The Realities of Innovating in the Cloud

While the phrase “digital transformation” can mean any number of things in 2022, the embracing of Cloud technology is an almost universal feature of it. Some have been on the Cloud for years; others are still taking their first tentative steps. Regardless of where an organisation finds themselves on the Cloud journey, there will always be challenges. From managing the increased complexity to communicating value to the board, embracing the Cloud is about driving the mantra ‘business innovation is a journey, not a destination’.

We invited a group of IT directors, product managers, and digital transformation directors to discuss how their organisations are innovating in the Cloud, and more about:

  • The challenges inherent in Cloud transformations
  • Promoting a ‘Cloud culture’
  • Driving innovation while being secure
  • Managing the messaging around cost, ROI, and securing buy-in

Rela8 Group’s Technology Leaders Club roundtables are held under the Chatham House Rule. Names, organisations and some anecdotes have been withheld to protect privacy.


About Cloud Direct

Cloud Direct helps businesses grow. Cloud Direct’s clients know that the right technology can free them to innovate and grow; but they also know that a little caution goes a long way with digital transformations – that’s why they work with the experts. As one of only a handful Microsoft Azure Expert Managed Services Providers, Cloud Direct helps ambitious organisations adopt Microsoft Cloud for their business.


Digital transformations

With new tools and technologies coming to market all the time, no business is immune to allure of the esoteric digital transformation. Staying competitive, offering superior customer experiences, and driving innovation are the end goals, but how to achieve them is often left up to the IT teams to figure out for themselves. One thing everyone can agree on, the Cloud is instrumental in any digital transformation, offering the flexibility, scalability and agility needed to propel businesses into the digital future. However, the Cloud is not a one size fits all solution and businesses are all but guaranteed to face challenges on their Cloud journey.

Our panel of experts joined Cloud Direct to discuss the challenges faced, and lessons learnt, from innovating in the cloud.


Challenges

While the Cloud is already being used in some capacity by the vast majority of modern businesses, not every sector is the same and different maturity levels will dramatically shape the challenges faced by organisations. For those at the very beginning of their Cloud journey, the main problem is often that while they know they want Cloud technology, they simply don’t know how to get there. In these instances, money gets thrown at IT teams to get things up and running, but without support the delivery is slow.

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the Cloud will immediately make life a breeze when it’s implemented. While the Cloud does offer many benefits, it also adds a layer of complexity that often catches businesses by surprise. It can move quickly from an infrastructure perspective, but as systems get more integrated, projects needed to maintain them also need to become wider reaching, more complicated, and potentially more expensive.

As user experience gets simpler, complexity for IT and security teams only grows. With business needs growing, IT and security teams get slowly more overwhelmed which can lead to a division growing between the business and IT. To prevent this division, any digital transformation needs to involve a culture transformation as well. Collaboration across the business is essential to driving value from Cloud transformations and this starts with the business culture.


Creating a cloud culture

A fundamental lesson our panel agreed on was that cloud transformations can’t exist without a shift towards a Cloud culture. Getting the most out of the Cloud revolves around empowering the users to utilise it as well as maintain it. It is unfair to expect untrained staff to understand how to effectively use new technologies without proper training. New staff with the appropriate skills need to be hired and existing staff need to be upskilled so that they can continue to work effectively to draw value from the Cloud. Our guests all agreed that when training staff, it is important to remember that with technology advancing at the rate it is, training needs to be treated as a pipeline of continuous investment to ensure that staff continue to be developed alongside technology.

Our panel of IT experts also emphasised the importance of inviting staff along on the Cloud journey. By bringing them into the discussion at the very beginning, businesses can use their insights to inform new developments and transformations. As it often is, users aren’t equipped with tools to envision how things might be improved simply because they don’t understand what can and can’t be done. Our IT leaders saw success when they provided their teams with the space and education to reimagine their work. Run workshops and collaborative planning sessions with your teams to equip them the ability to tailor their Cloud transformation to best fit their needs.


Data, innovation & security

The Cloud offers businesses the opportunity to innovate by removing a lot of the barriers that traditionally would have held back development. With hurdles like procuring hardware or provisioning data centres no longer an issue, businesses are free to experiment. When asked how they are innovating in the Cloud, our panel of IT leaders all pointed towards their experiences establishing a federated data catalogue. Using the Cloud, they were able to bring together previously isolated data sets and present them to the wider business, allowing their teams to use and build upon new data to provide new value. Another example was the promotion of innovation. They had seen greater innovation simply by leveraging the Cloud’s agility to free up resource to allow your teams some bandwidth to experiment and innovate.

But innovation is not without issue. By creating data catalogues and sharing data sets around the business, our panel had also come up against challenges of regulatory requirements, identity and access management, and data governance into the mix. They were keen to stress the importance of baking security and governance into the digital transformation from the start, but in order to so, businesses need to have already discussed how they want to utilise the Cloud and arranged appropriate security. Businesses must have these discussions the very beginning of the process, otherwise they will quickly find themselves at the mercy of some expensive re-engineering.


Managing the message

Traditional business models were restrictive, but they did make it easy to keep expenditure in check, whereas the Cloud opens the door to unconstrained spending if not carefully managed. As a result, communicating the Cloud’s value to board can be a challenge when it is seen as such a major cost centre. Board resistance will differ from company to company, but our experts had seen success managing the conversation of ROI by framing it around money saved in infrastructure costs, time won back as a result of Cloud agility, and profits earned as a result of a faster time to market and rapid scalability.

Another approach they recommended is to use the human metric of the Cloud’s value. Digital transformations are about making things easier for your users, so use that a baseline for ROI, citing productivity, staff happiness, and engagement. A clear example of this is the ability to offer staff remote and hybrid working. By leveraging the Cloud for your workforce, you can provide a way of working that makes them more productivity, happy, and less likely to move elsewhere – something that has never been more valuable.

When it comes time to invest, board members – particularly in the public sector and other more traditional industries – are often sold an image of the Cloud that isn’t realistic, but they lack the knowledge and understanding to interrogate the practicalities. When IT teams deliver the project, it is deemed a failure because it didn’t do what they thought it would. Work to foster a better understanding as well as better communication by establishing a shared language. Being able to communicate effectively and be understood by business leaders is vital to secure top-down support and embrace new technologies.


Transformation means transformation

In order for a Cloud transformation to In order for a Cloud transformation to provide any value, it needs to be a true transformation. Lifting and shifting systems from on-prem into the Cloud only results is creating a copy of the same information with no meaningful innovation or improvements. Businesses need to align their cloud strategy with the ambitions of the business. Look at the user and customer experiences, what improvements can be enabled for those journeys in the cloud? Only by approaching transformation with a clear view to making meaningful improvements will result in any value being returned.

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