Businesses are facing significant questions about moving their IT systems to the Cloud:
What is the Cloud?
There are a lot of views and options. Lets keep it simple by focussing on whats likely in place in your business now and whats possible in the future (the two extremes of the continuum).
Lets use pizza-as-a-service as an example. In IT terms, you buy/maintain servers, install them at the office, load applications and databases and connect staff/users to them.
At the other end of the continuum, you have pizza-as-a-service. In IT terms, you consume the IT service/application as and when you need it, providing only your device, your internet service and an ongoing subscription.
There are many variations on the theme which essentially relate to the contribution made by each party (the buyer and the service provider). There are also public and private versions of the service delivery model.
Whats important are your requirements, as there will most likely be a service offer that matches your specific requirements, your budget, your business compliance obligations and your risk profile.
Now, answers to some of the questions:
1. Should we adopt a cloud IT service?
Compelling reasons will emerge over time. the best available applications are being built for a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model. That is, you rent the application service on a monthly/annual basis. It tends to make sense when you assess the status-quo which includes.
- On-premises hardware to manage and ultimately replace
- The flexibility of anytime, any-place, any-device access
- The transfer of risk to the service provider (for backup, patching, anti-virus, security, and disaster recovery)
- Access to the best available applications for your business
- Your current application service provider will be confronted with supporting two business models (one for servicing on-premises, and one for servicing cloud delivery). This will be tough for them and possibly expensive for you.
2. Why would we?
Beyond the reasons above you are likely to adopt cloud-based IT services for the additional benefits such as:
- Reassign your technology risks
- Enable capital that would otherwise be ploughed into IT infrastructure spend
- Better alignment between your business needs and the capability of the cloud-based systems
- Additional flexibility and scalability
- They are readily available and accessible to users.
- To take advantage of new applications for business management
- And many more than can be listed here
This is a complex transition but one that, with a pragmatic strategy defined, can be negotiated without undue fear.
3. What are the risks?
There are plenty and each risk factor needs listing, investigation and mitigation. Lets not gild the lily..we have heard of the horror stories relating to privacy breaches, lost data, lost access. That said, we would not drive a car if we focussed only on those unfortunate to die in one. Like all business projects, the best outcomes will be attached to projects with the best planning, best resourcing, suitable budgets and timeframes. Cloud transitions are no different.
In many respects you have already started without realising it. If you have a business Facebook page or are using Gmail, then you are already using cloud services. Others have started and are well along the journey.
Ten steps to get you started:
Step 1: Understand that it is a journey, so..
- It takes time (but the leadtime is somewhat linked to the size and complexity of your business).
- Everyones journey is different (because the starting and finishing point are different). The vehicle used will also influence the speed of the journey.
- The end point will emerge over time (so the destination is not set in stone) because the services and applications you are using now and those that will emerge in the journey are constantly evolving (just like your business).
- It requires you to know your starting point and be in complete control of all the I.T. assets and services you have deployed in support of your business.
Step 2: Understand the status quo…
- The business strategy..that precedes all else.
- The current systems are they understood now and working well for the business? Step 3: Understand why
- The benefits to your business (not the system vendor).
- The value-adds possible in the transition (getting more return for the effort, than just the lift and shift to a cloud version of the same application set).
Step 4: Define the decision points/triggers
- Moving premises?
- Systems review?
- On-boarding a business acquisition?
- A rapid business expansion (organic or by acquisition)?
Step 5: Understand the Options
- What are the application vendors doing?
- What are their competitors doing?
- What are your options?
Step 6: Whats the Strategy?
- The big picture of all business systems (beyond just one application)
- The system integration needs and opportunities
Step 7: Resourcing
- Who can help me?
- Have I got internal resources to assist with the journey?
- Are my people up for (up to) the change that will be required?
Step 8: Do a plan
- Like any journey, you need a plan. While the plan may change over time (for many reasons), the plan relies on knowing where you are starting from.
- Its time to know the operational side of your business well and to understand the tools being used by your people to do their jobs. This will expose gaps, duplication, clumsy processes, poor reporting tools, etc.
- Define the risks and the governance obligations and how each will be managed.
Step 9: Get external support
- You cant do it all (unless you want to), so taking on this project will be time consuming and have serious impact on your business. Your role is to oversee the journey, to keep resources focussed on the plan, tweak the plan (if required) as business strategy and conditions change, etc
- Choose your advisors well. Make sure they have some independence from the vendor community and test their vendor/service recommendations rigorously.
- Its a relatively young industry. Its learning and developing it business models and the things that matter (security, availability and privacy) are moving feasts that even the best of them struggles to keep up (and ahead of).
Step 10: Get going
- Dont procrastinate. Start the conversation internally (with staff) and externally (with industry associations)
- Its a change (and a substantial one). Make change management an integral part of the project.