Pack up your legacy kit and head to the clouds

It's always amazing how the pace of positive change can accelerate once sufficient momentum has been established to overcome scepticism. For example, video conferencing and online collaboration had long been a bit of a specialist activity; organisations used to construct dedicated rooms with things like acoustic treatment and elaborate lighting. You booked these to establish contact with similar rooms in the corporate empire and it was all very formal. 

Thanks to the impromptu accessibility of resilient and scalable cloud-hosted video collaboration services, they became ubiquitous and transformed our lives for the better.

The Boeing 747 has been called the plane that “shrank the world”, ushering in the era of affordable global vacations. Suddenly other countries and cultures could be encountered face-to-face rather than through the medium of black-and-white television. Arguably, cloud-hosted video has had the same effect, as we now routinely meet and collaborate in real time with friends and colleagues all over the globe. Every week I meet with colleagues, and we kick off with a chat about upcoming plans in Norway, the UK or the US, and sometimes we get to see each other’s living spaces, pets or families. But there is another positive aspect to this revolution. The fact that it occurred so smoothly has made many organisations who had previously been sceptical about the cloud sit up and take notice; the cloud really could be relied upon to deliver mission critical services.

As a result, many organisations are now feeling more bullish about extending the use of the cloud and are consciously looking at how to move onto the challenge of tackling their legacy systems, which are looking distinctly rigid and constrained.

From tangled network to cloud-enabled clarity

One healthcare organisation we recently partnered with successfully transitioned its legacy data analytics capability from a tangled network of inflexible, locally hosted servers onto a new Microsoft Azure platform in less than four weeks. With traditional infrastructure and development approaches, this would have taken months. The intrinsic flexibility of the cloud supported the iterative development of the new solution through a series of software-defined prototypes. This permitted rapid co-development with the PA team working alongside data analysts in the business, which in turn meant that inevitable glitches were identified and rectified immediately in the next iteration before they became problems baked into the finished product.

Transitioning legacy systems to the cloud is a bit like undertaking a major vacation. In the same way that a vacation might last two weeks, prior planning and preparation will ensure it goes smoothly once you’re there. We’ve found there are three key ingredients that must be in place to achieve a successful migration of legacy systems onto a cloud platform.

1. Allow time for plenty of initial analysis and planning

Start by examining the acceptance criteria for the transition. This will ensure you have a clear view of what a successful implementation looks like before you start, and that critical elements are planned early on (for example, security of customer data is paramount and should drive the technical solution). A feasibility assessment should be carried out to preserve initial technology options rather than narrowing down to one from the outset: this will allow for changes in direction. Areas of risk and focus, such as integrating legacy infrastructure or disrupting business operations, should also be called out early to set expectations with the business.

2. Start and maintain communication with all players involved

If you gain high levels of engagement with the business teams, stakeholders and third parties involved in your transition from the outset, you’ll ensure they’re committed to responding swiftly to decision requests and have a clear understanding of the big picture. We’ve seen organisations achieve this engagement by setting up working groups and hot house planning sessions, regularly briefing suppliers and providing ongoing firm-wide communication through weekly blogs. And in these organisations, the inevitable changes and issues were resolved far more quickly and led to a well-rehearsed and granular transition plan.

3. Rehearse, rehearse and rehearse again

This will allow you to discover and resolve complications early on. This is particularly important for third-party service integration – a problem there can cause a project to overrun or even fail if it remains hidden until the live cutover. Rehearsals will also ensure everyone, including the new cloud provider who will be keen to ensure migrations are a success, have a clear and practiced view of their actions for when the time comes for cutover.

Over the past five years, the pace of change in cloud deployments has been exhilarating. Many organisations, including those in the traditionally conservative public sector, are now at the point where they want to evolve the way they use the cloud to extract greater value from it and achieve wider-reaching benefits. Our experience shows it’s possible to re-platform cloud systems with minimum disruption – but only if you treat it as you would a major vacation, including planning for any unexpected contingencies.

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