Features, Insight, Opinion

Heriot-Watt Academic lays out his blueprint for successful cloud implementation

Stephen Gill, Academic Head of the School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences, Heriot-Watt University Dubai, has penned an exclusive op-ed which lays out the blueprint and roadmap he believes enterprises can use to seize upon the opportunities presented by cloud technologies.

Digital transformation is at the core of any modern enterprise’s competitive advantage. The scope and nature of a company’s IT infrastructure determines how agile it is when responding to new market opportunities and how well it is able to serve its customers.

A 2020 study by the leading market intelligence firm International Data Corporation (IDC) states that direct digital transformation investment is growing at a CAGR of 17.5% from 2020 to 2023 and is expected to approach $7.1 trillion as companies build on existing strategies and investments. Organisations also recognise that this approach is crucial to successfully compete in the digital platform economy.

It is exactly here that cloud computing has established its authority in powering digital transformation that is needed for achieving true business agility. Companies that often struggle to establish a cloud strategy, or to connect it with their broader business strategy eventually find it challenging to derive true value from this kind of digital transformation.

Whether the cloud conversation is initiated by legal and compliance or risk management or finance, or simply IT, most decision-making teams don’t have a well thought out cloud strategy that properly defines the “why”, “how” and “what” of their cloud implementation.

Hence when enterprises are taking a “cloud-first” approach, they should begin with establishing the desired benefits of their proposed cloud strategy and consider a range of factors to ensure successful implementation.

Ensure readiness assessment and objective-setting: It is important to begin with an assessment of the company’s IT in terms of its readiness to adopt new technologies and processes.

A readiness assessment is in essence a scorecard that offers a framework for establishing whether what the company currently has in place is adequate to introduce something new. At the same time, it is also crucial to evaluate and establish the strategic business objectives, whether it is to achieve operational excellence, acquire and retain new customers, or ensure business survival.

Build an inclusive, collaborative project team: Objective setting and cloud implementation requires clear communication and collaboration between several internal (and external) stakeholders. Building a solid core team internally which also involves key decision-makers is a major success factor.

In other words, the executive team including the CIO, COO and CEO need to participate in the decision-making process, and not just leave it to the IT team. The executives and their teams need to study the viability of the ideas from the lenses of business strategy, technology and budget.

Ultimately, when cloud implementation fails, it results in higher costs, security flaws, frustration, and wasted time.

Develop a proof of concept: Commence with a proof of concept (POC) that are low-risk but visible enough to the organisation to ensure success, awareness, and future funding. This enables the project team to detect early warning signs and offers them short achievable targets for success.

The POC helps eradicate several problems especially when companies are implementing an end-to-end (E2E) cloud strategy. Moreover, collaboration is key. The involvement of executives when drawing up the POC demonstrates their commitment to the team. And the foundation laid by the POC empowers all team members to understand the decision-making process, as well as define a successful path for the primary cloud strategy.

Test applications: A common pitfall during cloud implementation is to migrate several business areas at once, without testing applications first. For instance, it is wiser to commence with migrating a smaller area, such as the business’ email system, before trying to shift large volumes of sensitive data.

Another common blunder is trying to force fit on-site applications for use on the cloud, which may eventually prevent them from running at full capacity. Instead, it may be logical to thoroughly consider how an application functions, and how the cloud may be able to support this.

Develop multi-cloud governance and management processes: Governance of cloud computing is tricky even in the case of a single cloud provider. It becomes challenging ever further when organisations shift to multi-cloud.

Cloud providers present on-demand, self-service resources with infinite capacity, which makes it challenging for organisations to gain visibility into, and manage, what is being used. Without visibility into consumption, it is impossible to oversee and control the environment.

Ultimately, cloud computing and security aren’t exclusive. Just as with any major shift in the IT industry, the cloud too has security risks, no matter what the platform is.

It is crucial to carry out a comprehensive audit to understand the full scope of the organisation’s cloud-hosted infrastructure at every level of the cloud computing stack. A clear view of all hardware elements used in the infrastructure is vital for making informed decisions and to ensure security is a top priority.

And finally, before migrating data, applications, and other resources to the cloud, it is important that strong encryption methods such as AES or RSA are used. This ensures added security when usernames and passwords are breached.

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