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Building a cloud roadmap: top tips on best practice

(Image credit: Image Credit: Wynpnt / Pixabay)

What is a cloud roadmap and why is it important to have one? 

Moving to the cloud is never going to be an easy task for any team. It’s a large scale infrastructure project that requires an immense amount of time investment that only increases with the scale and complexity of the environment. There are too many moving parts and tactical steps to move it all at once while not losing sight of the long-term objectives and business reasons for moving to the cloud.

A cloud roadmap is a visualisation of how a company will transition to the cloud to help keep focus on the long-term objectives while solving tactical problems that creep up along the way. It should include all deliverables and deadlines divided into three key phases: planning, infrastructure and implementation.

What's the best way to begin building a cloud roadmap?

Before you do anything, everyone involved needs to understand, and be bought into, the business objective behind the move to the cloud. Whether it be for stability, reduced costs, flexibility or all of the above, without a goal it will be near impossible to define what needs to happen in order for the project to succeed.

When deciding on these objectives, it’s best to consider the needs of your customers. You need to articulate why these goals are important, and in the end, it should boil down to how to best serve your customers. In a business-to-business (B2B) context, for example, being cloud neutral is important. To say ‘we will work with you, anywhere you need us to work’ can really help to build deeper customer relationships. If a business objective is to be where your customers are, then that should be reflected in your cloud roadmap. 

From here, you’ll need to create a workback plan that includes key milestones throughout. The technology decisions you make should feed into your business objectives, while the milestones should be related to the business goals. For instance, having cloud portability isn’t actually a technical objective, it’s a business one: to be able to run on whichever cloud is appropriate for any given part of your organisation. You may leverage this for a subsidiary in a different jurisdiction or perhaps you don’t want to be locked into one vendor to strengthen your hand in future negotiations.

What must a good cloud roadmap include?

Much like any good strategy, a cloud roadmap needs three things:

1) A situational analysis to understand what is standing in between your team and the end goal.

2) A set of policies that will keep you on track to achieving and protecting your business objectives. Being cloud neutral would be a policy, so would being hybrid capable. In fact, these would most likely be two components of a single business policy: be able to run wherever our customers need us. The implication of this policy would be to choose components and services that are portable like open source platforms or services that are multi-cloud. Another policy could be to minimise decision time.

3) Coherent action items that obey those policies to get you to your end state. These items will shift as you go and should be focused on your prerequisites and dependencies. If you have a policy to minimise decision time, then you will need to incorporate real-time aspects into your cloud platform as a prerequisite. This can be particularly difficult coming from a world of batch processes and ETL - which is still most of the world. Using streaming platforms can help you bridge this gap between batch-based and real-time processing. Often this is called Streaming ETL. You don’t need to do it all at once though, you can incrementally add real-time capabilities to your batch-based platform to derive value along the way. Even if your processing is still batch-based, you can start streaming some data sources in real-time. Over time you can add real-time processing to augment or eventually replace your batch processes.

Avoid the classic cloud roadmap planning mistakes

Another mistake is to change your plan too little, or too much. Just like the story of goldilocks, a perfect balance is needed here. It’s a good idea to re-visit the roadmap every six months, however, changes should be made to align with changes to business objectives. In saying that, this should only happen a few times within the life cycle of the business. This is also why it’s important to have leaders across the company involved in the processes. At a minimum, key stakeholders should be shown the plan on an annual basis to make sure it still aligns with the needs of their teams. This is where you can add and change actions, however, changes to policy or end goals should be rare.

A common trap to fall into is focusing the cloud roadmap on the technical elements, which are generally only tactical. This becomes a problem because it’s hard to define the value of your achievements if you focus only on the technical framework and don’t up-level it to a business context. By doing this, leadership often feel out of the loop and lose interest and potentially deprioritise the project. However, even worse, is that focusing on the technology can mean investments are made that don’t align with the overall business objective. For example, having the freedom of choice on cloud platforms is something you may feel like you want, but it must be tied to a business outcome or business operational flexibility or else it won’t seem really valuable outside the IT organisation.

Don’t plan in a silo: get the right people involved in the roadmap building process

One of the most important parts of large-scale infrastructure projects, like cloud migrations, is that you have buy-in from all levels of the business. It’s not just a job for the technical IT teams, leadership teams outside of the IT department need to be aligned on the business goals for the project too. The policies need to not only meet the needs of the people doing the work, but also the ones funding the project and the organisation at large. You would commonly see finance, operations and sales teams involved, with the senior leadership and C-Suite at being kept across the project.

Sharing early and often and building consensus around project deliverables and outcomes will ensure your roadmap not only has all the key ingredients for success – but the right people to make it happen?

Dan Rosanova, Group Product Manager, Confluent

Dan Rosanova, Group Product Manager at Confluent.