How to Conduct a Cloud Needs Assessment

To become a trusted cloud partner, you need to provide independent third-party needs assessments for your clients.

Channel Partners

August 30, 2013

12 Min Read
How to Conduct a Cloud Needs Assessment

By Dave Sebestyen

To become a trusted cloud partner, you need to provide independent third-party needs assessments for your clients. A strategic cloud assessment presents an opportunity for you to:


  • Develop mindshare with the client and achieve correct positioning

  • Demonstrate and prove considerable value in a short time  frame

  • Establish a beachhead or get further traction in an account

When expertly conducted and to the extent the business reality allows, every cloud assessment should strive to achieve the following three goals:

  1. Objectively evaluate the client’s IT environment and identify corresponding cloud solutions

  2. Identify which cloud solutions are saleable now vs. later and develop a sales strategy

  3. Use the assessment process to climb up the value chain and position yourself in the clients mind as a sophisticated technical and business adviser as opposed to yet another vendor selling products and services.


Gathering the technical and business data to assess the entire IT environment should begin with an extended non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with limited liability and terms and conditions statements in order to protect your company and to show your prospective buyers that you respect their confidentiality and intellectual property. Use best-practice standards for the must-include components and must-have legal language for these documents. IT environments riddled with problems are common, and it is important to establish rules of the engagement prior to helping the client.

The information gathering process can be broken down into multiple components outlined below. Keep in mind that we have provided a simplified summary of each category along with  sample questions that you may want to ask. In practice, the depth of the technical inquiries in each category are extensive enough to warrant a series of white papers.

General & Strategic Information

  • Demographics How many locations? What are the addresses? How many employees? What are the lines of business and SIC codes? Who are its customers? Who are its competitors? What is the corporate structure? How is it funded? What is its financial position?

  • Growth Plans What are your client’s strategic plans? What are its three- to five-year goals? What  are its top three goals and top three pain points?

Hardware/Software Inventory

  • Inventory What standard and non-standard hardware and software is in use? What is their pedigree? Who are their vendors? What is the support information and status?

  • Age Are servers or other commodity hardware ready to be refreshed (more than three years old)? Are there capacity issues or other pain points?

  • Software Licensing What license types are held? What compliance requirements are there? Are there obvious inefficiencies, non-compliance or pain points?

  • Virtualization Compatibility and Legacy Systems What needs to stay? What can go to the cloud?

  • Total Cost of Ownership What is the fully-loaded burden of hardware and software ownership? This is often a significant part of the financial justification for cloud.

End-User Systems

Evaluating end-user systems is key if they are ready for desktops-as-a-service, this can be an entry point into cloud that may lead to an infrastructure-as-a-service sale.

  • Inventory What and how many desktops does it have? What about laptops, tablets and other mobile devices? Is there other specialized hardware?

  • User Types/Roles Are there telecommuters? Remote users? Mobile-only users?

  • Standards Are the systems uniform or mixed (e.g., acquired over time)? Are there technologies deployed, such as imaging or snapshotting that embody end-user policies? How well do they work?

  • Age Are end-user systems ready to be refreshed (e.g., more than three years old)? Are there known pain points?

Physical Plant

Power, HVAC, cable plant, buildings, locations, fire/flood protection, climate event protection: What are the strengths and weaknesses? Are there any pain points, such as power outages, cooling issues, physical space or zoning problems?


The enterprise network is the foundation. Undocumented problem areas and easily remedied yet business-impacting inefficiencies are very common. There may be network projects that can be discovered and sold in this process.

  • Inventory Where is the cable plant? How many and where are the firewalls, VPNs, switches and routers? What wireless networks and protocols are used? What are the switching speeds? Obtain diagrams if available. Who are the vendors? What is the support information and status?

  • Architecture Are they using Windows or an equivalent? Are there multiple locations? Are there multiple domains? Is there redundancy? Is Active Directory or equivalent management in use? Are best practices being followed?


Security is key. You want to determine if your client’s security profile will be positively impacted by a move to the cloud. You also need to ascertain any security pain points or specific security concerns your client has about moving to the cloud.

