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Defining a cloud journey to deliver business outcomes

Here are six steps to ensuring a journey to cloud is focused on delivering business outcomes

Surveys of IT executives show that the majority of cloud journeys fall short when it comes to delivery of business outcomes, often ending up with strategies simply watered down to “an imperative to adopt cloud”.

As a consequence, all too many cloud journeys end up as “IT for IT’s sake”. The only variation on the adage about “a hammer in want of a nail” is that, in this case, there happens to be more than one hammer – software, infrastructure and platform as a service (SaaS, IaaS and PaaS), “lift-and-shift”, and so on. People just want to know which hammer to use. To extend the metaphor, you should first be asking where to hang the pictures, or perhaps even whether to move the walls.

Whereas most business leaders will over the course of their career have come to understand how to steer a traditional IT programme, cloud is unfamiliar and, in some ways, profoundly different.

As a result, many CEOs, COOs, CFOs and business unit leads are uncertain of where and how cloud can deliver business value and don’t know the right probing questions to ask. What they require is a structured approach to ensure that their journey to cloud is focused from the start – and stays focused – on delivery of business outcomes.

Here are six steps of an achievable approach to making sure that the design and execution of a cloud programme never loses sight of the expected business results.

1. Look to the horizon and business outcomes

In deciding where you want to get to, it is of utmost importance to set your destination in terms of business outcomes, not IT goals. For example, you might ask, “Which markets do we intend to enter or exit?” or “Where do we most need agility to speed up the release of new features and products?”.

The reason for framing outcomes in business terms, instead of IT terms, is that cloud has the potential to contribute so much more than just enhanced IT.

Your future vision should be set by looking to the horizon, taking a long view where cloud is seen as a multi-year journey that takes you to where you want to be as a business in, say, five to 10 years.

2. Define your cloud objectives

The starting point for any cloud journey should be an assessment – not of applications, or of IT infrastructure, but of your strategy to compete and create value.

In practice, so many cloud journeys fail to get off the ground, or later fall apart, because objectives were not clear at the start and stakeholders were not aligned, in particular across business and IT. Moreover, without objectives, progress and milestones cannot be measured.

At a high level, cloud has the potential to create value in three areas: cost, agility and innovation. Cloud can bring other benefits, for example, strengthened security and increased visibility of IT resources. However, these factors do not by themselves justify a move to cloud. 

3. Understand the journey and cloud strategy

Once you have established clear cloud objectives, you can identify the right cloud strategy for each part of your business. The issue is that cloud comes in several flavours – IaaS, PaaS, cloud-native, SaaS, and so on. These contribute to cost, agility and innovation to a varying extent and in distinct ways.

When deciding which cloud strategy provides the best match, it is helpful to distinguish between two strands within cloud computing, both with different antecedents. On one side, are the hyperscalers: in the West, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google and Microsoft; and in China, Alibaba and Tencent. In essence, the hyperscalers offer IT components at different levels of abstraction that you can use to assemble capabilities.

Although the hyperscalers attract most attention in discussions about cloud, the other side of the cloud landscape, which consists of ready-made components in the form of SaaS and business services, is arguably of equal importance as it can support horizontal and vertical business functions as well as specific IT component requirements.

Be mindful that the lines have started to blur because the hyperscalers have stepped out of their IT niche and now offer business services – for example, payment fraud application programming interfaces (APIs).

4. Chart the course of your cloud journey

Whenever you go on a journey, you will want a map. To chart your course, you can use a technique called Wardley Mapping. This is a practical way to decompose the processes and applications in a business domain and identify where new cloud components can be deployed to meet your cloud objectives

5. Establish a coherent cloud programme

The next step in developing your cloud journey is to assess how candidate projects come together as a coherent programme. As with any programme, there should be benefits from managing projects collectively, rather than individually and the programme should deliver a combined set of objectives.

6. Make sure you stay on course by enabling workstreams

In addition to projects that execute on the cloud strategies defined for individual applications and business areas, a number of cross-cutting workstreams are essential to steer the journey and make sure the programme stays on course.

Cloud requires fundamental change in organisation, process and culture. Architecture is a vital discipline in defining the standards and frameworks that are needed to prevent cloud sprawl. A cloud business office workstream can help align support functions behind the cloud journey to ensure delivery of the business case.

Business, not IT, must be the driver

The business needs to take control of the cloud journey. Defining clear business outcomes for your cloud journey, aligning the organisation behind this direction and ensuring that there is always a clear line of sight to cloud objectives is ultimately a job for the C-suite.

The stakes are too high, in terms of investment and potential to miss out on the potential of cloud, for it to be otherwise. For most CEOs, this will be one of the handful of initiatives that will determine whether their time at the helm is seen as a turning point for success or for failure.

David Rimmer is a research associate at Leading Edge Forum. Read more about this topic by visiting the Leading Edge Forum interactive paper, A cloud journey to deliver business outcomes.

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