The pandemic has radically changed the landscape for US businesses. The cloud is helping to provide the innovation and stability required to rebuild a competitive edge
While cloud transformation was already high on the agenda for many organizations, the pandemic has only accelerated its usefulness in ensuring business continuity and providing access to innovative new technology.
As many of the industry leaders who gathered at Corinium’s Cloud Transformation Champions conference last week noted, the cloud has been essential to their business operations amid the pandemic.
“We were quickly able to ramp up all the infrastructure needed to provision the global deployment of VPN infrastructure to enable our employees to work from home,” explains Rohit Agrawal, Global Head of Cloud and Data Center at healthcare technology company Siemens Healthineers.
“The investments we have made in our cloud competency center and infrastructure put us in a fortunate situation,” he continues. “The cloud offered us many short-term solutions which we were able to quickly introduce.”
“[Senior leadership] are really seeing the value of the cloud,” adds Agrawal. “More people are aware of what cloud capabilities are as well as how important investing in the cloud has been to help us build our business resiliency.”
To shine a light on how leading cloud executives are doing just that, we have gathered some of the key insights here from last week’s two-day virtual event.
Striking a Balance Between Cost and Innovation
For business leaders, the reduction or even elimination of the hefty, ongoing operational expenses associated with on-premise data-centers can be an attractive prospect.
However, while the cloud does offer both savings and efficiencies, cloud transformation should not simply be viewed as a cost reduction exercise.
“In the beginning, you may face a lot of cost discussions about whether you will save costs by moving to the cloud,” says Agrawal.
“What you need to look at is how can you transform these [discussions] from cost to more around value,” he continues. “Because the cloud is not only a driver for cost savings. It is more for bringing you the benefits of agility, flexibility and scalability.”
This focus on business agility is also a key element of building the business case for cloud transformation for PayPal Principle Architect Strategic Architecture Dr Vladimir Bacvanski.
“Why would you go to the cloud? What is your key benefit? Agility is the key thing,” he explains. “Because you can use all of these different services that you have in the cloud, you can move faster.”
However, while the ability to quickly implement innovative cloud-based services can be exciting, it can also cause the technical complexity of new initiatives to spiral along with the associated costs.
“Your knowledge and acumen internally to really wield [cloud services] in the right way could absolutely be a limitation as well,” notes State of Arizona Chief Strategy Officer Department of Administration Douglas Lange.
“You can spin up instances really quickly,” he continues. “They can quickly get out of control if you don’t know what you’re doing.”
“There’s also a temptation to go crazy with all the offerings that a cloud is providing,” adds Dr Bacvanski. “If you just let people use everything freely it may quickly descend in the chaos and even worse.”
“If you are using services indiscriminately that might be expensive,” he concludes. “You may get hit by a pretty significant bill.”
Cloud-focused executives seeking to enable innovation and experimentation in the cloud while avoiding the risk of spiraling expenses should, therefore, focus on two key areas.
First, they should exercise good governance in their cloud transformation rollouts, so they know which services are being used and for how long. Second, they should identify when they might need to bring in outside expertise to fill in any ‘knowledge gaps’.
Modernizing Legacy Applications in the Cloud
One of the big challenges for many cloud transformation leaders is how to deal with the patchwork of legacy applications they often inherit.
“You just have a lot of very antiquated technologies, right? A lot of business apps that just were never modernized,” notes Lange. “[They] need to be transitioned in the right way.”
While in many cases moving legacy applications to the cloud is the right thing to do, it is important to understand what the advantages for the business are.
“Most applications can be replaced with something as good or better in the cloud,” says Paul Moxon, VP of Data Architecture and Chief Evangelist at data virtualization firm Denodo. “But there has to be a clear business reason to do it.”
Learning how to do this effectively means developing a team that is trained in cloud-native technologies that can automate the process to ensure continuity, says Dr Bacvanski.
“If you have a non-trivial conventional application, you cannot just lift and shift it. You need to rearchitect it,” says Dr Bacvanski. “You need to design your applications, knowing that the parts will fail, and you need to implement redundancy and other measures to protect yourself.”
“Everything must be automated,” he concludes. “You don’t want to have a manual intervention on the server or a particular middleware. The whole thing should be scripted. You should be able to push a button, recreate your system from the beginning to the end.”
A Vision for the Future of Data and Analytics and the Cloud
In a challenging business environment caused by the pandemic, businesses with a strong cloud infrastructure have been well-placed to pivot rapidly in response.
In the future, those that double-down on the cloud will grow faster and become more prominent than their competitors, according to Daniel Mintz, Chief Data Evangelist at data platform Looker.
“We know that companies that figure out how to use data effectively are more likely to grow revenue and they build a competitive advantage,” he says.
“It gives you more insight and the ability to make better decisions than your competitors do. Once you learn how to do that, that becomes sustainable,” Mintz continues. “It gives you not just a transient advantage, but one that grows over time.”
For Mintz, the there are three key trends that will drive cloud transformation and shape the way that enterprises use data and analytics in the future.
“First is the rise in Software as a Service (SaaS) applications,” he says. “All of the data exhaust that they put off is not slowing down. In fact, it’s accelerating.”
“Second is the data-driven workforce; the demand for data is only going to grow,” he continues. “What that means is we need to be thinking not just about how we turn our data into a nice dashboard, but rather also, how we deliver actionable insights.”
“The third thing is that we need a technology stack that can fully take advantage of today’s modern data warehouses,” he concludes. “You want to put a big broad platform on top that is it able to serve all of the different use cases, all of the different needs, but in a way that drives towards reusability.”
Mintz envisions a silo-free future, a future beyond simple business intelligence and dashboards to a world where data and analytics are available across a business at any time to the people who need them.
In the next 12 months we expect to see more businesses striving toward this goal by accelerating their cloud migration roadmap.
As we have seen, this has clear benefits: agility, innovation, and scalability. However, it is important for cloud executives not to lose focus on the principles of good governance required to execute the transition smoothly and to budget.
“As you ramp up in cloud don’t underestimate the effort and bandwidth you need to spend on cloud governance,” concludes Agrawal. “Especially to keep your costs and asset management in check.”