  • Internet, Network, Host and Data Security Is content filtering, anti-spam and malware protection in place? How about intrusion detection and prevention systems?

  • Enterprise Are authentication, authorization, privacy and non-repudiation technologies and policies in place? Is there room for improvement in this area?

  • Non-technical Risks Are there behavioral, cultural or logistical issues or requirements that can pose security problems?

  • Regulations and compliance Is the client in a regulated industry? If yes, are they currently compliant? Are there special security requirements pertaining to the clients business and can those requirements be met in a non-cost-prohibitive manner?

Connectivity & Telecom

Providing a full telecom assessment is an opportunity to uncover projects due to dependencies between telecom and the proposed cloud solution. Would the proposed cloud project require an increase of bandwidth and/or greater redundancy in connectivity and can cost savings be realized?

  • Inventory What voice and data connectivity is in place?

  • Capacity How much bandwidth is available? How scalable is it?

  • Business Continuity/Disaster Recovery Is there redundancy, load balancing/distribution or failover?


  • Inventory What are the line-of-business applications? Are they off-the-shelf? Were they developed in-house? Were they developed or customized by a VAR?

  • Architecture How are the line-of-business applications architected? Are they optimized?

  • Virtualization What is the current application virtualization strategy, if any?

  • Software-as-a-Service Do the client’s independent software vendors (ISVs) have a SaaS delivery option? If so, explore its features, benefits, prices and shortcomings.

  • Line-of-Business Apps What are the show-stopper” business requirements that the client has with respect to LOB applications?

Storage & Collaboration

  • Architecture How are storage hardware, software and file repository architected? How are file services provided?

  • Capacity What are the storage growth trajectory and projections?

  • Collaboration What are the access and collaboration policies and requirements, including collaboration with outside third parties?

  • Virtualization Can storage be virtualized? Is it technically feasible and cost-effective to consider moving primary storage to the cloud?

Email & Messaging

  • Platform What email platform is used? What are the pain points?

  • Integration How is it integrated with other software or processes? Are there related messaging products in use, such as IM and presence products, voice mail and unified messaging?

  • Regulation and Compliance Is there a need for eDiscovery-compliant archiving?

Backup & Disaster Recovery

This is an area that usually requires significant improvement, which may be more economically feasible in the cloud.

  • Inventory What backup technologies are in place? What are the related policies and procedures? What is the client’s history of data loss, restore, etc.?

  • Business Continuity/Disaster Recovery Are there solutions currently in place? What are the capabilities? Strengths and weaknesses? Who manages the solutions? Have they ever been tested and/or used under real-life conditions? Are there written Standard Operating Procedures, a written DR plan or emergency management procedures?

  • Metrics What is the client’s Recovery Time Objective (RTO) and Recovery Point Objective (RPO) for each critical resource? What is the cost of downtime or business-impacting events?

End-User Support

  • Delivery Who handles end-user support and how? Is there an internal help desk or an outside vendor? What are the capabilities?

  • User Characteristics How tech-savvy are users? What is their historical use of the help desk? What were the service loads?

Vendors & Governance

  • Inventory Who are the vendors? What are the contract lengths, terms and conditions? Are the deals good/fair? Are the vendors high quality? Is there room for improvement?

  • Compatibility Can services currently provided by third-party vendors continue and be integrated into the cloud? If not, will any prevent the move to the cloud?

  • Governance Are there siloes or other governance and business process issues leading to dysfunction or inefficiencies? If yes, how will these be handled in the context of the proposed cloud project?

The preceding outline is a simplified template for a needs assessment. Depending on the size and scope of the opportunity, an abridged or narrowed version of this template may be employed. At the other end of the spectrum, a needs assessment for an enterprise IaaS sale may result in a 100-page three-ring binder. Pick the right tool for the job. Component-based templates and associated best practices are modular in nature and can be customized and adapted to fit each individual case. Your goal should be to make sure youre not providing too much assessment” or too little assessment” but just the right amount of assessment” for each opportunity.


