Editorial by Neil Henry
As a senior manager and director of information services within both the health and financial industries I have seen first-hand how rolling out cloud infrastructure creates considerable challenges at an operational and tactical level.
Moving to the cloud is a powerful trend, it can elevate business in so many ways, but having been involved in the procurement, rollout and support phases of several cloud deployments within organisations such as the NHS and Barclays Bank amongst others, there are clear pitfalls I have seen materialise time and again. What are they and how can they be avoided?
Pitfall 1: Which Service?
Many organisations try to cut corners and scrimp on cost, deploying mix-and-match (freemium and subscription) cloud infrastructures.
Rarely does this approach work – such services are often bespoke, open to abuse and mismanaged. They also incur exponential costs and are impossible to roll-out at scale.
Make sure you: Understand exactly why your business needs a cloud infrastructure and where it should be deployed within the organisation. From in-house expertise to customer awareness, set expectations based on your information needs. Do you need control? Do you expect a certain level of ROI by ‘x’ date? Do you have the resources and long-term vision to roll-out integrated services within the cloud as you need them going forward?
Pitfall 2: Monitoring & Support
Probably the most common pitfall simply because many believe the cloud takes away ownership and control of your key commodity (data) to a 3rd party. This is a major bone of contention (!!!pdf link) because early cloud services and software lacked the monitoring tools and reliability of service to instil end-user confidence. Mismanagement was common and support flaky to say the least. If internal staff were unable to effectively manage and support their own user base via applications and data that did not reside on-premise, where could they turn?
Make sure you: Clearly align both operational and strategic decision-makers to agree on a cloud solution that delivers reliability, performance, monitoring and reporting. Only this will stimulate business value and end-user buy-in. Clearly define the support networks required – both in-house and by your cloud provider. Be sure internal staff are empowered and trained on the level of service they will be supporting and make sure real-time support can be achieved through internal and outsourced expertise.
Pitfall 3: Contract Lock-In
Many still fail to consider what they are truly signing up for. While hidden charges are a thing of the past, over-spending or under-spending are still extremely common mistakes. SLAs are signed and when subsequent issues arise there is much consternation. i.e. customers unhappy at the level of performance, support, storage, access, security, etc. Trying to break out of agreements, upgrade or downgrade service becomes a real challenge and a major burn on finances.
Make sure you: Define very early in the selection process what you need from the SLA and what the cloud provider is delivering. Capacity planning, CRM, support process and availability, etc. Address these questions with an internal team to align exactly what your requirements are for the cloud service within your strategic roadmap today and what it will look like down the road as your business grows. Don’t make the mistake of signing up for something that neither scales as you grow or is so expensive it costs the earth to upgrade/migrate.
Pitfall 4: Mismanagement
Cloud infrastructure is renowned for being very easy to deploy. Constantly online, easy to access, signup and go! But by not ‘owning’ traditional hardware or software we encounter problems. Complacency and a lack of ownership are common, resulting in management of the service becoming a blame game. Who’s in control? Who manages the process and monitors delivery? Having the right internal training mechanisms and role responsibilities are often overlooked too. As a result performance latency, negligence over support and maintenance cause considerable headaches. Without a physical server to kick! key stakeholders often have conflicts of interest.
Make sure you: Employ the right tactical teams and support networks to facilitate delivery of your cloud SLA. Even though your cloud provider may be responsible for service performance, maintenance and support, make sure your internal IT function and end-users understand the expectations on them. Use of the service, support process, system protocol, etc.
Pitfall 5: Big Data Security
The security of your cloud based data is paramount. But relying on servers and applications that are housed externally to your organization creates access pain points.
Which devices are compatible? What level of access should individual users be given? There are so many questions. With an avalanche of big data at our disposal today, how can we best capture, filter and disseminate it to so many people in formats they understand and can collaborate with. All via the cloud without compromising the integrity of our business.
Make sure you: Map out each users needs within the confines of the cloud service you deploy. Whether running a BYOD or locked down device management policy, make sure all parties are engaged – why that is so and what they need to do to keep your cloud based data safe. Your company depends on the highest degree of vigilance with regards to data security in a consumer lead society.
Pitfall 6: Governance & Legislation
Within every industry, information governance is a hot topic. Never more so than today as mobile technologies expand with global scalability into cloud based IT for every business function. Yet professionals are becoming much more consumerized, they want to use devices and systems they know and trust. The problem is governance and legislation standards will dictate what device types, information protocol and interfacing techniques businesses should be using to transfer data and work in collaboration – remotely or onsite.
Make sure you: Don’t compromise the integrity of your business by failing to meet industry regulations and information standards when rolling out services in the cloud. As budgets get cut and resources shrink this can be a major challenge. Use due diligence in choosing a cloud service provider that meets industry association standards for messaging protocol, information governance, regulatory compliance, etc. Don’t cut corners by using a mix-and-match of freemium/cheap services if they don’t have the capacity or regulatory sign-off your industry, customers and partners need when it comes to handling personal data.
Whether you need to counter the challenge of big data storage, workflow collaboration or anything in between, there are massive opportunities in migrating to the cloud. But you must also avoid the risks that come as a result of rapid technological change. How you deliver your own cloud strategy within a bigger IT roadmap will shape your business for years to come.
Neil Henry has over 18yrs experience in the IT industry, initially in application design and deployment, progressing to management of IT operations for leading enterprises such as Cap Gemini, Oracle, Barclays and the NHS. He specializes in cloud technologies that create business value from mobile, social and big data analytics, to support not just IT but all corporate functions.