In some respects it depends on your start position. If you’re a start-up company, then the cloud will be your only IT – essentially a service-orientated, flexible model that moves up and down with your business (as long as your businesses model doesn’t rely on differentiation at a technology level).
Small businesses that do use technology as a differentiating factor will need to map business requirements to the range of services and offerings available in the cloud and differentiate at a people and process level.
For example, you can exploit utility-based services for tracking consignments, managing your CRM (SalesForce etc), managing your service delivery (ServiceNow), driving your HR and finances (T-Systems Dynamic SAP), or delivering unified communications (Office 365) etc.
If you’re a start-up the removal of barriers to entry, the agility and removal of capital constraints offered by the cloud becomes a very attractive proposition, if approached smartly.
But most companies and organisations don’t have the luxury of designing their IT from scratch. They have existing IT estates and environments, some that have been operating for years through multiple upgrades and reconfigurations. More often than not, organisations have legacy applications that they cannot afford to refresh, either in terms of time or money, or both. In these instances the cloud proposition is much more complex.
Complex because these businesses need to consider long-term contracts with existing outsource providers or underpinning suppliers. They need to consider legacy applications, long standing business process/practices and data integration across the supply chain. That complexity creates the increased threat of cyber attacks as the environments are opened up to a cloud approach.
To integrate and aggregate services and data across multiple organisational, geographical and legal boundaries in that type of environment requires real end to end transparency and confidence to test and validate compliance.
Regardless of your start position, companies should look to completely eliminate wasted capital expenditure on IT; and the cost of managing and maintaining IT in terms of upgrades, application development and general asset management and control. This must be an aspiration goal that organisations plan against.
The ideal scenario is to shift to a cloud computing environment that is regularly updated as part of the service so that it never becomes legacy, never runs out of support and never requires costly and timely maintenance that delivers no tangible business advantage.
But unfortunately, for most companies, the journey towards this goal seems utterly impossible. The make-do and mend answer is to fragment and drive selective elements into the cloud and squeeze the maximum from existing outsource providers in the legacy areas. The market is not mature and as providers scamble for position what companies need is the clarity of thought to create the strategy and vision and the roadmap to achieve them.
The make-do and mend answer is to fragment and drive selective elements into the cloud and squeeze the maximum from existing outsource providers in the legacy areas. The danger of this approach, and in strategies to defer application modernisation from middleware and or integration layers, is to put off the inevitable and leads ultimately to more costly, higher risk projects probably at the time you can least afford it.
The lack of agility this brings will ultimately lead to loss of market share. Who two or three years ago would have considered the real challenges that companies like Nokia and RIM would have had due to swift change and legacy constraints making their response too slow.
Companies and organisations will continue to need IT in the future where they have niche legacy systems that are not subject to change, or where the system and functionality is integral to the business and the differentiation it brings to the market. But even in these circumstances, with the right cloud aggregator and policies, these systems can be managed to an absolute minimum with integration services removing service risks and the saved IT budget being used to re-invest in engineering services out and toward standard cloud offerings.
To get the maximum value from cloud, the solution will not be one size fits all. Service qualities and security controls will drive the tiers of cloud platforms to apply. Organisations will need to work with people who understand the cloud and who can deliver much of that range whilst having the experience and maturity to aggregate with other cloud providers.