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CW500: Lessons learned on how to get cloud implementations right

Experts share their advice, tips and lessons learned on how to avoid pitfalls and ensure you gain the full benefits of using cloud services

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There are many benefits to be gained by adopting cloud services, but it can be a tricky journey. Do you go for a public, private or hybrid cloud? Do you move the entire business to the cloud, or stick with a few applications?

At the latest CW500 club, experts shared their advice on how to reap the rewards of cloud, as well as lessons learned from their own cloud journeys.

One of the biggest challenges when the business decides to move to the cloud is expectations. While it gives the business a huge opportunity to be more flexible and dynamic, cloud won’t be the answer to all your problems, and it’s not a magic bullet.

Mark Lockton-Goddard, former interim CIO at Drax Group, said if there was one thing he would do differently in previous cloud implementations, of which he has done many, it would be to manage customer expectations right from the start.

“There’s an expectation that it’s cheaper and it’s easy, and relatively often it’s harder and it’s more expensive than you think it’s going to be, unless you manage it very carefully and manage the customer expectations,” he said. 

“People think it’s easy and just something you turn on, you sign up to a subscription and off you go, but it’s a lot more complicated than that. Focus on managing customer expectations – customer expectations are ‘it’s going to solve all our problems’, and it can, but it doesn’t necessarily, not without a lot of hard work.” 

Before moving to the cloud, the business also needs to be ready to do so. You need to get buy-in from the stakeholders and make sure the board understands why and how you’re doing it. 

Quick wins and planning for failure

It may sound obvious, but it’s a change management journey, according to David Henderson, director of technology and operations at media company Global, which owns a series of radio stations across the UK. 

Two years ago, after making several acquisitions of local radio stations, Global had around 100 different legacy, on-premise applications. The business began a transformation programme and, two years later, it has rewritten, decommissioned or replaced those 100 applications. But it’s not been a straight-forward journey. 

One of Henderson’s key tips to anyone embarking on a transformation programme is to get the change management principles right “in terms of understanding the need for change, building the case, getting the stakeholders on board, aligning people to that journey” and making sure you clearly state your journey to the cloud

“Alignment and engagement is mandatory if cloud is to succeed. [We have to] get communications, logos, posters and intranet articles right, share why we’re doing it, get some quick wins and get some success stories out there quickly to build up momentum, because there’s always going to be people internally that are critical non-believers,” he said. 

Having quick wins and getting some early successes is key. Not every application or service you have is going to be ready for cloud right away, Henderson said. This may be due to current contracts, service maturity or practicality. 

“Be pragmatic and speed up the initial deployment,” he said. “Some services aren’t ready for the cloud, but that’s not a reason to do nothing. Start small, be sensible, but there will be exceptions to the rule where cloud doesn’t make sense in your business.” 

His views are echoed by James Donkin, general manager at Ocado Technology. Instead of moving everything they already had to the cloud, Ocado had more success at picking “high-value projects that are new developments and taking advantage of cloud native technology”.

“Trying to move existing workloads to the cloud and moving transitionally is less effective, so being more radical works,” he said. “I’d pick something that’s very suitable for cloud use, something that has business value and then be quite radical at architecting it for the cloud and try to get an early success on that approach.”

It’s also important to realise that moving to the cloud isn’t fail-safe – while there may be less downtime and it may be easier and quicker at times, even the cloud can fail. 

“You have to plan for failure, just as you would any other service,” said Henderson. 

Lockton-Goddard added: “I’ve had all sorts of different clouds fail. That’s a challenge because people think they’re buying into something that is solid, secure, reliable and low cost and the reality is that while it is less likely to fail and more likely to be reliable, it still can [fail].” 

There are many different cloud options and a business needs to work out what’s right for the organsiation. 

Lockton-Goddard said it’s important not to be fixated on moving to the cloud because there are “certain things you can’t do, shouldn’t do and that are hard contractually.” 

The benefits of cloud 

It’s important to make cloud part of a wider and adaptive business strategy. Moving to the cloud also brings a change in capabilities and roles, as well as many benefits. 

“The skills necessary today are different than the skills we needed two years ago,” said Henderson. “We need to get our heads around the fact we had to do things differently – cloud is part of that.”

He added that when Global hires staff now, there is a “sales pitch” to new hires about the company being a leading-edge business, with agile working and a cloud-first strategy. 

The company also holds lunch and learn sessions and hackathons to teach its staff and take advantage of skills in the organisation. 

Lockton-Goddard said moving to the cloud “gives general agility to the business because you can spin things up quickly, you can turn things on quickly, turn up and down demand and supply”, while Donkin said it had helped Ocado move forward with opportunities in international sales. 

“The delay of building an international datacentre or physically installing services in another country or another part of the world is very high. With the cloud, and particularly the cloud native applications suite, we can get up and running in another country quickly and be running locally to the customers there,” he said.

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