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Managing change as you define your cloud

The majority of businesses are in a constant state of change, yet while transforming their business, they sometimes overlook the need to upskill their teams to keep pace. This is very much the case when it comes to moving to the cloud: companies are unsure how to marry legacy data centre skills with the more agile world presented by the cloud.

The cloud works differently for different people, in business and in general. It’s important to differentiate between what the cloud means for the CEO, versus the employee or the man in the street, says Brendon de Meyer, ICT Manager at CTU Training Solutions.

From a change management perspective, it means more access to bigger infrastructure, so you don’t need an enterprise-sized budget to access enterprise-grade technology. From a business and finance perspective, it changes the way we spend money. We’re seeing businesses changing models to accommodate this. They want cloud, but because it comes out of opex, cashflow becomes a concern.

Change management is key for everyone impacted by the move to cloud and has to be handled correctly. Employees are moving to unfamiliar territory, and for customers, it requires a change in their behaviour. The move to the cloud and digital services means being always available and instantly accessible. It gives businesses the opportunity to bring their services closer to their customers. Lastly, the person on the street is impacted by the cloud every time they use their mobile phone, view entertainment or access content. This is why De Meyer says cloud means different things to different people.

Why modernise into the cloud?

De Meyer has a two-pronged approach to modernising into the cloud. He says: “Businesses assume that just moving into the cloud is modernising. It isn’t. Moving your data and/or applications from on-premises to some form of hyperscaler is just replacing one thing with another. If you haven’t considered transforming your business systems within six months of moving into the cloud, you’re just spending money.”

When transitioning into the cloud, businesses need to look at the capabilities that cloud offers and consider how it can do things better than their existing applications. De Meyer says that business should move to a platform as a service model run by a best-of-breed provider such as Google, AWS or Microsoft. “Instead of using something that you’ve built in-house, see whether your provider has a comparable software as a service solution. Companies move into the cloud to reduce the risk posed by being on-premises, and reduce costs of hardware refresh, but that’s just the first phase of the journey.

It is also important that they understand what their on-premises network looks like because they’re moving from having a network to a cloud edge. Their network on-premises is their launchpad into the cloud. They should align with their chosen hyperscaler on how to do that. Often this requires rethinking about how you approach cloud entirely.”

Risk: the good, the bad and the ugly

“Nothing is without risk, and that includes moving to the cloud. The first thing is to understand the costs involved because they can be steep and need to be managed.

“Then you have to consider how long you’re in an unplanned hybrid state. The longer you’re in that state, the greater your costs. You won’t just be in the cloud overnight, there’s a transition stage.

“Some of your applications might not be cloud-ready, being either too legacy or in a midway dev state that need some refinement – some applications just don’t go well in the cloud.”

The business also needs to consider the risks to its data, which may be more severe depending on the vertical, such as financial or healthcare, for example. Businesses have to consider where their data is going, whether it’s safe and if they’re allowed to store it there. Generally, the answer to the last question would be ‘yes’, but it is a thing that needs to be considered.

Finally, the business needs to consider whether its workforce is ready for the cloud. “Traditional on-premises IT staff live and breathe servers running in the data centre, so the business needs to carefully handle how it deploys change management so that they understand that cloud is not a threat but offers the potential to bring a new dynamic to their existing skill set. People are scared of the cloud because it’s going to change their way of work and they worry that they might become irrelevant, which is almost never the case, but it’s a mindset that needs to be managed.”

The elephant in the cloud

When it comes to cloud, cost is the big elephant in the room. De Meyer says the biggest contributor to cost is when the business thinks it needs to replicate everything that it has on-premises, in the cloud. “Hyperscalers build better hardware and better ecosystems and orchestrate it far more accurately than most businesses can do on-premises. They just do it better. So you definitely won’t need all of the servers that you have on-premises in the cloud.

He offers the following best practice advice: “Understanding what you really need and benchmarking your environment, and then understanding what you need to build in the cloud, is half the work.”

In order to save costs when looking at the cloud, you should avoid deploying third-party or marketplace items wherever possible; rather look to your hyperscaler and understand their full list of capabilities; these can often meet most of your requirements. “Some of the bigger organisations might still require specific third-party solutions but could save money by looking at their hyperscaler’s solution wherever possible.”

Another cost incurred is the amount of time the business spends in a hybrid migration state while it’s moving to the cloud. “You need to keep the timeline moving forward and manage that so that you don’t carry dual costs for longer than you absolutely have to.”

A hybrid multicloud strategy is a good way to manage costs. It might increase some of the complexity, but putting the right solution into the right hyperscaler could actually save costs in the long run.

Do you have the skills?

Finally comes the matter of ensuring that your employees are up to the job at hand. It’s no use investing heavily in cloud technology if you don’t have the skills to support that shift, says De Meyer. “If your team knew how to get your business into the cloud, you’d already be there.”

He says businesses are faced with the quandary of partnering with a training provider to help them achieve their skills goals, or alternatively upskilling internally. A dual-pronged approach could also come under consideration. However, he points out: “The best scenario is to approach a partner to help you on your cloud journey, a partner that will be able to handover to your staff down the line – you want a partner who is the guide and not the hero.”

He goes on to advise: “This partner must be open to upskilling your team so that they can manage your environment. So, while it’s important to use certified partners to move you to the cloud, you need to do so in conjunction with upskilling your own team. They should also advise you on how to address change management within the team. It’s vital that you choose the right partner to help your team embrace the transition.

“When understanding the offerings that Microsoft Azure specifically has in the infrastructure and applications space, there are valuable certifications that can be completed by your technology teams to gain the critical skills and the confidence to work on the platform effectively.”

The following courses will turn your tech team into a powerhouse cloud operations unit in Microsoft Azure:

“As we have said previously, cloud adoption is organisation wide, which means that although these courses are geared towards technology professionals, there is also scope for these to be completed by key account managers, especially the fundamentals such as the AZ-900 course, which anyone could feasibly complete to fully understand just what Azure has to offer.

“Training along with the appropriate technology partner to get you into the cloud is the path of least resistance and it helps address the critical change management we have been speaking to. It cannot be ignored as part of your cloud strategy.”

This article was published in partnership with ITWeb.