How to enable digital transformation by using the cloud - Part 2

22 January 2020

In part 1 of this series, we talked about why the cloud is not just someone else’s data center, and we explained how cloud technologies play a critical role in successful digital transformation strategies. In this part, we zoom in on how the cloud impacts your IT strategy, what types of cloud offerings you can benefit the most from and what skills and capabilities are required when realizing your cloud strategy.

Keep the bigger picture in mind

You’re digitizing your operations and offerings at full speed, and it’s going great. But since you’re reading this, chances are you’re scratching your head. What’s the next step for you to actually create a competitive advantage by taking the digital route? How will you deliver new digital experiences to your customers at a faster pace? How will you combine and analyze all those different data to gain valuable insights? We believe that cloud technologies are part of the puzzle, but you must keep in mind the impact they can or will have on your IT technology & architecture, teams (people and skills) and IT delivery process.

Pick the best cloud technology for you

Obviously, you will need to select one or more cloud vendors, which raises the following question: will you be working exclusively with Azure or AWS, or will you combine the strengths of multiple vendors? You may also already be familiar with the term ‘as a Service’: Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service, Software as a Service, Database as a Service, … What’s the best approach for your situation?

Infrastructure as a Service is an ideal format for legacy migration scenarios. Both types of services are relatively easy to grasp, and typically don’t require a huge of shift in knowledge from your IT teams.

Software as a Service is the future of what used to be ‘commercial of the shelf’ software. We believe, however, that for most enterprises, Platform as a Service (in the broad sense of the word) offers the best value for money. We at AE like to think of Platform-as-a-Service as a huge box filled with Legos – a set of ready-made components enabling you to set up custom software platforms much faster. You simply build the software you need, just as the cloud needs it, accelerated through the integration of ready-made components rather than building everything yourself. This is where you will be making the biggest difference, and it’s probably where a significant part of your cloud investment should go to. Setting up a relational database (including backup, performance tuning and security hardening) becomes as easy as ticking a checkbox, and scaling a website comes down to sliding a slider bar to the right.

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Cloud-proof architecture

Unfortunately, most software isn’t made to thrive in the cloud. When running in the cloud, software systems rely on increasingly distributed infrastructure causing issues such as network failures and increased latency. To guarantee availability 24/7 (an increasingly common requirement, especially for customer-facing systems), cloud vendors require you to have your infrastructure running redundantly. If your software wasn’t architected with this in mind, there’s bound to be trouble ahead. But there’s a silver lining, too: by tapping into the full potential of Platform as a Service offerings, all of this complexity gets nicely hidden behind an API. Nevertheless, though, you will need to invest in cloud-native architecture skills within your IT infrastructure and application development teams.

People and skills

When coordinating our customers’ transformation projects, we believe it’s crucial to get all teams on board by giving them plenty of freedom to design, develop and deploy new solutions. At the same time, we are well aware that your security, networking and infrastructure team may not be at ease with this approach, because how can one ensure everything remains secure and costs stay in control? Our answer: by setting up a cloud governance framework* with the mindset of providing ‘freedom within guardrails’ rather than complex and lengthy processes, you remove a big part of the friction and frustration that comes with setting up new infrastructure, while still respecting security guidelines and maintaining centralized risk and cost management. As such, you can allow teams to retain ownership and flexibility on the one hand and, on the other hand, enforce clear governance rules to ensure a consistent landscape.

The importance of this phase is not to be underestimated. When thoughtfully carried out, it is where you lay the foundation of successful cloud adoption.

IT delivery processes: DevOps for the cloud

The decision to migrate to the cloud is often made from an infrastructure point of view. Instead of having to provision storage & compute capacity forthe years to come, companies like the flexibility cloud platforms bring to the table. But by limiting their cloud solutions to infrastructure alone, they deny themselves a world of opportunities they could be tapping into to achieve true digital transformation. Not involving applications teams and business departments in the cloud leads to lengthy approval processes, discourages the sharing of ideas and ultimately blocks the kind of initiatives and innovations so crucial for organizations to thrive in these digital times.

A proper cloud mindset, by contrast, encourages teams to use the new technologies the cloud offers by enabling them to set up their own resources. Once a team agrees on a design and knows what specs are required, the setup can be ready as early as the next day or even in the next hour.

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Cloud platforms are completely software-defined, and automated provisioning of both infrastructure and applications is at the foundation of every successful cloud platform. While manual ‘click-next’ type processes are still possible, we strongly recommend to invest in automated continuous integration and deployment pipelines, in order to ensure high-quality, repeatable deployment processes. This aspect is often underestimated, but may be the single most important enabler in successful cloud adoption projects.

Curious to learn more? Be sure to read our blogpost on Devops.

Just ask a digital transfomation pro

Still not ‘feeling’ it? No worries. Evidently, all companies are unique in terms of the challenges they face and the extent to which they need the cloud for their digital transformation. Not only do they operate in different sectors, they also find themselves at different starting points. Is a digital strategy in place? Do you have a clear view on your existing IT application landscape? Are your development teams empowered to quickly create, deploy and operate new software services and API’s? Don’t hesitate to call on AE to analyze your status quo and create your very own roadmap to digital transformation in the cloud.

*Wondering what this ‘governance framework’ thingy is all about? We explain all about it in our article on cost and security in the cloud.

Topics: Cloud Strategy

Jeroen Haegebaert

Written by Jeroen Haegebaert

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