The cloud is one of the key ways that businesses can get an edge without having to spend a fortune. However the move to the cloud is still new territory. We asked cloud-expert John Vincent at Broadgate Consultants to help explain some of the key areas you need to consider, to make the move quicker and pain-free.

Depending on whom you talk to, you'll hear conflicting views on the maturity, positioning and suitability of cloud computing for companies with fewer than 50 employees. These diverse opinions, coupled with a dynamic and evolving cloud marketplace, can make it very difficult for organisations to create a roadmap that will help them make a successful transition to the cloud.

Why your business should move to the cloud

What isn't in doubt, however, is that cloud computing is changing the landscape of business technology. We are going through a step-change in the way that underlying technology services are delivered to companies. Having said that, it's important to note that cloud computing isn't really new; many organisations have been sourcing applications or infrastructure in a utility model for years. In fact, many of today's cloud vendors have simply rebranded these offerings to make them more appealing to the mass market: a process now known as "Cloud Washing".

There are a number of compelling reasons to move to a cloud based solution, including cost efficiency, speed of implementation and a more flexible 'on-demand' model. Not only that, but the workflows are often customisable, which mean that they can work more easily with current processes from an integration perspective. As a result, cloud solutions tend to offer faster deployment, reduced consultancy requirements, the ability to deal with "spikes" in activity, and increased scalability for both clients and staff.

Deciding whether the cloud is right for you

First of all, businesses need to understand that cloud computing involves a lot more than technology alone: any company considering a move to the cloud will also need to weigh up a number of different business, applications and operating models.

In other words, before deciding to jump into the cloud with both feet, businesses will need to look at all of the different variables that drive their technology requirements, not just the technology itself, as these will shape the requirements for what the 'end state' cloud operating model will look like which, in almost all cases, will be a long way from the traditional technology service delivery and operations.

Businesses will also need to look carefully at the rationale behind their decision to move to the cloud in the first place, and to consider whether (and how) this model will support their strategic and operational goals. Once the rationale has been proven, organisations will need to evaluate their current set-up carefully in order to understand the benefits and risks of a move to the cloud, especially in areas such as:

  • Strategic drivers – How important is reducing time to market for new products? Does your demand for IT vary throughout the year? Is the cost of IT impacting your ability to grow your business?
  • Service drivers – In term of importance, how would you rate efficiency? Security? Reliability? Flexibility? And how well would you rate management reporting in all of these areas?
  • Governance –What is the maturity of processes within the organisation? How would you rate the maturity of your operating model procedures? Do you have agreed security policies and guidelines for data and applications?
  • Technology landscape – How would you rate the maturity of your IT environment? What is the number of business users? What is the geographic distribution of the user base?
  • Cost – Do you have transparency of costs for applications and infrastructure? Do you provide cost allocation to your business users?
  • Ease of migration – When did you last invest in significant capital expenditure? What is your ratio of IT staff to business users? Do you have any contractual and vendor commitments that constrain migration?

In order to make a successful transition to the cloud, organisations will need to answer all of these questions by reviewing their end-to-end operating model very carefully. This should not be a technology-led activity alone, but should also clearly define the new roles and responsibilities that will be needed to operate a more agile, consumption-based model.

Getting the right skills and management

As cloud services continue to mature, certain skill sets will become more important. The biggest demand is likely to be in the areas of;

  • Service management
  • Architecture and Commercial & Vendor Management

Rather than the skills that are normally provided by technical and operational staff – as these areas will be fundamental to maintaining the service integrity and delivering increased business value. As such, attention will need to be shifted to the training, development and realignment of roles, which is a big task that should not be underestimated.

Of course, many small-to-medium sized organisations have already moved their IT Service Management (ITSM) infrastructure to the cloud. When planned and implemented correctly, there is no reason that these cloud-based solutions should not match, or in some cases be even better, than the way in which companies currently deliver service.

However, the shift in application delivery to cloud environments is creating a challenge in terms of ITSM, regardless of whether that function is internal or hosted. After all, technology services are likely to be delivered by a mixture of in-house, privately hosted and public cloud applications, which means that the management of the end-to-end service chain will require careful planning, as well as a broad, holistic overview.

Where do we go from here?

Cloud-based services are growing in popularity and will continue to accelerate significantly over the next few years. However, businesses need to bear in mind that operational considerations are generally more important than technology aspects when considering a move to cloud-based services.

For example, the organisational state of governance, change control, service measurement, information security and support models will all need to be mature enough before even contemplating cloud computing. Moving to the cloud from an in-house managed application needs to be thought of in the same way as outsourcing the service to an external provider. There can be specific technical aspects that stop or reduce the value of migrating to the cloud, but most can be overcome.

Last but not least, the fundamental reasons for migrating to the cloud need to be considered against the company's broader business goals. Is there a business advantage or operational gain to be had from an in-house infrastructure team and datacentre? Do the improvements in demand flexibility (and potentially cost) override the commodisation and management overhead of change? Answering these questions will be the key to a move to the cloud that delivers a sensible return on investment.

Author - John Vincent, is a partner at business and IT specialists Broadgate Consultants