While cloud computing may not be the savior of all things IT that it has been made out to be, there are compelling reasons to move commodity services away from internal IT and to a cloud-based service provider. Like any migration, careful consideration and planning are necessary, and I suggest the following five steps to ensure your move to the cloud happens successfully:
1) Understand your processes and ensure they are "portable"
If you are moving anything other than a commodity service like email to the cloud, one of the first efforts you should engage in is getting a full understanding of the business processes tied to a particular technology and working to make them more "portable." If you fully understand a business process, with the steps, decision points, and data requirements of each step documented, a move to the cloud is easy. Picture each step as a discrete box, with inputs on one side and outputs on their other. At this level of understanding, some boxes may be in the cloud, some internal, and some manual, and they can all easily be moved. If you lack this level of understanding, your cloud move will be difficult and may be disastrous.
2) Use a limited "test group" to evaluate cloud services
For any service that impacts end users, even one as simple as email or a new cloud-based application replacing a desktop one, consider a limited trial with a small group of non-IT users before a large-scale rollout. What may look like a slam dunk from a cost and technical perspective can give IT a black eye if the cloud service is missing basic functionality or is too unwieldy to allow an average worker to complete his or her daily tasks.
A limited test not only can flush these issues out in advance but can also create positive buzz for a service that appeals to users. On the technical front, a limited trial allows you to test interfaces and migration plans and also to experience working with your vendor before becoming fully committed.
3) Have SLAs in place for the migration
SLAs (Service Level Agreements) are often carefully negotiated for a relationship with a cloud provider, but one key phase of moving to the cloud — migration — is often overlooked. You'll likely need a fast response time and a different quality of response as you move critical or complex infrastructure to the cloud, and you should negotiate this period of enhanced care into your contracts. Understand your contact points and the agreed-upon response time and you'll go live on time and on budget.
4) Decide what to do if something goes "bump" in the night
Even the best service provider will have an occasional outage, and this can be especially traumatic with a cloud provider. When internal infrastructure fails, one can easily see staff furiously trying to fix the problem, but with a cloud provider, management may get a feeling of helplessness as IT staff sit and wait for work from their provider. Rather than waiting for the inevitable "bump," create a response plan for various outage times. For brief failures of frequently used applications, have a tested notification system in place and a way of communicating updates to users.
For the worst-case scenario, develop a plan for temporarily activating internal systems or capturing data that can later be set to your cloud provider for processing. For extremely critical services, test these plans with your provider to ensure that you have the right sequence of events, contact channels, and communication systems in place. While you may not be able to rip out servers at your provider's data center once you're in the cloud, a tested and well-defined plan will give more confidence than a shrug and plan of "we'll sit by the phone, hope, and pray."
5) During the RFP, plan for how you'll monitor your vendor
One of the biggest mistakes of an RFP process is effectively throwing away all the data gathered during the process once a vendor is selected. While finding and selecting a cloud vendor, you likely did detailed research and objectively compared different aspects of each vendor. Something was compelling about the vendor you choose, perhaps a more appealing offering or informal promises of superior support.
Capture all this information into a brief document with all your assumptions about how the vendor will perform and revisit it after six months, then at one year. You may be surprised to find that your vendor has gradually shifted what you expected of them or is not delivering on several key promises. Or, you may find that the vendor has exceeded your highest expectations and may be a perfect candidate for providing other services. Either way, the hard work of the RFP makes preparation of this "report card" much easier, and there is no better time to capture it than immediately after contracts are signed and expectations are fresh in your mind.
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.