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The Cloud: A Business Initiative with IT Benefits
By John Emerson, Global CIO, Tait Communications
While there are ICT benefits in moving to the cloud, it must be fully understood by your senior executives that the cloud is a strategic business initiative, which the senior leadership team must own. Business reasons include:
- Improving customer integration, as part of customer focused strategy and a focus on delivery
- Interaction with customers, suppliers and business partners (wider ecosystem)
- Delivering new business models (e.g. airlines using cloud apps for booking, etc.) that deliver better customer service and improve internal efficiencies
- Enabling staff to work anywhere at any time, improving productivity and flexibility
- Creating a pathway to the future for leveraging new technologies to create a new baseline for business benefit (e.g. cost reduction, faster availability of information, etc.) and creating new digital products
Most CIO’s have inherited a mess labeled “legacy systems”. Many of these apps are on separate technologies, difficult to integrate and support. Some so old you can’t expose them to the Internet, as they would not be secure. It’s known as a “technology deficit”, from underinvestment in IT over a significant period of time. As a result, data quality is low and supporting these systems and keeping them going is costly and consumes so many ICT resources that the organization’s future can be compromised (i.e. opportunity cost).
The cloud can assist you in addressing many of these issues. If your apps already work in a virtualized environment, they can be moved easily to the cloud. When enough of your legacy apps are moved to the cloud, you have effectively standardized the technology base. We were able to do this with 21 of our 22 core apps. If your apps have API’s, then implementing integration between your apps with cloud based middleware becomes an option, addressing part of the data quality issue. Once on the cloud, you can layer security products on to the one infrastructure, instead of having to spread your security budget across many different apps with many different security products.
The Cloud Can Assist You In Addressing Many Of These Issues
Supporting apps on the cloud becomes easier, as the environment is more stable, backup is easier and apps can be adapted to meet user requirements. We have been able to add more resources to slow moving cloud apps and resolve the issue in hours. Consider how long it takes to upgrade an in-house server. We have been able to deliver global support through the cloud, reducing local IT costs by 80 percent in our offices overseas.
Time to market is an important issue to IT as it is to your organization. To clarify, it means how quickly you can supply a product to market, or in IT’s case, to your users. Our time to market can be hours, rather than the 12 weeks or so it takes to specify order, receive and set up a new server. Recently, we were requested to provide a platform on the other side of the world and with very demanding response times. We were able to set up a new image in Amazon Web Services (AWS) in that country and provision it (including testing) within 2 days from scratch. As a result, we secured a significant customer order. As most of our IT resources deliver services and products to external customers (compared to internal users), IT can be considered a revenue earner instead of a back office overhead.
By consolidating apps as they move to the cloud, there can be considerable cost efficiencies and is also an opportunity to consider your service delivery options. Your IT support tools should also be moved to the cloud, supporting mobile workers that have grown significantly over the past few years. About 35 percent of our staff can be considered mobile workers today, with more expected (a mobile worker being anyone not tied to an office).
Moving to the cloud does have some risk involved. Potential security issues must be addressed before you start moving apps across, as you will be exposing some of your apps and data to your wider ecosystem. The cloud must be properly architected and managed, requiring new staff skills. We accelerated this process by hiring two staff that had significant cloud experience. The cloud apps must be monitored on a daily basis, to ensure they run reliably and your costs are kept under control. The cloud will also impact your internal network, particularly in bandwidth usage to the Internet. Moving to the cloud is not an all or nothing process; it can be done one app at a time, which is sound risk management. Begin with a small app that does not impact customers. Consider the hybrid cloud, that has apps on outsourced sites (e.g. AWS, Azure) while having some apps on an in-house IT infrastructure. However, the key is to have one architecture, so that moving apps around, management tools, provisioning, security, app integration and support can be standardized and actioned quickly. Access to data will also be improved, as you now have one architecture across your IT infrastructure, apps and data. This forms a foundation for the future, which is big data, artificial intelligence as well as the adoption of quantum computing and networks.
One would require several articles to go into depth on the content above, but hopefully this article is useful to those contemplating moving to the cloud. We began the process over 4 years ago and many of the benefits defined in this article have been achieved. As most software vendors are moving to the cloud, you can probably do this faster.