Cloud computing can potentially bring huge benefits to the catering industry, but there are risks, and they must be effectively managed, warns Harry Partridge of law firm Cripps.
Used to describe a variety of products and services, cloud computing generally relates to an internet- (or network-) based means of providing shared resources (such as storage, software or processing power) on demand. If you’re not sure why that might be useful to your business, think of the difference between Netflix and Blockbusters. Cloud computing can offer cost reduction, simpler maintenance, and greater flexibility, scalability and reliability. As more and more business processes become automated and interconnected, the benefits of a catering business moving its IT systems to the cloud increase.
Outsourcing the responsibility for running hardware and software to the internet – and transferring the responsibility of upgrades and maintenance to the cloud computing provider – is an attractive option to many organisations. Catering businesses often provide their services remotely at the sites of their clients. Being able to access the company’s data from a laptop, tablet or smartphone from any location with internet connectivity can help staff pre-empt problems and optimise performance.
However, you must make sure your cloud service is set up to meet the needs of your business, in particular by ensuring the right protection is included in agreements with providers to (among other things) enforce security and monitor cost. Like many mobile phone contracts, cloud services are typically charged on usage, rather than at a fixed rate. The latter can depend on the amount of storage required, user licences or items processed, so carefully anticipate what your usage will be before committing to a pricing model.
Service levels will often revolve around accessibility. Ensuring the business has access to the cloud is essential and, as such, providers should be held to minimum standards, which need to meet your requirements. To compensate, agreed financial consequences, in the form of service credits, are included in many cloud computing agreements.
The security aspect of cloud computing has discouraged many businesses from fully embracing this model. With a number of data security breaches hitting the headlines, it’s not hard to see why. While catering companies do not generally hold much personal data, they often hold large quantities of sensitive business information and any breach of security could be disastrous. It’s vital to ensure cloud providers (especially those involved in any way with sensitive or confidential data) are subject to clear and robust security obligations, including potentially the ISO 27000 family of information security standards. Appropriate remedies in the event of any data breach or loss should also be included.
If you are considering using the cloud for your business, the key to a successful agreement is doing your homework. Draw up a list of requirements and thoroughly check your provider can fulfil them before you begin negotiations as this should help you get the most out of the cloud, as well as making the process quicker, cheaper and easier. Clearly setting out your requirements in the contract should also reduce the risk of ever having to take enforcement measures.