It seems that almost every relevant IT topic can in some way be tied to cloud computing; it is the enabling force behind much of today’s technology innovation. As each of my previous posts have focused on the cloud, I thought now would be a good time to give my perspective as the CIO of a forty-year-old company that recently transitioned to a one hundred percent cloud-based portfolio. Whether you are in the early stages of transition or haven’t even begun to make the move to the cloud there is much to learn from those of us that further down the path.
When I joined Aspect in early 2014, not unlike many organisations, the technology environment was highly dated and in many cases was based on end-of-life solutions and platforms. These very old versions of on-premise applications were highly customised and had not been updated or patched in quite some time; in fact, IT lives in a world of being afraid to make changes – both due to the fragility of the infrastructure and for fear of being blamed if those updates led to an outage. Despite that, the maintenance costs were high for products we were not maintaining or updating.
Data in the old systems was of poor quality and was not easily accessible by the user community. In addition, few systems were integrated in any real way, relying on dual entry, date uploads, or manual updates to make sure the data was “in sync”. At the same time, our company was launching an entirely new cloud-based product set and many changes were needed in order management, logistics, accounting and finance. The time was right for Aspect to turn its own operations to the cloud.
Thankfully our CEO and CFO were clear that a transformation of the IT function and capabilities was badly needed, and they were willing to make the necessary investments. It was clear to them and to me that we would move the bulk of our applications, data, and services to the Cloud. Our first hurdle was to get the IT team, while very experienced was mired in the legacy way of doing things; move slow, and don’t break anything. Candidly this was a large change effort. It required quickly setting a vision for the future, and then identifying the team members that were both able and willing to make that transition. The skillsets needed shifted from resources like developers, admins, and DBAs to a focus on business analysts, data analysts, and integration type resources. In many cases this meant people had to be retrained or re-purposed, but in some cases this meant hiring new resources from outside with cloud solution skills.
Finding the right partners
Before I joined Aspect, a lot of time was wasted with large teams of people documenting “requirements”. For those that come from a Packaged Software background, you know that the focus needs to be on use cases, and moving quickly to rapid Prototyping, Testing, Integration, and Data related activities. Identifying the right vendors for our organisation took some time as well. Some of our vendors were not prepared for our business complexity, and in some cases WAY underestimated in their proposals. One of the best things we did was seek guidance from boutique consulting firms with deep experience in a particular product or technology. With this outside help, we leveraged a broader knowledge base and quickly identified appropriate vendors and solutions for Aspect Software.
Reaping the rewards
If I were to select only one reason to drive our move to the cloud it would be Speed To Market in terms of making changes and adding features and functions at a high rate of changes to enable our business. Gone are the days of long implementation cycles, and the focus on the underlying platforms. Now our focus is on business conversations, testing, and implementation. Aspect’s team of IT experts can now focus on value-add tasks and reduce the need for system administration and basic hardware/platform tasks. We flipped the 80/20 rule so now 80% of our time is spent on business impacting tasks vs maintenance.
We are also largely relieved from worrying about upgrades and patches – we leverage the not insignificant investments our vendors make in R&D. We use our time to work with our vendors to make sure functionality we need makes it into their base product rather than modifying the software on our end.
Cloud applications have brought massive improvement in our capabilities, particularly around the idea of having systems that are integrated, with a common data model and a common reporting platform. Prior to the move to the cloud almost none of our systems were integrated other than via manual uploads – now almost every system is tied together using an integration toolset (Jitterbit in our case) so data flows consistently between systems and into also into our data warehouse.
Aspect’s previous technology environment was not particularly unique. Many organisations are in the same boat today that we were in just a few years ago. The beginning stages of transitioning to the cloud require proper due diligence to find the right technology vendors and assembling the right team of people internally. Once the building blocks are in place, the ability to have real time business impact happens – which is positive and exciting for the IT function. We have lowered our footprints, done away with internal data centres, removed old and expensive legacy databases and applications, and vastly simplified both our business processes AND our application portfolio.
Our company sees and feels these benefits every day. IT is a strategic part of our business; we in IT exist to drive business value. IT can either be leading the change or be changed – but the move to the Cloud is inevitable for most organisations – it is impossible to ignore the economics and speed to market realities. IT as a weapon – lead from the front!