Cloud Control to Major Tom, commencing countdown to the Cloud

Take your protein pills and put your helmet on, where commencing countdown to the cloud. (Title and opening line inspired by David Bowie, rest in peace)

Welcome to 2016! This year will become a major turning point across all industries. Everyone I speak to, all the articles being written, questions and discussions with clients and peers all point to a significant change in acceptance and adoption to Cloud technologies. We have reached a critical tipping point where those who were playing with Cloud technologies in the lab and isolated projects finally launch on a grander scale. Others are ready to jump right into the Cloud at various depths.

Before you put your helmet on, it’s time to really assess your current environment, what you have (and trust me you already have some business function using one or more cloud solutions) and how you should consider changing your business. The maturity level has reached a point where it is now a viable option across so many business functions. Before you make that leap towards leveraging the Cloud it is critical that you focus on a true and deep evaluation of your current business. It’s time to really focus and be willing to change aspects across people, process, and your existing technologies. It’s important that you are willing to not hold onto legacy solutions. The Cloud is a complete transformational paradigm shift and should be approached as a way to start fresh. This is also an ideal opportunity to incorporate a mobility strategy if one does not exist since the cloud lends great support to a mobile focus.

Be willing to change and move away from the old – The idea of the large monolithic Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) platform may be coming to an end. When designing and working with the cloud a focus on a hybrid model leveraging Micro-services and API Connectivity with other applications and external third-party resources is critical. The ability to build and leverage Micro-Service will increase your ability to change and adopt over time as business and competition continue to change at an ever increasing speed. Most businesses work in distinct functions, the Micro-services style applications allow for focused services per function and the needed interoperability with other departments, divisions, or third-party vendors.

Shift your IT teams focus – The role of IT Departments will and are changing within organizations. The Chief Information Officer (CIO) is transforming to more of a Chief Innovation Officer. The technology teams need to transition their knowledge and focus around software and software equivalent solutions that are replacing todays hardware solutions (software firewalls, VPN, networking, etc.). In addition IT Departments need to focus on learning the business and finding the solutions that will meet those business needs. To be successful in IT in the future requires a willingness to understand the business.

Contract Centralization and Management – Signing up for a cloud account often takes nothing more than a few minutes and a payment method. In many cases companies offer trials and free versions of their platform that do not require a payment method to start. The ease at which these accounts can be created and your corporate data shared and exposed is concerning. It’s critical that policies, procedures, and tools are available to assist in Managing, monitoring, and securing the data and user accounts.

The organization needs to establish guidelines on how individuals can request and demand Cloud based solutions. Those solutions should tie into a central authentication solutions or a method to centrally manage and monitor the applications. This is critical in creating a seamless experience for the users while maintaining the ability to track compliance, risk, etc.

Legal Agreement – Read the agreement (with your legal team) Are you comfortable with the terms? I have read a wide range of agreements over the past few years. Some of them are fairly straight forward and open about who is responsible for various task. Others can contain a variety of exceptions and clauses that can make it difficult to recover money if the relationship fails. Either way its critical you have a clear definition on your responsibility and rights and the responsibilities and rights of the vendor supporting you.

Performance and Latency – Be prepared performance and latency in a Cloud environment is not always what you expect. For example some legacy applications may work well in the office today, but could be a challenge if they are run over the Internet since it adds addition time needed to get a response.

Disaster Plan (backup, emergency procedures) – Disaster recovery and business continuity are important even for the smallest companies. Recovery time objectives are important values that define how much data you are willing to lose and what amount of time you are willing to allow for the data to be restored. It’s important to have a clear understanding of how your data is backed up, or if its your responsibility to backup the data. In addition it’s critical to understand how the environment handles outages and failover to their backup sites.

Compliance and Security issues – You need to protect PII, PCI, PHI, FISMA, and your IP. It’s important to understand from Cloud vendors how and where your data is stored. Based on their environment can you remain compliant with the various laws and industry regulations that may fall around the data? If there was a breach make sure you understand your cloud vendors process for handling security incidents and resolution.

Data Portability – While you may not own the cloud, you do own your data. A critical question that must be asked is the organizations policies and procedures for extracting your data should there be a need to separate from the organization. This can be a challenging process as time will need to be spent extracting the data and converting it to a format that will be usable in a new platform.

Licensing Model – Licensing for the cloud varies drastically ranging from Concurrent or Individual user, Number of devices, data usage, CPU usage, bandwidth, etc. Make sure you understand the model and its financial impact.

Capabilities (hybrid, API’s, Data extract/import) – Over the past few years the features and capabilities of Cloud based technologies has grown significantly. With all the possible options its critical that time is spent defining and reviewing the Enterprise Architecture to allow you to analyze the solutions and determine if they will meet your needs or if you need to rethink workflows and processes.

Monitoring and Reporting – There are a lot of aspects to consider across the monitoring and reporting. Some vendors offer great dashboards and communication pages that provide great clarity into their platform status. Key things to monitor for are system availably, authentication logs and failed log in attempts or access abnormal locations.

Capex vs. Opex and the overall financial impact – Make sure the finance teams are included early on in the process. The transition is not always clear and it can be a shocking to see Opex suddenly increase month over month. I know one client who almost canceled their plans until they realized that while their Opex was up significantly their Capex was down significantly more.

These are just some of the things to consider when making the transition to the cloud. The design, implementation, interoperability with existing systems, and  other technology and business decisions still need to be made as part of the efforts.

See you in the Clouds!

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