Understanding the technical requirements and delivering the outlines of an integrated cloud solution is only one part of a competent cloud assessment. You can conduct the most thorough analysis and develop the best possible cloud solutions, but stars need to align in order to close the sale. You might say that the only sales that can be made today are at the intersection of the Venn diagram (below) between the ideal cloud solutions revealed by your analysis (what should be done) and the clients current understanding and business reality (what can be done today).

So what determines what can be done today? Factors equally important to a cloud sale include timing, consensus between key client stakeholders (since most cloud sales require multidepartment buy-in), enthusiasm regarding the cloud (which should be significantly increased by a competent assessment), financial realities, constraints and cloud vs. on-premise TCO analyses, technical feasibility and restrictions, and specific pain points mapping to business priorities.

It’s important to arrive at these core answers and align them with your technical findings to determine the timing and positioning of solutions you propose. The importance of asking the right questions and engaging the client early on in the process cannot be overstated. While analyzing the business and technical needs and developing the solution, you must simultaneously identify the spearheads to make the first set of sales and pick your battles with respect to the rest. This strategy also leads to a list of other likely potential future sales into the same account. In fact, refreshing, versioning and revisiting your cloud assessment periodically is one of the best ways to increase your traction in an account.


The cloud assessment is the optimal time to show the client the caliber of your strategic thinking and to address other aspects of the clients business by getting into the clients head.” The most rudimentary way to accomplish this goal is by following these guidelines:


  • Involve all key stakeholders in the process. Certain stakeholders may have a much greater influence over the cloud sale than they may have had over prior technology sales

  • Introduce exciting technologies unfamiliar to the client. Cloud technologies reach far beyond plain vanilla IaaS, Saas, PaaS and related categorizations. Over time, you can develop your practice to the point where you can get the most technically savvy IT director excited, and the value of enthusiasm in a cloud sale cannot be overstated.

  • Map cloud solutions directly and closely to key business challenges as articulated by the clients decision makers themselves

  • Make the numbers work for the client through a sophisticated TCO analysis

  • Incorporate solutions that position you to be the person or entity your client turns to when contracts turn over or when new technologies or vendors become available


  • Expect to hand over a prospect to a carrier or cloud service provider and allow them to play this role. They are not set up to do so. Furthermore, they present an obvious conflict of interest and are not a trusted third party.

  • Set it and forget it. You must stay involved in the account during and after the implementation to understand what is going well and what needs to be improved. Consider getting copied on every correspondence with service providers, including help desk tickets, in order to have a finger on the pulse.

  • Only sell products. Under any name (broker, reseller, VAR, etc.), selling or acting as middleman for products is a surefire way to have your margins squeezed and to potentially be made irrelevant as the cloud industry matures and commoditization and consolidation start. Instead, develop a practice that is capable of delivering real solutions and go up the value chain.

There is much more that can be said about this subject especially when it comes to the how to” of this expert positioning. In summary, expertly conducted assessments that become part of your core business process will:

  • Dramatically increase your closing ratios in the cloud

  • Shorten sales cycles

  • Prevent wheel spinning and waste of valuable time

  • Increase non-recurring and monthly recurring commissions in the first sale to each client

  • Present unforeseen cross- and up-sell opportunities

  • Increase the lifetime value of  the client

  • Establish a strong beachhead toward evergreen revenue

You will set yourself apart from a dizzying number of salespeople, brokers and others who are focused on products and not on what keeps the client up at night let alone where the clients business is going in a few years. An expertly conducted cloud assessment may become the strategic weapon that may deliver the most mutually profitable and longest-term client relationships you will ever have.

David Sebestyen is managing partner of


, a managed IT and cloud services provider, and a founding member and managing partner of

Cloud Taskforce

, a consortium of services providers such as Skyrope that have joined forces to acts as clients’ advocates in the cloud. Sebestyen has nearly 20 years of experience in technology services with a focus on business development, design, implementation management and account management.

Twitter: @cloudtaskforce



Learn more from Cloud Taskforce’s David Sebestyen in the  session, “Assessing Customer Needs & Developing Cloud Road Maps,” at Cloud Partners, a Channel Partners event , Sept. 11-13, 2013, in Chicago.

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