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Seven secrets of success in your cloud migration plan

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright February 24, 2016
A cloud migration plan is much more than just a technology refresh. Going cloud will change the way you do IT and how you do business - forever

Looking past server racks concept to cloud outside © everythingpossible -
I often read about cloud migration strategies and all too often people only ever talk about the technology aspect of moving to the cloud. While that's important, any cloud migration plan is sunk before it starts if it doesn't also take into account the knock-on effect on the organization. The way you do IT will change fundamentally, and the way your organization operates and achieves its business goals will change too.

So before you go any further with your cloud migration plan, here are seven things you really need to take on board if you want it to be a success.

1. It's not migration, it's transformation

I have always said that moving computing to the cloud is more than just a relocation exercise — because once your IT ends up in the cloud, it has to change and adapt to a very different environment. The same, by the way, applies to how your business operates.

Therefore I heave a rueful sigh whenever I hear someone saying that moving to the cloud is merely a server redeployment or — worse — when vendors claim that they've invented some "second generation" of cloud computing that turns out to replicate all the comforting habits people were used to before cloud came along to disrupt their familiar routines.

It's a fantasy that you can move your current IT to the cloud without a root-and-branch rearchitecture. You may as well face up to the scale of change you're taking on, advises Neil Chandler, CEO for financial services at home shopping giant Shop Direct:

It would be foolhardy to just sit there and do a lift and shift. These things are never pain free. It would be foolhardy to not take the opportunity to fundamentally rearchitect as well.

2. Cloud demands a different kind of IT

IT in the cloud has to be more connected than it ever was on-premise, and that means it has to be adaptable to an extent that was simply unimaginable in the client-server era. So don't imagine you can base your IT in the cloud on client-server technologies. It simply isn't going to fly.

That's why this site has an entire section that we've titled Technology disruptions — there's a whole new framework to take on board. The scale of the change is amply illustrated by the instructive story of online rail ticket retailer Trainline's migration of its Oracle-based IT architecture to the cloud.

Trainline has moved from a traditional data center to the public cloud with Amazon Web Services (AWS). That has meant decomposing a tightly coupled architecture into microservices at the same time as moving to a devops-style continuous delivery development cycle.

3. You have to move with the business

Trainline spread its move to the cloud over the course of a year, by dividing up its IT into more manageable, loosely coupled components. At the same time, says CTO Mark Holt, the level of resource going into the move was kept at around 25-30% of the entire team so that business goals remained paramount.

The nature of continuous delivery is that it forces a more collaborative way of working with the business — if change is happening daily, then IT must remain in constant contact with business colleagues to keep them informed of what's coming next and get immediate feedback when the unexpected occurs.

In some enterprises, it's business colleagues that force the pace after cloud applications introduce them to a more iterative form of self-service IT. The first steps toward digital transformation at business services giant Rentokil Initial were “nothing to do with IT,” admits Anthony Meadows, global director of enterprise IT. Instead, business users of the organization's Google for Work platform discovered they could create new worflows and automations without having to go to IT.

Without realizing it, it began to have an effect on the way we use IT ... Google enabled the business to start go doing things.

It only takes a few teams or projects to start the ball rolling. According to Chef Software CEO Barry Crist, this DevOps approach can transform an entire enterprise within a couple of years. In Chef's experience from working with its customers, there are two keys to success:

  • Ensure that the project team is cross-functional rather than confined to a specific department such as IT or marketing.
  • Achieve a top-to-bottom focus on outcomes by involving people from developers right through to product management or business development.

4. Bimodal IT is a fantasy

The notion of bimodal IT promoted in some circles — that you can leave older systems of record to run at their traditional slow pace while other aspects of IT transform around them — is complete fantasy according to enterprises that have successfully gone cloud.

Finbarr Joy, CTO of betting firm William Hill, recommends getting everyone onboard for the journey:

That whole movement around two-phase IT, we are not subscribing to that. You bring everybody along with you, you make sure the whole team is on that journey.

The legacy guys have the domain knowledge, you need them to be on the same path. They’re actually the breakthrough into some of the fast stuff you’ll do, because they know the business so well. We have to bring the whole operation with us.

5. Cloud will change your business

The technology can't change without having a knock-on effect on the business. The experience of many enterprises implementing cloud HR and HCM applications has been that it's essential to prepare the ground first. Gerard Hussey, vice president of HR transformation at pharmaceuticals giant GSK, says change management is paramount:

If you only focus on the technology, you’re dead.

We find that first six to nine months after you go live is really challenging, because you now have a very different service model, where much more is online.

In fact, if it doesn't noticeably change your business, you're not doing it right. The technology is just a tool to enable a radical transformation of how the enterprise achieves its business goals.

6. Connections at scale matter

One of the most overlooked aspects of cloud computing is the ability to connect at scale. People focus on the lower cost or the greater agility, and forget that the fundamental reason why the advance of the cloud is so relentless is because it's connected.

Connectivity to mobile devices in people's hands, to real-time information feeds and to on-demand resources in the cloud are what makes cloud computing so powerful. Therefore a successful migration to the cloud implies moving to a computing environment that is connected at scale.

That has serious implications for security and data privacy, because with greater connectivity comes greater exposure to intrusion attempts. But equally, it means that taking full advantage of cloud migration implies becoming much more open to offering and consuming services across a properly secured and managed enterprise boundary. A successful cloud business is a good ecosystem player.

7. This is just the beginning

In the old days, an IT project was defined in advance and had a beginning and an end. But once you've moved to the cloud, your work is never done. Your IT and business infrastructure never stops evolving and you switch from a stop-start cycle of discrete projects to a continuous delivery cycle of iterative change, feedback and adaptation.

This is a world where previously inconceivable business models become possible and the nature of business and the enterprise itself will change beyond recognition. The cloud is not a destination. Migration to the cloud is a continuing journey of non-stop change, discovery. and reinvention.

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