Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. Seldom has that been truer than the enterprise response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The crisis turbocharged the digital transformation efforts of companies around the world, accelerating their cloud computing journeys in the process. Before the coronavirus, the cloud was a strategic option. Today, it is a necessity.
But this is not the end of the cloud story. In fact, the story is just getting started. The race is now on for organizations to make their cloud migrations more comprehensive. The question for CIOs and technology leaders has switched from, "Should we move to the cloud?" to, "How can we reach cloud-first ahead of our competitors?"
The answer is, in principle, simple: Identify weaknesses and gaps in your cloud strategy that act as barriers to realizing the full value of your investments.
Every company's cloud strategy will have distinct limitations, but recent Accenture research has identified four key areas that most CIOs must address to unlock the full benefits of cloud.
1. Address security and compliance from the outset
Forty-six percent of business leaders identify security and compliance as one of their top barriers when it comes to cloud value realization.
Security and compliance emerge as barriers when they are applied retrospectively to a cloud program. Conversely, organizations that thrive in the cloud see security as an integral part of the journey and embed security into their strategy at the start. These organizations seamlessly integrate security and compliance with all business applications, processes and teams, providing a flexible and reusable capability to meet the business's evolving needs over time.
2. Tame legacy infrastructure and application sprawl
Firms that get the most out of the cloud go all in: They evolve to cloud-first or cloud-native models and modernize legacy infrastructure and applications.
This process doesn't need to be a "big bang" migration. It can take place over time, starting with modernizing low-hanging fruit to prove the business case, release budget through cost savings and build momentum.
Modernization must be a well-planned, long-term process based on a strong application discovery assessment. The strategy also must consider where the organization is headed -- and why -- while building in enough flexibility to adapt over time.
There is still some work to be done in taming the legacy beast: Forty percent of respondents to Accenture's survey cited it as a top barrier to realizing value.
3. Align IT with the business
Cloud investments will fail if they do not map to business needs. Cloud initiatives should, therefore, start with defining the business value the technology transformation can enable through new capabilities, cost efficiencies or risk mitigation.
Other key considerations include thinking about the future of work, enterprise structure and business model, human performance, and organizational behavior and mindsets. With the value identified upfront, it is far easier for CIOs to map their work to business requirements.
Currently, 40% of executives report misalignment between IT and the business as a challenge, so there's a clear opportunity for businesses to get ahead of competitors in this area.
4. Focus on people skills and change management
Thirty-nine percent of the executives Accenture polled said the complexity of business and organizational change is a challenge when it comes to seeing the full benefits of their cloud programs. Moreover, 42% cited a lack of cloud skills across the organization as another key challenge.
Organizations can address these challenges by establishing a workforce and change management pillar as a core element of their cloud strategies. CIOs can work with other business leaders to feed into upskilling and talent readiness programs and new operating models. Doing so can evolve an organization's culture, transforming how people work and the work they do to meet rapidly changing needs.
When the pandemic hit, it was inspiring to see how quickly CIOs acted to get their systems into the cloud to enable resilience and continuity. Now that the cloud journey is well and truly underway, a future of more agile working and faster routes to innovation lies ahead.
Becoming cloud-first isn't easy. It requires commitment to a long-term program of change across people, processes and technology. Companies that start with the right strategy addressing common cloud pain points and the challenges unique to that business can position themselves to realize the technology's benefits in full.
How organizations move to the cloud is now a key differentiator. If they get it right, they will sprint ahead of competitors.
About the authors
Ashley Skyrme is a senior managing director for technology strategy and advisory at Accenture. She leads the cloud-first global strategy and consulting business and advises Fortune 500 clients on technology strategy and transformation, as well as using new operating models and cloud to unlock growth, innovation and speed. She has worked across industries including life sciences, travel, consumer products, government and insurance.
James E. Burrows is managing director of Accenture's cloud-first global cloud strategy and advisory lead. James is a recognised global expert, trusted advisor and published author in the functional areas of cloud, enterprise architecture, data and new IT across regulated financial services and public services.