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Should you move your Intranet to the cloud?

If you’re not there already, I’d hazard a guess that someone in your organisation (probably from IT) has already asked the question “Should we move to the cloud?”.

There’s a lot of information already available on the cloud and its pros and cons. I’m not going to try and duplicate it. In this post I’ll try and give a better understanding of what the cloud means so that a less technically savvy intranet manager can have a constructive conversation with whoever it is that pushing for the move.

What is the cloud?

When you move something to the cloud you’re really changing from buying the product to buying a service. In many ways the end result can seem the same – rather than paying for the thing itself, you just pay to use it. Buying a service has a lot of other, more subtle, differences and these differences will have the biggest impact on you and your role.

Times like these call for a metaphor

Imagine you currently own a car – you use it to get from home to work. The car is the product option:

  • Paid for already
  • You can use it however you like and whenever you like
  • You might have had to wait for it to be built or specified some optional extras
  • You had to learn how to drive and get a licence before you could use it
  • It gets you, pretty much, exactly where you want to go

But there are ‘buy a service’ options that would still meet your goal of getting to work.

For example, you could get a taxi:

  • No upfront payment – you pay per journey (if you go to the office every day this might be expensive. But if you only need to travel to the office once a week it might be a cheaper option than owning a car)
  • No requirements on your skill set. You can concentrate on what you do best while a professional driver does the driving
  • Unlike the ownership option, none of the overhead costs or incidentals is your concern. If the taxi is in an accident, breaks down, get a puncture, you simply walk away
  • You don’t get to pick the exact specification of the taxi – so if you don’t like the colour of the interior, tough
  • You still get to go exactly where you want to go

Or you could get a bus:

  • Low cost; buy a season ticket or pay as you go
  • No need to learn how to drive or pay the overheads of owning a vehicle
  • You may need to make your own way too and from a bus stop and those stops may not be exactly where you wanted to go
  • You have to share your journey with other people

Back to the world of intranets and digital workplaces

So what kind of questions do you need to ask if your organisation is thinking of moving to the cloud?

Well, a lot.

When you own the product, you own the service. When you buy the service, you get the service you pay for. You’ll want to ask questions like:

What are the service level agreements (SLAs)?

SLAs cover things like how quickly a request will be actioned, how long it will take for a problem to be fixed, what the service hours are, for example, do problems get resolved over weekends, or only on week days?

The forward schedule of change (FSC):

This is the schedule of work that lays out when new functionality, patches, improvements etc are going to be made. You’ll want to understand how much say or control you have over the FSC. If there’s a feature that would really help you, is there a way to get it prioritised? Equally, if there’s a new feature coming that your organisation really doesn’t want, can you defer it, or will it be forced onto you? You’ll also want to see the FSC and your strategy people might want to see the next three years worth of planned development. While that might sound like a reasonable request there are very few suppliers who’d be happy to share that kind of information. Even some of the features that they are planning for three months time might be considered top secret; features they don’t want their competitors to hear about and copy.

Customisation:

How much are you able to customise or change to the standard service? Usually a service provider is focused on meeting SLAs; this means that they don’t want to introduce changes that risk the service being unavailable or make it more complex for them to run. If you want to customise away from the standard offering it’s likely the service provider will insist on the changes meets strict quality criteria – if they allow you to customise at all.

Changes you need to make internally

As well as understanding exactly what the service you’re buying is, you’ll need to change the way your organisation works so that you can consume a service rather than run a product. This will mean things like:

Security:

If you’re looking to use a well established provider its very likely the security they have in place is much more advanced and rigorous than anything your own IT department has in place. The suggestion that the cloud can’t meet your organisations security requirements is now only valid for the most international and highly regulated of businesses.

But this doesn’t mean your IT security team can sit back and relax, and it’s likely they will be doing the exact opposite. Having a cloud hosted solution makes it much easier to open up access to people through the internet; this is great if you want to enable and encourage anywhere access and homeworking, but it’s a nightmare for your IT security team.

For a hacker, finding a prompt for a user name and password on the internet is like a red flag to a bull. And the changes required to meet your requirements of single sign on, any device access and a ‘simple intuitive user experience’ mean exposing and compromising a whole host of measures that your IT security team will feel very uncomfortable about.

Resourcing:

Having someone else looking after the product means you no longer need a lot of the IT team who maintained and fixed (read: switched on and off) the servers. But a number of other things become much more important. As mentioned already, security becomes critical, as does IT networking, but also management roles that look after things like the commercial and procurement side of the service arrangement, service managers who make sure that the SLAs are being met, and change and release managers to coordinate internal changes with those made by your service vendor.

Is moving to the cloud a good move?

As with all things, it’s going to depend on your organisation and its goals.

If you’re looking to move to a more modern, fast evolving platform and you can be flexible about your management approaches and service level requirements. If your organisation wants to focus its efforts on its core business and not on its IT department. If you need to implement more transparent cost models or clarify the value chain of digital workplace investments. Or, if you want to move to an anywhere working culture but are currently blocked by legacy IT / network issues then the cloud will likely offer you the silver lining you need.

However, if your organisation isn’t one that can compromise on anything and needs an exactly bespoke solution, or it’s suggesting a move to the cloud to chase cost savings while not planning for short term investment. Then it needs to think a little harder about exactly what it wants before taking the not insignificant move to the cloud.

Over time the offerings of service providers are becoming more mature, and as they find ways to overcome the objections to cloud hosted services ‘on premise’ solutions will become less and less attractive. By 2018 the estimate is that more than 60% of businesses will have more than half of their infrastructure in the cloud [PDF], so perhaps the question for your organisation should be about how it changes to become ready for the cloud, rather than if.




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