This article was first published in Computer Weekly.
Cloud technology has moved on – and so should its early adopters. They reaped significant benefits from scalability, lower costs and faster service, but now risk losing out on the wider range of choice and specialisms offered by today’s cloud market services.
Huge improvements in cloud technology are opening up markets and solutions that previously did not exist and because of the maturity of the cloud marketplace, the risk of being tied into a supplier has reduced significantly. However, complacent suppliers often don’t offer these innovations to long-established customers.
As a result, even though big suppliers such as Microsoft and Amazon are now offering a wide range of niche cloud choices, many organisations are still based on old – and potentially outdated – cloud platforms that are no longer best for their specific needs. New applications include those being introduced to the US telecoms industry where, instead of setting up new physical networks, they are starting to move those networks to the cloud.
AT&T aims to have more than 70% of its network coverage in the cloud by the end of 2017. If others in the market do not do the same, they risk losing competitive edge.
Although transitioning to a different cloud platform is the best option for many companies, a lot of them are hesitating about taking this route. In particular, they are scared of damaging their everyday business services, or fear downtimes and loss of data. These concerns are valid – a poorly planned transition can have a severe business impact. But these risks can be mitigated by careful analysis and planning; effective communication; and a focus on the key activities around integration and migration.
This should start with an evaluation of every part of the transition process, from the outset of the project to delivery. That should include an examination of the operational acceptance criteria of the project, which can then be used to check its progress. If there is a clear view of what success looks like, this will reduce the chance of the project going off course and will minimise the risk of incorrect governance. A feasibility assessment can highlight further areas of risk and focus, enabling the creation of a comprehensive project plan and avoiding a company tying itself to a particular technology too early in the lifecycle.
Strong communication is critical, regardless of the scale of change. High levels of engagement with the business teams, stakeholders and third parties involved in the transition should start early. A command centre can ensure that core transition activity is co-ordinated centrally and can provide a single source of truth to business stakeholders, including the executive leadership team and third parties. This also enables a rapid and informed response to changes.
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Buy-in from the business
Impact assessments and a network of change champions can also help get buy-in from the business. Then, when the change is implemented, effective support should be provided to the areas affected by the change.
A focus on the integration of third-party services, and personal communication with those third parties, can reveal problems early and avoid them becoming more significant at a later stage. Dress rehearsals are also important, so that each individual service has a clear and practised view of its actions for cutover. The resulting tailored transition means third parties will be satisfied with not only the new performance capability, but also the shorter disruption.
Finally, it is important to have a clear understanding of the priorities for data migration and the integration of third-party services. This will enable the project to focus on early delivery of the “must have” requirements. Allowing time for rework in the event of a test failure will reduce the risk of project overrun or even failure.
Businesses are often cautious about embracing change and ask why they should risk transition and possible disruption when their system is already established on the cloud. However, the maturing of cloud technology and the pace of competition in the market is driving innovation and improvement and they will miss out on its benefits if they do not overcome their caution. They need to recognise that costs are falling, new tailored services are available and cloud re-platforming is becoming less and less laborious.
A smooth transition with minimal business impact is possible, and there has never been an easier time for businesses to switch quickly. There have been a number of success stories in the last few months, when companies such as GE Oil & Gas, Trainline and Intuit have transitioned to a public cloud to achieve greater agility and availability while significantly reducing their IT costs (up to 52% in the case of GE Oil & Gas).
The advantages are clear: transitioning to a new cloud platform can boost efficiency in the short term, introduce superior capabilities to aid slick processing in the long term and slash support costs.
Innovative companies that adopted cloud early took a risk in doing so. The risk paid off for them. Now these same companies must embrace innovation again to remain competitive and future-proof their position in a changing market.
Rahul Gupta and Alastair McAulay are IT transformation experts at PA Consulting Group