Cloud Cloud Cloud: An Introduction to Cloud Software for Practitioners and Executives
Depending on the last article or tweet you ran across, you may view cloud software as “just someone else’s computer,” not requiring much change in approach than any other software adoption. Or you may view it as a completely new paradigm for software purchasing and management; mysterious, requiring all new skills, no IT staff, and a wheelbarrow of dollars.
As with any other major change, there are elements of both views that are true.
The first view—that you’re just outsourcing some of your work—is true to the extent that cloud software contains no magic behind that firewall (yep, they have to manage firewalls), the storage isn’t unlimited, and unlike the consumer Google model, it’s not free.
The second point of view—that this is somehow black magic that will save you millions—contends that your business users will adapt to the software easily and your IT department will be relegated to just handing out mobile devices to new employees. This perception is also unrealistic.
Here are some real things to consider when looking at moving from on-premises software to the cloud.
No more upgrades? Is this for real? Yes and no. Any package you purchase will be getting regular updates and upgrades. However, with cloud software there are some critical differences:
- What frequency should I expect? Typically cloud vendors deliver two to three major updates per year with more frequent patches and updates. You will need to be prepared to analyze, test, and provide internal post-go-live support for all of these updates. These should NOT, however, be the expensive upgrades of your past.
- How do I keep up? Most customers perform regression testing (not major feature uptake) during these updates where possible, minimizing the risk. Also, the vendor can perform testing on these changes much more completely than with on-premises software. They should only have ONE version of the software to test (more on this below).
- What should I focus on during update cycles? Regression testing is the name of the game. Make sure the vendor has not broken any of your critical business functions. You will need to focus on integrations, custom reporting solutions, downstream systems, and major areas of functionality change. Also, critical functions need to be tested with every release.
- How should I schedule off-cycle releases for new capability implementations? Many vendors provide new functionality “turned off.” This leaves you time to plan, configure, test, and perform user readiness or process change activities on your own But don’t fall too far behind in adopting new functionality. After all, this is part of what you’re paying for!
Who are you partnering with? Unlike on-premises software, you can’t just take on the maintenance of cloud software if the vendor goes under, gets too expensive, or heads in a direction that doesn’t meet your business needs. Do your homework on the vendor, including:
- Strategic vision
- Senior leadership and company culture
- Financial health (including prospects for being bought)
- Technology vision
- Current and target customer base
- Escrow agreements (You can still sometimes get an escrow agreement, but how would you implement that?)
What will IT do? IT will still need to be around. Your data integrations will be a strong focus—I’ll even broaden that to data management—everything from integrating between on-premises systems you still retain, moving data to your data warehouse, and managing your integration platform. Also, you’ll likely find some other important skills in IT that will serve you well as you transition to the cloud:
- Project management: IT has typically invested heavily in this skill set (some more successfully than others).
- Vendor management: The relationship you build with your cloud provider is crucial—as is holding them accountable and staying in close contact.
- Technical environment, testing, and configuration management: These are critical activities in managing cloud platforms, and are skills typically already resident in your IT team.
Organization maturity – Are you ready for the cloud? The cloud requires some rigor in your internal processes (system governance, project management, organization change management, decision-making, etc.). Ensure that you have the leaders and teams behind the cloud and the change it will bring.
Product maturity – Is the cloud ready for you? You need to understand the vendor’s ability to meet your needs through configuration (as you cannot customize a true cloud product), and their roadmap for additional features you require. Depending on your negotiating power, you may or may not be able to heavily influence the roadmap of the vendor. Be realistic about what you’ll get, or you will get to implementation without the software you need.
In the end, there are a great many areas to consider as you move toward the cloud. Be proactive, learn through smaller cloud package adoption, demystify the cloud through learning and exploration, and focus on your organization’s health and readiness to make a move. It is coming, whether you are ready or not!
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tambellini Group. To express your views in this forum, please contact Mary McDaniel, Chief Marketing Officer, The Tambellini Group.