Cloud Strategy

Cloud Adoption Consideration #1: Have a Strategy

This is the first of a series of blog posts discussing the five main considerations critical to successful cloud adoption by enterprises.

Before diving into the first, let’s define the scope of what I’m talking about here, as it affects the points that need to be made.

  • We are talking about cloud adoption by large enterprises – typically global organisations who have the advantage of scale and for whom private cloud implementations are within their reach, but who also have the disadvantages of scale: the challenge of organising a large number of people to deliver complex capabilities. The critical considerations are different for start-ups where public cloud is typically the only realistic option.
  • At this scale, customer strategies tend to encompass private and public cloud components, and sometimes multiple providers for each – so our scope here includes SaaS, IaaS, the fuzzy bit in the middle that we’ll call PaaS, plus on- and off-premise implementations.
  • We are interested in the long game – of course you need quick wins to earn credibility and get the flywheel effect going, but the big gains are to be realised over several years (at least).

Firstly, technology is not one of the five critical considerations

This might seem counter-intuitive, but let me explain. Our clients have the scale to get the technology right. Typically, they have talented staff and/or strong delivery partnership organisations in place, and they are big enough to attract a lot of love from the big cloud vendors. Also, these types of organisations have already implemented and operated multiple data centres over the years, so they know how to deliver big technology change programmes.  So whilst getting the technology aspects right is absolutely fundamental, it’s not where we see customers having trouble. In fact, it’s a risk, as customers can focus too much on where they are comfortable. Five years ago, perhaps, this was the hard part, but whilst it’s still far from trivial, it’s not where organisations flounder. We do see customers with cloud initiatives that fail for technology reasons (e.g. sub-standard security patterns and governance) but typically, the root cause of these failures is not technical ignorance and can be traced back to one of our five main discussion points.

The key point is – and it’s taken me a while to figure this out myself – that successful exploitation of cloud is not just a technology challenge, but predominantly a change management challenge. So this takes us to the first consideration critical to successful cloud adoption by enterprises…

#1 – Know why you are doing it

This sounds obvious – but it’s amazing how many organisations do not have a clear set of business drivers that can be traced through to the cloud part of their strategy. (Just to clarify – we tend to talk about cloud strategy as a shorthand, but really we mean “business strategy in a cloud world” – i.e. those components of the business and IT strategy that can leverage the developments in cloud computing from the last 5-10 years).

Actually the problem is more subtle than this – often what we find with a new client is that there is a cloud strategy defined in some form, but it might have one or both of the following flaws:

It is non-specific, and therefore tries to be all things to all stakeholders

We want to be more agile? Tick.  And reduce costs? Tick.  And more secure? Tick.  And rein in and provide a credible alternative for shadow IT? Tick.

The cloud vendors (and I have contributed to this) are guilty of feeding the “cloud good, non-cloud bad” mentality, but of course it’s more complex than this. Some of these objectives compete with each other – sure the overall effect on the organisation of cloud exploitation can achieve them all, but any strategy that can really be executed needs to be less generic than this. For example – are you chasing infrastructure cost savings, or application development savings, or operations staff savings? Is it an IT benefit you seek, or a benefit that will be visible to internal business customers? The answers will probably be also different for different parts of your application estate.

One cause of a vague or non-existent strategy is a “follow the leader” behaviour from senior management – i.e., my peers/competitors are adopting and my shareholders/investors read the same press I do, so I have to do it also. Five years ago, I spent what felt like too much energy evangelising cloud adoption in a large enterprise (with limited effect!), and now it’s taken as a given that it’s part of the CIO’s mission. That’s progress. Just be sure why you are doing it and be brave enough to say no if…

It is not underpinned by a business case

Assuming the previous flaw has been addressed (it’s a pre-requisite really that the strategy is specific enough), then do a good old-fashioned cost-benefit analysis on what you are proposing to execute. I am not arguing that cloud adoption in a large enterprise does not lead a visionary leader to show the way by articulating a compelling vision – it absolutely does. But do your homework. Our motto in Beamap[1] is “If the business case for an application migration to cloud does not stack up, do not do it”.  We’ve no bias towards migrating everything regardless of benefits case – we’re not selling hardware or software or cloud services.

Of course, there are many sound strategic rationales for proceeding without a positive “hard numbers” business case, such as risk mitigation, future agility, data centre space constraints or contract terminations, etc, – and putting a financial value on these softer benefits is difficult.  But at least make it a conscious and evaluated decision – otherwise how are you going to go back later and measure the benefits realisation and adjust your approach from what this teaches you?

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