While enterprises and small businesses alike are swiftly moving their critical business applications and data to the cloud, they often forget to plan their exit strategy. That’s right: How do they get their data and apps out of the cloud when, for example, compliance issues arise or on-premise economics improve, and how do they switch from one SaaS provider when the existing provider goes out of business, stops performing as expected, or a better/cheaper provider comes along? Any of these scenarios could happen to any company, and will happen more often as the market shakes out.

I recently attended a CIO event where the hot discussion topic was how, when and why we should move our applications to the cloud and SaaS. What surprised me was that the main concern was less about how to move applications and data into the cloud and more about how to get them out of the cloud.

Exit considerations were a real barrier for many to even enter the cloud. I heard questions like these:

What if security or legal compliance dictates that we need to regain full control of our data? Can we do that?

Can we move to another SaaS provider when that becomes more cost-effective?

What happens if our provider goes out of business?

What if our provider starts having unacceptable downtime periods? Can we quickly move to a more reliable provider?

Will providers’ interest in high stickiness one day have us locked in to a point where we have no exit options at all?

If we take part in a merger or acquisition, how can we ensure that we can consolidate on a single set of SaaS providers?

These are all very good questions. I was surprised by how important a cloud and SaaS exit strategy was in the discussion. I have some suggestions on what exactly businesses can do to keep (or regain) control over their data and providers.

For obvious reasons, cloud and SaaS vendors have little interest in customers ever moving away from their applications. They want to be as “sticky” as possible and grow their businesses. For example, how many times do you hear about customers moving away from Salesforce? I’ve never heard of any, but I have heard many say that SaaS vendors jack up their prices over time, and even Gartner is reporting that SaaS applications may not be competitive on a TCO basis after two years.

It is very likely that someday soon you’ll start to hear more and more CIOs asking about how to exit the cloud, or at least about how to move from one SaaS vendor to another.

The big problem with migrating from a cloud or SaaS vendor is that you don’t own access to the database. The only way you can access and potentially move your data is using the API supplied by the vendor. But because of the SaaS vendor’s desire to create “stickiness,” you may not find all of the features you need in these APIs for a pain-free migration to another SaaS vendor, or even back inside your firewall.

The adoption of cloud and SaaS standards would go a long way toward streamlining the transfer of data between cloud platforms and SaaS applications. Discussions to this end began among at least three leading technical groups in Europe a couple of years ago, and there’s hope that business-driven standards development would appeal to U.S. organizations as well.

In the here and now, there are companies offering cloud-based automated replication services that make it easy for you to obtain and keep an up-to-date copy of your cloud-based data safely behind your firewall. Even if you never need to get out of the cloud or switch SaaS vendors, you may have non-subscribers who need access to a subset of your cloud-based data, and replication services ensure that people can get what they need to do their jobs without incurring unnecessary expenses.

For those who are willing to try emerging technologies, browser-based integration solutions can access the data and business logic in a cloud-based application without requiring APIs, which lets you extract your data, transform it for a new SaaS format or an old on-premise format, and then load the data into the new application (also without an API) or load the data back into a behind-the-firewall database.

Finally, an exit strategy requires the application of good business sense. Jeff Kaplan, managing director of THINKStrategies, said it boils down to “the fundamental vendor selection process, looking at vendor viability in addition to solution functionality.” In other words, don’t be so dazzled by the promise of the technology that you don’t perform due diligence on the provider.

A worthy cloud provider should be prepared to work with you on an exit strategy and work twice as hard to keep your business.

Stefan Andreasen is CTO of Kapow Software, which sells automated application integration solutions.