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Which applications should drive your cloud strategy?

(Image credit: Image Credit: TZIDO SUN / Shutterstock)

Cloud is becoming an imperative for many organisations, driven by the C-suite as they realise its potential to provide business benefits. Their IT team know that moving to cloud, like any other major IT transformation, is not a quick fix but requires strategic planning. They need to move to cloud in a staged manner whilst continuing to deliver what the business requires without interruption and avoiding any unpleasant surprises or unforeseen costs along the way. 

The question they face is: which applications to move first? Should they start with the ‘easy’ ones such as desktop productivity applications, which for the majority of organisations will be Microsoft Office, or begin with their largest applications such as their ERP systems and work systematically through to the small niche applications

As with any strategy question, there is no one size fits all solution. However, there is a simple way to work out the priorities for your organisation in order to create a personalised change plan. 

Step one is to draw up a list of your line of business applications – the ones on which your business depends. For a typical medium-sized organisation running around 120 applications, there will probably be around 20 which are absolutely key. Once these have been moved successfully to cloud, the others will follow. Almost certainly mail and office productivity applications will be included within the critical list and this realistically means Microsoft Exchange and Office.    

Step two is to review your options for moving those line of business applications to the cloud. The ideal solution in each case would be Software as a Service (SaaS), and of course each vendor wants you to take their SaaS – which is fine if you can use it seamlessly. You need to consider both where your data is going to be held (will it be secure?) and how the SaaS solution will play with your other critical applications.  

For example, Microsoft Office 365 is in effect SaaS, and for the majority of organisations switching to it makes sense, as it is cheaper and provides 99.9 percent availability. However, it is important to understand that there will be ramifications for the rest of your systems. Once Office applications have been moved to the cloud, they will be patched and upgraded automatically i.e. they will be out of your control. This means that if you have another application which only integrates with an older version of Office, perhaps because the vendor has not yet developed an upgrade or no longer provides support, there will soon come a time when it will no longer talk to your Office applications. This could be a significant problem if you do not prepare for it well in advance. We are already preparing for the next version of Office, scheduled for release in the second half of 2018. 

Switching to Office 365 also moves your email systems to the cloud, as well as Skype for Business and SharePoint (which will become part of Microsoft Teams). If you use unified communications you will also have to integrate your third-party telephone system and IM system, making migration much more complex. This means that the ‘easy win’ of moving to Office 365 may not be so easy after all. However, it can be done in steps to make it less daunting, provided that it is planned properly (see step three). 

So as part of step two you need to map your applications for the next two years and ask all their vendors for their roadmaps in order to understand potential interactions. You will find that some vendors, such as Sage, are relatively fast moving, but what will the vendor do for those applications which have not been updated for a significant period? Redeveloping applications is expensive and if they are receiving a steady revenue stream for the current version, some vendors may not have kept pace with a changing marketplace.  

Armed with this information, you can move to step three – planning your migration. It typically takes a year to move an application, with all the associated disruption and potential pain, so you cannot move too many at once. 

Many SaaS vendors will encourage you to use their public cloud for all your other applications and some, such as SAP which predominantly runs in the Oracle cloud, will use licencing to try and incentivise you to do so. This has its advantages, but there are also risks associated with having a monopoly supplier. 

If you chose a hybrid solution, you can make the different clouds work together by setting up a federated tenant in each. For example, if you have unified communications and a separate telephone system, you will need to have the same information in each cloud, such as Active Directory, in order to reduce sign-in and improve security. Most applications have a web front end and most identity management systems can handle this. In theory HTML5 will unify this, but all applications will have to be browser tested as some vendors are slow to adopt it. In an extreme case, or with old or bespoke applications, you could use VDI as a fall-back solution.  

To finalise your strategic plan for the move to cloud, I offer four further tips – plan work in bite-sized chunks, do the easy applications first to get used to the experience of transitioning to cloud, remember that someone will still need to look after your network throughout the transition (this is the one constant in a move to cloud), and avoid being locked into a single vendor. Vendors will naturally focus on their short-term income, rather than how your applications will work together in the long term.

Migrating to cloud can be compared to finding your way through a maze. You need to have your route carefully thought out or you could find yourself in a blind alley and have to retrace your steps. If this sounds daunting, consider taking advice from those who have done it before. Most companies will only migrate to cloud once, so there may be an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of others and avoid making them yourself.     

Drew Markham, Service Strategist at Fordway 

Image Credit: TZIDO SUN / Shutterstock

Drew is an IT strategist with nearly 40 years’ experience of delivering real-world technological solutions. He has worked on significant infrastructure projects across a wide variety of business sectors.