The movement to migrate IT to the cloud is in full swing, driven by the promise of a range of benefits for organizations that make the leap. Often chief among these envisioned payoffs are big cost savings from doing away with large chunks of IT infrastructure, as various computing and support responsibilities are shifted from internal departments to the shoulders of “hyperscalers”—that is, the giant cloud services vendors like AWS, Google, and Microsoft.
But embarking on a large cloud-migration effort primarily to quickly realize an imagined windfall in IT costs, including staff reduction, can be a big mistake. In fact, the skills, resources, and time commitment needed for a successful transformation around the cloud are significant. The benefits of such a transformation can indeed be enormous, and in fact, moving to the cloud is increasingly becoming essential to long-term business success. But doing so without proper planning can be more challenging than most organizations realize, and the benefits can come over a longer timeframe and in different forms than expected.
Successful cloud transformations almost always involve extensive help from a systems integrator or VAR. Partnering with the right systems integrator is the key, as systems integrators need to be prepared not only to provide a wide range of advanced technical skills specific to the cloud but also to help client organizations embark on their cloud journeys with the right attitudes, commitment, strategies, and expectations.
The Myth of Staff Cuts
Hyperscalers often make it sound as if it’s easy to move to the cloud and realize significant savings. And it’s true, there are potentially big savings to be had, including no longer having to purchase software licenses for tools and applications that are moved to the cloud, or for the acquisition, maintenance, and support for the hardware needed to run those tools and applications internally.
These savings can run into the millions, or even tens of millions, of dollars annually. Some of these savings are offset by the added subscription costs of cloud computing, but those costs are usually much lower. Also important, the subscription costs are operating costs instead of capital expenditures, an appealing shift for most organizations.
But often the biggest savings that organizations are expecting in a move to the cloud is a huge and relatively fast reduction in IT personnel costs. And that can be a very problematic miscalculation—one that can completely derail a cloud migration effort.
The problem is that most organizations run a suite of legacy applications. Typically, these applications have been highly customized over time, and in many cases are entirely custom-built. Organizations build substantial staff of IT professionals to develop, implement, operate, support, modify, and update these applications and the many IT tools needed to run them.
These IT staffers have invested some or even all of their careers in these efforts and have acquired significant skills and knowledge about how this legacy IT ecosystem functions. The need for those skills and that knowledge doesn’t disappear when an organization embarks on efforts to migrate those systems to the cloud or to replace them with cloud-native versions.
Even if all the work done on these legacy systems has been meticulously documented over time—which is almost never the case—systems integrators and hyperscalers can’t efficiently bring an organization into the cloud without the support of this staff. And that support may be needed for many years, starting from initial planning for the migration, through its complete implementation, and on to modifying and supporting it for some time after implementation. No technology or expertise can make moving to the cloud purely a plug-and-play process.
It’s not enough to simply refrain from phasing out these invaluable contributors early in the migration. IT leadership at the organization must work to make sure that internal staff is supportive of the migration plan and feels good about their future during and beyond this transformation. Doing so may require overcoming a certain amount of inertia that can build over time in an IT department—an inertia that can lead to fear and resentment of the big changes that are coming.
Getting internal staff on board with the project includes training them in the new cloud-oriented skills they’ll need to be ongoing contributors to the migration and ensuring they’re positioned to help the organization get the most out of the new environment. Neglecting this human angle to cloud migration is often the biggest and most common mistake that organizations make.
Achieving the Real Benefits
While the notion that the internal IT department can rapidly shed staff as a cloud migration project gets underway is wrong, there are plenty of other, ultimately greater, benefits that can come from the move to the cloud.
The cloud can bring significant cost savings. For example, there are the various large efficiencies that a well implemented and managed cloud platform can offer over a conventional IT environment, including efficiencies in maintenance, security, development, upgrades, computing, and storage capacity. In the cloud, many of these tasks can be partly or even entirely automated, thanks to the growing use of artificial intelligence and machine learning tools operating behind the scenes. Some organizations are seeing many of their support tasks addressed entirely automatically, from opening a ticket through closure. And even major upgrades to applications can sometimes happen relatively swiftly and painlessly, without a tremendous amount of work on the organization’s end.
Another enormous benefit: computing and storage capacity can be automatically scaled up or down, even on an hour-to-hour basis, as demand rises and falls. That rapid scaling can substantially reduce subscription costs, even while eliminating performance lags.
Most important of all, the move to the cloud can make an organization more agile. Modifying applications or even embracing entirely new ones, complete with the new capacity demands that may come along with them, can be accomplished much more quickly and effectively in the cloud. That means that as markets, products, strategies, and even business models change in today’s fast-paced business environment, organizations utilizing the cloud will be much better positioned to respond at speed and take advantage of emerging opportunities.
An organization’s success in realizing these benefits is largely dependent on the systems integrator it chooses to help with the move to the cloud. Obviously, a systems integrator has to provide the array of advanced, highly specific skills, expertise, and experience needed to move an organization from a legacy environment to a state-of-the-art cloud ecosystem. Assembling those people is an enormous challenge for systems integrators. As you select your systems integrator, do your research on their investments in people, skills, and methodology, and on the number of successful cloud migrations they’ve implemented. The cloud migration movement started less than a decade ago and has been rapidly evolving and growing. That means there’s a shortage of people who have the needed training and experience to manage and execute these complex projects, and smaller systems integrators are still struggling to build the talent they need to take the lead.
And it’s not just a question of technical skill. Most organizations need help with fitting cloud migration into a broader digital transformation and weaving the strategies for this transformation into a broader business transformation. Leveraging these new technological capabilities and benefits requires a commitment to a shared vision at all levels of the organization, from C-level leaders all the way to front-line employees, and it must include a systems integrator who is your true partner and not just a vendor.
Facing all these challenges is a tall order, but more and more organizations are getting ready to step up and migrate to the cloud. Now it will largely be up to systems integrators to build the capabilities they’ll need to guide and support organizations through the cloud migration journey.
Raj Lanka is a customer obsessed technology leader with over 18 years of consulting experience in developing technology products/services, public cloud transformation/Operations (Managed Services), security, complex deal structuring, program management and building professional services teams. His forte is in Innovation through Automation and Operational efficiency. He is successful in defining, developing, and delivering integrated technical solutions emphasizing cost-effective, high-performance Cloud solutions supporting large scale global delivery. Cloud Operations / Managed Services product vision, strategy, and execution expertise to orchestrate a seamless customer experience.