Application Migration to the Cloud: Know Your Purpose

Principal Analyst

Top of Mind: Application Migration to the Cloud
Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes

Institutions have moved commercial, on-premises applications to the cloud with significant success over the last several years. As I’ve spoken to CIOs about this shift, I’ve discovered a variety of drivers for their initiatives, with various pathways, but generally with solid success. (Some of these conversations informed this piece in 2021).

The most important common factor in their successes was defining their strategy based on a clear, focused purpose. Though one might think about this type of migration as a technically oriented, obvious move, the purposes vary from situation to situation and drive different outcomes. Here are a few examples.

Institution A: Looming Data Center Investment

This institution’s new CIO came into the institution with a data center in disrepair, creating significant institutional operational risk. With a failing data center, he faced options: build a new data center, use a co-location provider, or move holistically to the cloud. Given the breadth of assets that needed to be relocated, the maturity of cloud providers, and the timeline in which a move would need to begin, the institution chose to move to a cloud service provider as quickly as possible (measured in years across the organization) and use this “opportunity” to reset the entire IT organization to a cloud-skilled workforce. By focusing on its people, it built a highly regarded team with deep cloud skills.

Institution B: Consortium Breakup

This institution faced the predicament that its previously consortium-managed environment was no longer an option. They had to move a major set of administrative applications quickly and at a low cost. They found a hosting service that could accommodate their applications and an experienced consulting organization that was able to re-platform them in less than a year. They achieved savings, simplification, and new agility in their cloud environment.

Institution C: Skills Deficit

The third institution I want to discuss faced a continued and serious loss of staff to manage a key on-premises application suite and was not able to easily hire replacements. The CIO looked to the application provider, who offered hosting and management services. In this case, the vendor was also struggling to provide sufficient staffing to the institution, but the situation is improving over time.

As we zoom out from these examples, it becomes very clear that the situations and motivations for re-platforming key applications were different, and the paths the institutions followed to accomplish their outcomes varied. Each of these institutions was clear about their rationale and aligned a plan and partners to meet that need.

As you consider the possibility of such a move on your campus, you should not only understand the purpose but also have a good understanding of:

  • Total costs for on-premises hosting, including disaster recovery (DR) and business continuity (BC) capabilities
  • The total cost of cloud hosting, including licensing cost changes
  • Current capabilities and supported standards of the selected hosting environment
  • The investment timeline for keeping that environment current
  • Application upgrade roadmap and timing

All these factors can help you build the financial, operational, and risk profile for this major change, including the business case, budget, and staffing plans if you move forward. Of these components, the most underrated is the value of risk reduction by the achievement of DR and BC goals, which can be prohibitively expensive for institutions running systems on premises. It is also the largest personal relief to CIOs who have made a move, allowing them to sleep better at night.

This analysis may also tell you that you don’t need to make this move now. For institutions with stable, well-maintained, low-cost internal data center services and stable staffing to maintain them, the move to hosting won’t make much sense right now, but it is likely to be a serious consideration over the medium and long term as the technology advances, and more applications are only offered in the cloud.

For those needing to explore the move, we have recent research to help in your planning and evaluation of partners.

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Principal Analyst
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Dave Kieffer spearheads research focused on finance, and HCM applications, data management and other critical higher education technologies at Tambellini Group. He brings more than 30 years of creating, implementing, and managing enterprise-class applications in higher education. His experience includes all levels of applications development and management in higher education. Among other things, he has been responsible for ERP implementations, mobile, and web development, application architecture and integration technologies.

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