In an extraordinary year, the centrality of cloud computing and the journey to the cloud has been top of mind for many organizations. For some companies, the cloud and what it enables – from enterprise data and customer portals to employee meeting and collaboration tools – has saved sales, operations, margins and jobs during the pandemic downturn.
Among the organizations I know, almost all have been on some sort of cloud journey for some time, with plans to continue. In fact, a recent global survey by TCS of 287 companies taken during the pandemic showed investments in cloud-native capabilities mostly increasing (at 51% of companies) or holding steady (43%), despite the fraught economic environment. Such solutions would include all or some of the elements of an on-premises data center, a private cloud service, and the public cloud offerings.
In particular, the COVID-19 pandemic has proved the significant relevance and resilience of the public cloud, with hyperscalers such as Google, AWS and Azure attracting the attention and capturing the imagination of business executives on the basis of the maturity of their cloud-native capabilities to deliver new products, features and services much faster to today’s digitally enabled customer.
Among many lessons for these executives this year, a big one has been recognizing that the shift to the cloud is not a once-and-done corporate initiative but — if the journey is to lead to real corporate value — a series of decisions to make and practices to adopt. I want to examine four elements that are critical to a cloud-based enterprise transformation, which go beyond technology into the ways a company operates and its leaders lead.
1. Continual experimentation
Among the first decisions to be made in a cloud transformation journey are the core enterprise application workloads that should be among the ‘first movers’ to the cloud, the selection of one or more public cloud platforms, and the migration path that should be taken. As I have seen firsthand, many times the executive owners and decision makers are not ready to make these choices because they lack data to make an informed decision or they lack experience in traversing the landscape. In this situation, they can use what’s often called a cloud sandbox or garage-like environment for development, testing, and deployment to execute proof-of-concept or proof-of-value experiments. Such an approach can serve these leaders well because it allows all key stakeholders to engage around the proof and review the results coming out of the experiments to make the best possible decision for next steps in each circumstance.
2. New skills and new roles
Embracing a cloud-oriented operating model requires a clear recognition of the need for new cloud native development skills as much as it requires embracing T-shaped skills by engineers and architects. The talent equation should include both hiring for skills and mindset from the market and should also include the retraining of in-house talent to ensure that the knowledge of the firm and the culture is not lost in the talent reset. A flat and empowered decision-making structure is critical to allow people to foster their passion, creativity and growth in delivering a great customer experience.
3. Closing the loop on value delivery
While the journey to the cloud has only accelerated, the delivery of value has proved elusive at times. Organizations often get caught in a ‘pilot going nowhere’ scenario because the delivery of value is not clearly tied to the pilot’s objectives. So, having good criteria for pilot selection and timely decision making on workload migrations is important to delivering real value. One of the big benefits of the cloud is the elasticity it offers in managing the supply of infrastructure for the dynamic needs of the business, but taking advantage of this flexibility requires frequent and granular cross-functional forecasting of demand and managing consumption to meet business needs.
4. Agile ways of working
It may be provocative to say so, but your journey to realizing the full benefits of cloud computing remains incomplete if you do not embrace agile ways of working. The biggest benefit of the cloud is its ability to deliver new sources of value to the customer at speed, which requires ruthless prioritization, the ability to think in terms of minimally viable product releases, and cross-functional teams of business and IT working off a common product roadmap. In such an environment, automation becomes the glue that binds developers, operations and security together to deliver frequent releases in a robust and sustainable manner using the principles of DevSecOps as the guiding beacon.
But it is not all about using agile events and ceremonies, as important as many practitioners find them. It is as much about using an agile mindset to break a large transformation project into manageable, iterative chunks, executing each piece and managing the interdependencies with a regular inspect-and-adapt approach to adjust the course of your flight into the cloud.
Cloud has truly come of age, becoming the default context for development with new capabilities getting added and advances being made at a far faster rate than in traditional mainframe, client-server, or LAN environments. Innovative, industry-focused solutions and cloud-native development tools are helping companies focus on differentiating their purpose for competitive advantage, rather than on reinventing wheels or upgrading one-size-fits-all solutions already deployed a thousand times by a thousand other companies. To take full advantage of the cloud’s many benefits, however, enterprises need to hasten their own digital maturity by continually experimenting, resetting skills, prioritizing results, and iterating their releases to achieve real value from their cloud-based transformations.