CIOs and their IT organisations who are considering Software as a Service (SaaS) and other cloud computing applications should not underestimate the complexity of cloud migration and integrating these new models into their existing infrastructures.
While vendors tout the plug-and-play concept of cloud solutions, the reality is much different. Especially for enterprise organisations, migrating to SaaS requires a deep understanding of the interdependencies among applications and the ability to prioritise which applications or business processes can be outsourced and in what order, based on several factors.
If you're a large company operating in multiple regions, you need to think about how you implement [cloud-based] applications.
Lucy Mills, business excellence manager, Nimbus,
"It's not quite as simple as saying this is right or wrong for the cloud," said Ivan Brooks, CIO of Countrywide, one of the largest property services companies in the UK. "You have to pilot usabililty, performance, speed and, importantly, integration." Brooks continues to evaluate cloud solutions but has yet to make the leap.
Integration, Brooks and others acknowledge, is perhaps the most critical issue when determining the right upgrade path.
"You can only get away with the plug-and-play mentality if you're a small business," said Lucy Mills, business excellence manager with Nimbus, a UK-based developer of business process management software that runs 95% of its business operations on Salesforce.com cloud solutions.
"If you're a large company operating in multiple regions, you need to think about how you implement [cloud-based] applications. One small change can impact 10 different areas -- so you need to use business process to understand where the impact is of adding or changing something."
How to prioritise?
Forrester senior analyst Stefan Ried recommends prioritising applications by the amount of intellectual property an organisation has invested in them.
"If it does not differentiate your company, this is typically what you would put in the cloud for economies of scale," he said, citing HR processes as one common example. Applications that differentiate your business -- for example, risk management or fraud protection for a financial services company -- should remain on premise, he added.
Salesforce.com's Woodson Martin suggests picking low-risk areas (those that are less sensitive to security concerns, for example) for pilot testing. The good news is that cloud solutions are relatively easy to evaluate without a huge up-front expense.
"Getting your feet wet with cloud will be the way you learn," said Martin, Salesforce's vice president of strategy for the EMEA (Europe/Middle East/Africa) region. "It's not like the old world, where you have to make a multi-million pound investment. You can make a little bet instead of a big bet."
Robert Whiteside, Google's head of enterprise for the UK, Ireland and Benelux, agrees that the SaaS model offers evaluation flexibility that packaged solutions traditionally have not.
"Fundamentally, one of the differences is the ease in which you can access the software and put it in the hands of your users for feedback," said Whiteside. "You can set up and trial quickly and make a decision from there. You can move from decision to delivery of benefits in a much shorter timeframe."
While initial deployment can be rapid, Brooks cautions that the learning curve will take much longer to acquire. "You need a verification process to build confidence far beyond the initial prototypes," he said. "You have to use something developed through this approach for months, if not years, to get the confidence."
A few case studies, he added, will go a long way to building trust in cloud solutions. "It's important to look at what others have done," said Whiteside. "Look for some real business cases that are well proven and stand up to scrutiny."
It's also important for CIOs to understand -- and be able to communicate to business stakeholders -- that the cloud is not the answer for every business technology need. "People will move to the cloud one business case at a time," said Whiteside. "Not all applications will move."
Custom app dev in the cloud
And some apps will be created from scratch, leveraging development platforms such as Salesforce.com's Force.com or Google's App Engine for Business to deliver new functionality or automate previously manual processes. Salesforce claims developers have built more than 135,000 cloud apps using Force.com, providing everything from help desk capabilities to billing to carbon management.
Getting your feet wet with cloud will be the way you learn.
Martin, Salesforce's vice president of strategy for EMEA,
Salesforce's own Chatter collaboration platform is another example of new functionality being enabled by the cloud. Chatter enables real-time collaboration and is being utilised for customer relationship management, creative development and field communications.
Google recently launched a version of its App Engine for business, enabling organisations to develop their own applications that reside in the cloud. The App Engine, along with third-party apps that are also being developed to operate within the Google Apps environment, expands the portfolio of enterprise capability Google can deliver through the cloud.
"There's a whole range of possibilities," said Whiteside. "You can achieve significant sale and deploy on a global basis with the click of a button."
Rob O'Regan is a freelance writer. Let us know what you think about the story; email [email protected].
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