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Moving to the cloud and the dangers of standing still

Written by Martin Davies, Principal Consultant, Sungard Availability Services

You can’t get to where you want to go by standing still. The accelerated digital transformation efforts seen since the pandemic began have only increased business reliance on cloud services. And if the right decisions are made, business leaders can be lauded for migrating their organisation to a cloud platform that provides more control, better cost efficiencies, and greater availability.

Our new research found that 35 percent of UK senior business decision makers have accelerated plans for cloud investment following the pandemic. Organisations continue to adapt and understand the need to keep moving to compete. Despite the benefits that digital transformation efforts delivered during the pandemic, there are still some businesses that remain apprehensive about making the move to a cloud platform.

For those that remain cautious, there is a very real danger of being left behind, so how can they ensure this doesn’t happen to them?

What are the main challenges?

Most companies have some kind of cloud strategy, but many have found it difficult to turn that strategy into reality. This isn’t the case for new businesses that are born in the cloud, but the view from an established company that already has a complex IT infrastructure can be daunting. Just understanding how to start, what the journey looks like and what level of commitment a business will get from executive teams is enough to make anyone think twice.

The cloud is depicted in the press as the answer to everything. While IT and technology professionals have learnt not to take too much notice of those claims, there remains the pressure to deliver on certain promises. These include cost flexibility, workplace efficiency, agility, and a faster time to value.

There are multiple cloud scenarios and configurations available to an organisation. There is certainly no ‘one-size fits all’ cloud set up. There is the public cloud, private clouds, hybrid, multiple clouds, and even the option to retain your own data centre. The choice is vast, so it comes down to a company understanding what it has, what it needs and what cloud environment is right for them. There needs to be a balance between what executives believe is possible and what the technology can deliver, and that needs IT to be an active participant in delivering applications on whatever channel is best for the business.

First steps when making the move

Companies must make sure they have a strong technology presence at the highest levels. Any cloud project should not just be viewed an IT decision, but a business one with outcomes aligned to the wider aims and objectives of the board.

They therefore must take time to create a comprehensive change management plan or programme. One that de-risks or mitigates the risk to ongoing business-as-usual. They must also understand what they currently have and how existing applications are run. For example, which applications are critical and what are all the dependencies that make them work?

They should also evaluate and understand what options are available to them. This can include working with a trusted partner who can ask the key questions that will help improve outcomes and reduce risk in your choice of platform(s). Once they know these factors, they can architect their new structure and journey accordingly.

It may need to be addressed in stages. Moving an application that has predictable workloads to a private cloud, for example, may provide a useful stepping stone for a longer term move to a public platform such as AWS or Azure a couple of years down the line. The main thing to remember is there are many ways to get to the cloud, and the journey need not be daunting with a pragmatic and informed approach.

How to overcome the barriers

The solution to many of these challenges often comes down to culture and people. The alignment between business and technology certainly benefits from having a strong technology presence at board level. This sees off a lot of issues. Not only does it help bring IT closer to the business as a primary enabler of key business objectives, but it also ensures that there is a strong level of governance and control – heading off problems like shadow IT.

Another barrier is this idea of ‘bill shock’, the difference between owning the platform and its costs and leasing space, bandwidth, and a ‘pay for what you use’ model. Bill shock can be particularly painful when an application or service has been moved to an incorrect platform. This can be for all the right reasons, but the platform does not properly meet the way a particular application works. For example, take an application that a business decides to move to a public cloud and is dependent on moving a lot of data in and out of the cloud. It is free to put data into the cloud, but there is a cost to take data out. When the company owned the infrastructure, there was no cost outside of the initial hardware and network cost and some maintenance. The cloud model is different, meaning the business ends up with a cost that it was not expecting for something that works pretty much as it did before.

This can be averted by understanding your existing application, how it works, what its dependencies are and its constructs so you can ask if it is suitable a) for the cloud and b) for which type of cloud configuration.

Don’t be left behind

Changing crucial elements of how a business is run is daunting and moving to the cloud can very much fall into this category. However, the far greater fear should be the danger of being left behind as cloud investments continue to accelerate.

Companies must take time to find the approach and cloud platform that suits them best. This can help make those perceived barriers feel a little smaller. By having a strong technology presence at board level and with the company decision makers, key business objectives can be met by making the move.