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Cloud onboarding best practices for users and applications

There are a number of ways organizations can prepare both users and applications for the cloud. Use these onboarding best practices to ensure a smooth transition -- even during uncertain times.

In times of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, some organizations move to the cloud before end users and applications are fully ready. Under these circumstances, the quality of cloud onboarding experiences differs widely.

IT teams want to offer new end users and staff, including in-house developers, a smooth onboarding experience so they have the tools and knowledge to hit the ground running. Likewise, they want to onboard, or migrate, applications to cloud infrastructure as seamlessly as possible.

Often, positive cloud onboarding experiences come from documented processes and institutional knowledge -- and immature onboarding processes pose significant risks to organizations.

To ensure a smooth cloud onboarding process for both users and applications -- even in times of crisis -- apply the following best practices.

Staff onboarding best practices

Onboarding is the responsibility of the cloud customer, not the provider. When companies bring on a new staff member, it's that team's job to get that person up to speed on the required cloud tools and services.

Even in the best of cases, time can pose a challenge when onboarding staff for cloud environments. That's exacerbated in a crisis like COVID-19, where an IT team's priorities have to shift quickly to focus on infrastructure security and scalability. Under such pressure, onboarding tasks take a back seat.

In these cases, be open and transparent with users who experience issues. Explain that the service desk is overtaxed. Then, create and communicate plans to make the user experience whole again. For example, bring in contractors to reinforce onboarding efforts, depending on your budget.

DIY user onboarding should factor prominently into a project schedule to give IT teams time to do the job right and mitigate any issues they encounter. In addition, collect feedback directly from the user community.

There are other options besides the DIY route to get users up to speed. Online training platforms, such as Cloud Academy or A Cloud Guru, play a large role in not only cloud certifications, but end-user training. The major cloud service providers (CSPs) also offer instructor-led training in most major markets and online.

Before onboarding new users, train service desk teams to make sure they are completely prepared. CSPs usually offer little or no user-facing customer support. To onboard a large number of new users, consider hiring service desk contractors to augment the existing IT team. Once the initial training is complete, institutionalize that knowledge so it stays within the organization after the contractors leave.

Documentation is key to onboarding success

Documentation is an often-neglected element of onboarding, yet it is essential to create replicable processes. A technical writer can help cloud engineers and solution architects provide the operations, governance and risk management framework documentation to support cloud onboarding. The writer can also create a service catalog for end users, if the organization moves to a cloud brokerage model for service provisioning.

Cloud application onboarding options

Along with getting users up to speed, enterprises must also update and restructure applications for cloud infrastructure. Organizations that transitioned to a remote work model and moved to the cloud overnight due to COVID-19 most likely relied on the lift-and-shift migration model. This model can pose security risks, among other uncertainties organizations face when they're new to remote work.

With such a quick migration, enterprises might want to eventually revisit these applications and further optimize them for the cloud. Budgets and shifting corporate priorities will play a role here.

In general, enterprises have a few options to onboard, or migrate, an application to the cloud. They can follow the standard cloud migration framework to move the old application, adopt a SaaS version of the old application or build a new application with cloud technologies.

To onboard an existing application to the cloud, a defined cloud migration framework looks like this:

  • The discovery phase, where a migration team develops technical and security requirements for the application. Security needs to have constant attention from the discovery phase until the application is live in the cloud.
  • The cloud migration phase, where the migration team performs the actual migration of the application and its data in a secure manner. This is where the bulk of the work takes place.
  • The operations phase, where the application goes live.

Iterative releases and security updates to migrate applications tend to require user training and other support work to ensure continued productivity. If an organization is wary of staff's migration abilities, it can hire a third-party service provider to perform the migration.

Instead of migrating legacy applications, consider a SaaS application that can do the same job -- for example, Airtable could replace on-premises inventory applications. Low-code applications, such as FileMaker, are another alternative to replace more straightforward legacy workloads. However, SaaS applications pose their own challenges, such as integration with an organization's single sign-on or identity access management service, as well as new billing models.

Lastly, organizations can build new applications with cloud-native technologies. While this method does relieve some of the common issues mentioned above, it comes with its own challenges.

Organizations, for example, might not have IT staff with the requisite skill sets to develop applications using the latest cloud services and technologies. Third-party developers can help, but that can result in project management challenges and cost overruns. Cloud cost optimization should start during application onboarding, but rarely does.

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