been to try and recover that data if the server had crashed, not to mention the lasting effect on operations?
Once a club has a plan and is set up correctly, the majority of IT issues can be solved remotely with far less cost for the provider as well as the client. Look for a provider who doesn’t have a call limit.
When clients are paying for calls, they stop calling and end up dealing with issues that are productivity killers.
Costs: With a hosted solution, large and unexpected IT capital expenses are a thing of the past, making it easier to budget. If a server crashes or a piece of equipment is lost on the provider’s side, there is zero cost to the club.
If a POS crashes on a Friday night, you can take out a laptop/tablet/iPad/spare PC and you’re up and running within minutes without ever calling support because nothing sits on the local computer. Also, when replacing POS, you can go with less expensive computers saving even more money.
And similar to a utility, you only pay for the resources you actually use. Why pay more? Whether or not this model reduces your monthly or annual IT spend depends on many factors and is different for every club. But with few exceptions, this technology can put your club in a better position moving forward.
Question: What happens if my internet connection goes down?
Cloud based services require an internet connection, therefore, without connectivity you cannot access your systems. But even if the internet goes down, if you’re working within a hosted environment, nothing is lost.
The cursor is still blinking right where you left off because you weren’t actually working on your local computer but in a remote environment. With that said, this is usually the biggest knock on the cloud. The good news is that it’s more or less up to you to determine what kind of connection(s) you put in place. So if you plan accordingly, this should be a non-issue.
But this can go both ways. For example, most clubs have an in-house exchange (email) server. So when their internet goes down they’re no longer able to communicate via email. If cloud based, staff can continue to have email access via their smartphones, tablets or any other device with connectivity. Hosted services or not, your internet connection is important.
It’s probably a good idea to find out what kind of internet connection(s) the club has today. Maybe it’s time to explore your options, additional providers may now be in the area. What services is the club reliant using the internet today? Are you considering any that will make you even more reliant? Better connectivity would surely lead to new services and everyone would benefit from. How much internet downtime can the club tolerate? And what are you willing to pay for the reliability you need?
Unless you’re in a somewhat remote area, you probably have at least one decent connection, even if it’s not the fastest – generally a T1 line or high speed cable and every once in a DSL or fiber connection. Most club members and staff have their phones set to automatically connect to WiFi, add to that people streaming the Masters, Pandora or YouTube videos and you’ve potentially got a bandwidth issue.
Clubs are only becoming more reliant on the internet, so it’s a good business decision to shore up your connection(s). Explore your options, balancing reliability, speed and cost. T1 lines and fiber are dedicated and reliable connections. They’re also the most expensive, which makes sense.
High-speed cable (even business class) is shared with other users in the area so keep in mind that the bandwidth advertised on the provider’s website may sometimes end up being only half of that number.
Everyone expects a fast and reliable connection these days. We’d like to see your club have a dedicated connection for operations and backup high-speed cable connection for member WiFi, failover, etc., preferably from different providers.
Compared to other costs in the budget, shoring up your internet connectivity should be an easy decision. Fortunately, it’s becoming more of a member amenity and getting the attention it deserves.
Clubs need to do their homework and determine what services they’ve got, what’s available and how can operations as well as the member experience be enhanced with a faster more reliable internet connection.
When clubs are introduced to new technologies, minds always seem to wander to a particular place – the last CMS (club management software) installation experience.
It could be IP phones, an app or even a new website, but people have their guard up. How long is this conversion process going to take? How much training will we need? How will the support be?
The majority have probably been through two conversions at most and each CMS company does things differently. But they all face the same challenge, simplifying the conversion process and making sure the training provided has a lasting impact.
Face to face interaction is the most effective way to provide training. But it comes at a cost. There are many expenses CMS companies are responsible for when providing onsite training and therefore each club is provided with X number of hours upfront and access to an online library of tips and tricks.
Some clubs want to own the process, whereas others want to be led down the path of least resistance, trying to set things up how they’ve always been, with a few tweaks here and there.
Few purchase additional training so most go with the minimum and figure out how to just make it work. With such an undertaking, it’s no surprise the learning curve can continue for months into the future.
Whether or not the conversion is considered a smooth one, it has a lasting effect and creates somewhat of a burden for future technology vendors to overcome because many equate this experience with any future technology related services.
How is a cloud service installed, supported and how much training is involved?
Installation: The vast majority of work involved in the transition to a hosted platform is done behind the scenes, somewhere around 85 percent. The rest happens onsite, scheduled appropriately to avoid interrupting operations. So the installation process from a user’s standpoint requires little interaction. The timeline can take several weeks and is dependent on collecting a few key pieces of documentation and access to your data.
Training: The learning curve for a hosted environment is small. Users learn they’re no longer tied to a single computer or device. Any documents created or altered within the hosted environment are secure, continuously backed up and readily accessible with connectivity. Logging off at the end of your day and closing out unnecessary internet tabs is important to practice. Not to mention a new desktop icon.
Support: The infrastructure of a hosted environment can be quite complex. Monitoring software allows your provider to oversee the platform at a granular level and react to any perceived threats or issues before they result in gaps in performance, outages and eventually calls to support.
If a club has an issue, and their onsite infrastructure has been set up properly, chances are a solution can be provided remotely without scheduling a visit and onsite hourly billing costs.
When doing your due diligence on introducing new technologies to your club, it’s important to clearly understand the process, how support is provided as well as what’s being delivered.
Know what’s required from the club’s standpoint and how following the vendor’s recommendations can increase operational efficiencies and ultimately improve the member experience.
The cloud is only as mysterious as you want it to be.
Boyd Carr is the director of sales at Fortessa Hosting, Inc., a cloud-based hosting company helping clubs reduce their exposure to IT. Boyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (949) 284-8808.