Are you in the cloud? Or should that be The Cloud? And if you are, which cloud are you in?
One sentence in to this article and already the cloud is shrouded in confusion – and not a little mystery. And yet it has become a part of our everyday lexicon; whether that’s discussing where we’ve saved the photos from our mobile phones, to why a move to the cloud is spearheading your company’s five-year efficiency strategy.
It’s the latter that I’m most interested in; you cannot turn around in business today without someone asking if you’re on the cloud yet – and what’s more, are you reaping the huge financial benefits associated with that move?
Frankly, there’s quite a bit of pressure associated with both those questions, and as migration can appear to be no easy task, those questions – seeking proof of instant, positive results – can strike an element of fear into the heart of many an organisation.
However, the “cloud” is such a buzz-word that it can be hard not to feel the urge to adopt a “cloud first strategy”; in other words, migration of your IT systems into the cloud, in order to unlock operational and cost efficiencies.
But what are those efficiencies? What do you need the cloud to achieve for you? And how much effort is required, not only to make the migration, but to then (crucially) ensure that the cloud is providing you with the results you envisaged.
This is where companies and organisations can become disenchanted with their migration to the cloud; when the tangible results required to justify an investment are hard to gauge. But why should this be? There are a number of reasons, but fundamentally I believe that this is reflective of a developing trend to move large parts of IT infrastructure into the cloud immediately, but – for a number of reasons – to leave an SAP system on-premise.
And I understand this; the migration to the cloud of a business-critical system – especially one as complex as SAP (which includes control of financial accounting, HR, sales and distribution, material management and quality management) – can be viewed as one step too far. It’s intangible; it doesn’t have the (literal) solid heft of an on-premise server, and the perceived risk of cloud migration in this instance can appear to far outweigh the benefits. But there is an element of working in the dark here. To what extent do businesses really understand the benefits – and supposed risks – of cloud migration, in order to make that decision?
Security. First up is the very issue that is responsible for holding most wary companies back from an SAP migration to the cloud; security. However, experience has indicated that many organisations struggle to keep on-premise security patching up-to-date, not to mention the maintenance required in keeping operating system and database versions current. We’ve all heard news from across the globe which has documented the ramifications of a company data breach or attack. Private company, PLC or government body – it matters not; a breach in any type of information security is bad press at the very least. It compromises not only company data but also reputation – often with disastrous results.
Despite this, companies continue to keep their business-critical information within on-premise systems – struggling to keep them up-to-date and safe. In contrast, a cloud-based system provides options for minimising down time with quick system spin ups and replication when completing patching or update activity.
Flexibility. To future-proof a business, scalability is critical. Adding a new module, acquiring a new entity or scaling your business can create a huge amount of work for your IT department. An on-premise server is likely to be close to its limit; adding more data will cost time and money. Rather than second guessing your organisation’s future plans, the cloud allows you to plan for what you need today and not what you ‘might’ need in 3-5 years’ time, providing you with the flexibility to scale up (or down) as required. The cost efficiencies associated with this ease of change are not hard to quantify.
Reinforcing that flexibility, the cloud can open a world of efficient automation options that previously wouldn’t have been available, whether that be having systems online only during business hours or during critical processes – or using a multitude of options to test business continuity and disaster recovery processes.
Clarity. The cloud offers constant access to real time analytics. Depending upon your business, the ability to react instantly optimises opportunities whilst minimising problems. For organisation-wide understanding and awareness of situation change, real time customer relationship management and a faster learning process, RTI provides almost immeasurable efficiencies. For a company with global locations, or global growth plans, efficient analysis of RTI across multiple services lines in multiple locations is critically important to growth; indeed, your clients will probably expect that level of analysis and the subsequent efficiencies which are passed on to them.
Cost. The received wisdom is that a “lift and shift” migration into the cloud will be instantly cost-effective, relieving your organisation of ageing and failing hardware that requires constant maintenance. And at first glance, it does appear to be as simple as that.
Taking those advantages into account makes a shift to the cloud seem like the proverbial no-brainer, and one which thousands of companies across the UK have already made – but with varying results.
So what goes wrong? Why does the cloud not always provide the answers and efficiencies it promised it would?
A shift to the cloud is an investment, and like all investments, it needs serious consideration. Is there a point in shifting your IT system to the cloud, if risk-aversion means you exclude your business-critical systems such as SAP? Possibly not; the ROI will be increasingly hard to find. So rather than moving to the cloud because it’s the “thing to do”, embark on a straightforward rationalisation, which may result in a priority list of elements that need to make it from on-premise systems into the cloud.
Instigate a strategy of data archiving and review the services you currently subscribe to; are they still necessary now that you’re planning to migrate to the cloud? A bit like de-cluttering your house before you move, getting your systems in order prior to migration results in more efficient, safer move – with far less room for breakages and the resultant blame.
This prepared approach to cloud migration has resulted in startling financial efficiencies for one of my clients. Based within the public sector, they reported a reduction of server hosts by 40% through landscape rationalisation, ultimately leading to reduction of 50% in hosting costs once in the cloud. From this, it’s quite clear that moving your IT system to the cloud doesn’t have to be a huge transformation project which causes large amounts of stress and risk. Rather, that process of rationalisation allows cloud moves to be undertaken cleanly and cheaply, unlocking small (and sometimes large) gains as part of a wider process.
However, critical to its success and subsequent value for money is the confidence to ensure that post-rationalisation, your business-critical systems are amongst the first to migrate on to the cloud.
That is where the real gains lie for any organisation.
Eilidh Clarkson is a SAP® specialist based in the UK