Breaking up can be hard to do – just ask the UK and the European Union. Whether it’s a marriage, an international agreement or a business partnership, the end of the relationship can lead to rancour, bickering, and a bad deal for both parties.
However, it doesn’t have to be like this. If a relationship is based on a shared understanding and backed up with a formally-recognised legal document such as pre-nuptial agreement, it’s much less likely to cause complications that lead to a lasting legacy of bitterness.
The problem is that we usually enter into relationships in a spirit of optimism, and don’t pay enough attention to what will happen when, or if the partnership breaks down. A businesses’ relationship with their cloud services provider (CSP) provides a great example of how organisations enter into an agreement without giving due attention to what happens should a relationship inevitably end.
When entering a new cloud service agreement, it feels pessimistic to be thinking about making provisions for breaking the contract.
Organisations should not, however, be reluctant to discuss of formalise their exit strategy when they are negotiating contracts with a CSP. Indeed, they have a duty to their customers, employees and shareholders to make sure that the move to a new service provider proceeds with minimal friction or cost.
Prepare for departure
By entering a new agreement without clarity on what happens when termination is triggered, you could be leaving yourself vulnerable to risks that hinder your business operations. Any good cloud provider will understand that their customers will likely move on one day, and should be happy to help create provisions for what happens come the end of the relationship.
In the past, businesses often assumed that simply receiving all technical documentation from their service provider was a sufficient handover. Today we know that infrastructures and methods of operation develop over the years and as a result explicit agreement should be made to align on the fundamentals. In order to ensure the smoothest possible exit from their cloud contracts, there are five areas organisations should address at the beginning of every relationship.
1. Will there be any pricing changes?
There’s no greater cause of bad blood in a contract than money. The likelihood of a financial disagreement is aggravated where protocols aren’t agreed upfront, and instead left open to interpretation. No party wishes to be met with unexpected tariffs or costs, and equally the other doesn’t want to be continually chasing up unpaid bills. It’s therefore extremely wise to secure agreement on pricing for the entirety of the relationship – including during the transition period – in any contract that you sign.
2. Who is in the lead?
When a customer signals that they want to bring their contract to an end, it’s easy for the incumbent provider to wash their hands of any responsibility for the often-complex process of migrating to a competitor’s platform. If it’s not directly stated in the contract, then whether or not the CSP provides the level of assistance the customer requires is at its own discretion. In such cases it’s the customer who bears all the risk and responsibility. This can be especially difficult considering that it is only the cloud provider that has the expertise, and the knowledge of the customer’s cloud assets. It is common that the customer takes lead in the re-transition project and the CSP is obligated to provide the expertise and time against agreed pricing.
In order to be prepared, the customer should ensure that they have an agreement that allows them to take the lead in the transition, and then have all the blocks in place to manage the process regardless of how willing their CSP is to assist.
3. Will service levels stay the same?
It ought to go without saying that service levels shouldn’t dip once you announce your intention to break the contract. This goes beyond standard, day-to-day factors such as connectivity performance, availability and customer service, but should also include that the same team continues to manage the account to the best of their ability. Equally, the customer will be expected to keep their side of the bargain and continue paying monthly subscriptions for the duration of the termination period.
4. What happens when I want to migrate elsewhere?
Migrating from one cloud provider to another can be a complex business, and there can be surprises during the transition that mean the process takes longer than expected. At the same time, it’s easy for a cloud provider to drag their heels and delay the transition. That’s why it’s so important to negotiate an exit plan in which both parties agree to a sensible timeframe within which the migration will be completed, and to have a maximum transition time in place to prevent the process spilling over.
5. How do I make sure the right knowledge is handed over?
Services, assets and architecture may change fundamentally over the lifetime of a contract. An important part of a smooth transition process is therefore making sure that all essential knowledge is collected and handed over. This goes beyond simply ensuring that installation documentation is fully accessible and up-to-date, but also ensures that a comprehensive handover of the service management information is in place. This includes easily overlooked items such as work instructions or relevant information that is in people’s head, ensuring that the customer and the new cloud provider have everything they need to manage the transition smoothly.
As a cloud customer, you have the right to ask all these questions when you negotiate your cloud contracts. What’s more, the CSP has a moral duty to accommodate any reasonable requirements and formalise them in law. After all, the whole point of the cloud is that it is flexible and easy-to-manage. There’s no reason why your exit should be any different.