As with most broad technology transformations, cloud computing has created a state of excitement that makes it difficult for enterprises to distinguish between hype and reality. If you are the CIO of a medium or large enterprise, putting together a strategic transformation plan for your organization is difficult enough even without the additional complexity of a major technological shift.
However, even if you advocate for conservative approaches in IT, you likely recognize that the cloud represents a unique opportunity to not only support the business with more efficient and cost effective infrastructure, but also to lead the organization and help it accelerate the creation of business differentiation powered by the next generation of technology.
The question then becomes: where should you start?
I believe your initial cloud project should have three distinct characteristics. First, this initial project should provide quick and visible business impact. Select a project that aligns with your organizational priorities, possibly a new application that supports new business opportunities, or a cost reduction initiative that aligns with your CFO goals, or maybe a solution that helps you drive better customer engagement for your sales or marketing organizations. Whatever your organizational goals are, make sure that your first project relates to them. The impact does not have to be large, but it should be visible. The project should be small enough to be done in a reasonably short amount of time (maybe under six months) to avoid getting forgotten by the collective memory of the organization.
Second, the project should represent a manageable risk. While any new initiative has inherent risks, the introduction of cloud computing may create additional ones. Avoid starting with projects that depend significantly on complex regulatory, compliance and data sovereignty issues. As with any other IT initiative, minimize the risk of end user rejection by selecting a project that can get the support of the business user or department’s actual users and engaging them early. Projects with complex data integration requirements or projects that automate complex cross-organizational processes also increase the risk. From a technical perspective, ensure that the technologies (operating systems, databases, development tools, languages, frameworks, runtimes, etc.) used on the cloud project are those with which your team is already comfortable. Be sure to engage not only the development arm of your organization, but also operations (systems management) as they must be comfortable with managing the new cloud service running on somebody else’s infrastructure.
Finally, it is important that your first cloud project generates cloud-specific learning. Select a project that actually benefits from the unique characteristics of the cloud: self-service, elastic, scalable, programmable and metered infrastructure available as a service and at utility costs. Appeal to those existing complaints and negative stereotypes of IT by empowering an organization or department to utilize infrastructure on demand, or provide transparency of service delivery costs to departments, or reduce capital costs by leveraging the cloud utility model, or automate IT processes with manipulation of infrastructure via APIs. The learning that you derive from implementing a project that actually leverages the unique attributes of the cloud will be crucial when the time comes to repeat the success in subsequent projects.
What are some good candidate projects to use as a first step in your cloud journey? Here are some ideas:
- Application development and testing: While developers love their rich IDEs, the cloud can be used to expedite provisioning of development and functional test environments, or to generate synthetic loads to verify application performance and behavior under traffic spikes.
- Marketing self-service: Your marketing organization needs to drive revenue acquisition or email campaigns to your customer base, and the cloud is an opportunity to empower them to design these campaigns, create the required web content on their own, test variation of the campaigns, and retire them, while the cloud’s scalable nature provides a buffer in case their campaign goes viral. Marketing is naturally skilled at communicating, which can help spread the word about your successful initiative across the organization.
- Batch projects: Most batch processes use infrastructure only periodically. Business intelligence analysis, reporting, end of month or end of quarter processes, among others, are good candidate projects as they eliminate the need for dedicated infrastructure that sits unused for significant amounts of time.
- Mobile and social apps: “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) is a reality. A mobile or social application for your internal users has immediate appeal because of that. For your own customers, single task-centric mobile apps have become a natural way to engage with users on mobile phones or tablets.
- Corporate entrepreneurs: Not all entrepreneurs work in house garages. Your organization has many corporate entrepreneurs that just want to get their idea done, without the infrastructure becoming the bottleneck. Providing them with Infrastructure as a Service ensures that they spend more time driving innovation in your organization.
In the end, there are no “technology projects.” Your organization only wants to drive business projects. These require technology and the cloud may just be the right ingredient. Your journey to the cloud will be more uneventful if you don’t boil the ocean. Select a single visible, business relevant project that can become a quick win and that allows your organization to learn about the unique value of the cloud. With this first successful project, your organization will have built the confidence necessary to take the second step, repeat the process, and continue learning.