We've all had our lives affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, both personally and professionally. The changes have been swift and severe, bringing new meaning to the Boy Scout motto: "Be prepared." While certain sectors, such as the restaurant industry, have been brutally affected by lockdowns, we've also seen encouraging signs of last-minute ingenuity.
At the end of March, national chain The Cheesecake Factory warned that it would not be able to pay rent. One month later, of the nearly 300 restaurants it operated, only 30 actually closed. The chain is experimenting with imaginative takeout concepts, such as a special happy-hour menu and a new line of ice cream.
The sudden economic slowdown worldwide is forcing IT leaders to pivot priorities and projects in response to changing employee and marketplace needs. Yet most organizations are not slashing their budgets, according to recent research from PwC. IDC's latest research calls out IT and cloud infrastructure spending as a bright spot, with a nearly 4% projected increase for 2020.
In my view, there's no time like the present to revisit your organization's cloud strategy and ponder the benefits of being more aggressive in the near term. Here's why:
- Public cloud infrastructure allows for rapid on-demand scaling up and down, as employee and customer needs fluctuate.
- Major cloud providers offer the latest platform as a service technologies at significantly better economics than DIY, for most applications and workloads. PaaS enables speed-to-market benefits as well as flexibility and agility, which every business needs now in a highly unpredictable business climate.
- Building a more agile, cloud-native infrastructure during slow times will prepare your business to ramp up faster when the economy improves along with delivering the best possible customer experience in the interim.
How to plan for your next cloud move
As always, every organization's cloud journey is a bit different -- although not unique. Begin by talking to your peers, colleagues at other companies and friends from the vendor community to shed light on best practices right now and how your business can implement a cost-effective cloud strategy. Accept where you are today in terms of IT maturity and establish a 12- to 18-month roadmap for your future ideal vision.
Consider these steps:
- Do a deep dive on your application portfolio. Analyze which applications would benefit most from COVID-19 cloud migration, without considering budgetary restraints just yet. (In fact, pretend you have an unlimited budget.) Consider cost and time benefits, user experience and revenue potential from a more flexible, agile infrastructure. Employ the input of operations, customer support and enterprise architecture when doing this assessment. This exercise might also highlight applications or investments that aren't worth maintaining going forward.
- Put on the business hat. Now, take a look at your actual IT budget for expanding cloud investments, which may include outside vendors such as professional services or security auditors. Prioritize the top applications and workloads for cloud migration, based on both current and projected 12- to 18-month business conditions and customer expectations.
- Consider skills. If you're moving applications versus building new ones from scratch, most likely they will not be built on container and microservices platforms. In that case, re-platforming or re-architecting the application will deliver the greatest long-term business value in the cloud. Yet, if you're lacking the in-house expertise and skill sets to do that properly and the budget to fill those gaps, start with a lift-and-shift migration. Still, this will reduce your on-premises footprint and create a pathway to modernization.
- Assemble the dream team. As cloud services have matured and become more pervasive across the enterprise, more roles are involved in planning and deployment, including line-of-business executives. Fundamentally, you will need individuals from enterprise architecture, IT operations, DevOps and product or R&D if your company has those functions. This may call to light the need to either acquire new skills or develop them, or a hybrid approach incorporating both hiring and outsourcing as well as training existing employees.
- Build a use case for acceleration. The larger the company, the slower a new cloud strategy will evolve. Process complexity kills: There are often too many cooks in the kitchen along with significant disagreement on strategy among entrenched parties such as security teams and developers.
This is where business numbers can help enormously to justify the approach. Quantify loss of revenues from a disaster (such as the one we're experiencing now) if the IT environment cannot flex and scale appropriately to meet new demands. If your customer-facing applications such as the website don't work well enough to keep a certain percentage of customers coming back and ordering more, can you risk that competitive loss? Business losses lead to unemployment which leads to future costs to re-enable your workforce once problems are fixed or conditions dictate a resurgence in demand.
- Get the right data. Use all of the operational data you can get your hands on to consider the various pros and cons of one IT strategy versus another. While business systems, such as CRM, supply chain and finance systems reveal market and customer trends, IT has the data on application usage and behavior which also should inform new strategies. These discussions require balancing IT wishes with LOB wishes and addressing the executive team's changing priorities. But if you lead with the data and focus on customers and revenue impact, the best strategy should win.
- Think agile. Moving up the cloud maturity curve depends on an organization's ability to bring previously distinct groups together: developers, IT operations, security and product or project managers need to sync up on sharing data and making decisions. DevOps tools can help provide the proper structure for rapid, iterative workflows, yet tools can't get you all the way. IT leaders must lead by creating a culture of agility, collaboration and individual accountability on shared goals. Determining the most effective way to work with business counterparts is, of course, table stakes.
Many of us spend a significant proportion of our weeks wondering (and worrying about) what's going to happen tomorrow, next week or next month. If we can instead take advantage of the time we now have to think hard about the status quo and research and plan for the future, we may find opportunities for meaningful business and technology transformation benefiting employees and customers alike.
About the author:
Michael Del Castillo is a solutions delivery architect at OpsRamp. After graduating from California Polytechnic University with a degree in computer engineering, Del Castillo relocated to Washington, D.C., to work with the federal government. There he spent the next 15 years working across both the public and private sectors in various IT roles as a trusted advisor to IT executives.