For most organisations these days the key question is not whether to adopt cloud but when is the right time and what services to move. The decision is primarily a strategic one. Like any major infrastructure change, it needs to be driven by a compelling event – a move to new premises, a need to refresh your existing infrastructure, the end of an outsourcing contract or a major organisational change. If you’ve recently made a big investment in your data centre, wholesale migration to cloud is probably not for you at the moment.

Moving to cloud is in effect just another infrastructure migration project – with one further complication, which can make it three times as long and five times as complicated as you originally thought. The good news is that the technology decision is the easy part!

Having helped many organisations implement various types of cloud over the last 6 years, including one of the engineering consortia building infrastructure for Crossrail, and reviewed a range of different services, I’m happy to say that the actual platform you choose doesn’t really matter. Heresy, particularly from a managed cloud provider? Perhaps, but it’s based on practical experience and an in-depth knowledge of the market. I believe there are four requirements for a successful move to cloud: vision, people, process and finally platform.

1. Define A Clear Vision

You need to begin with a clear vision for the future that everyone in your organisation can understand and align with. You then need to communicate it clearly to all stakeholders, so that they understand what it will mean to them and can commit fully to it. This vision should include the compelling reason for the project to go ahead.

We have completed over 200 major IT infrastructure change and cloud migration projects for customers in the last six years, and contributed skills and expertise to hundreds more. The vast majority have achieved the expected benefits or savings. When we analyse projects where the desired outcomes were not achieved, in many cases this was because stakeholders had misaligned or even conflicting expectations of what a successful outcome would be. Setting and communicating the vision for change, and defining what success looks like and how it will be realised, are the most fundamental factors defining whether the project will subsequently be judged a success or failure.

2. Get People On Board

You now need to get people on board throughout your organisation. Change is always difficult and particularly with cloud, as staff will be worried that their jobs are at risk so may not fully commit to the project. You may be migrating to cloud because you have existing people problems in your IT service delivery. If your staff are going to support the project, there must be something in it for them.

This generally means job security, new skills and hopefully recognition and increased salary. The SFIA provides an excellent model for IT staff alignment which will help you assess what capabilities you have and what you need, develop and retain staff and reduce project and operational risk. Communication is also vital.  Too much is never enough, as your staff will always assume the worst when there is silence. Keep them informed throughout the change process.

3. Align IT Processes With Business Needs

The third element is to align your processes with those of the cloud provider. This is vital because, unless you are a huge company or the government, the major public cloud providers are unlikely to change their existing processes to suit you.

An excellent starting point is a business and IT alignment review to ensure that your organisation has accurately defined the service levels it requires for the key operational processes that IT supports in order to fully understand their cost, performance and availability implications. We find many organisations operate their IT without defined and agreed service levels, or have defined service levels but no way of measuring them to ensure that they are being met. Once you have defined what services you need, you need to decide which can usefully be provided via cloud and which to retain in-house.  If migrating to cloud, you also need to ensure that your current IT operations processes are compatible with your chosen cloud provider.

4. Finally Choose Your Cloud Platform

The final stage is to choose which platform is best suited to your needs. If you’ve done your preparation correctly, it really doesn’t matter which platform you choose, as all the technology is pretty good. We’ve looked at all the leading public cloud services and they’re all very capable, although billing models vary. It’s important to check the small print, particularly the SLAs offered, and remember that you will still need monitor performance against the SLAs yourself to ensure you receive the contracted service.

Some legacy or bespoke services, or those where you need a non-standard SLA, may be difficult to transfer to a public cloud service. You may need to use private cloud or managed IaaS as a staging point until more appropriate public cloud services become available. However, you can still potentially manage all your cloud services from a single point. So don’t be confused by all the providers constantly introducing new services. Begin with the vision, the people and the processes, and the platform decision should be straightforward.