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How to do cloud the right way: 7 best practices for success

Moving to the cloud is a good thing, but it is critical that an organization proceed with guidelines and best practices in mind, as transforming from on-premises to hybrid cloud-based IT requires more than an understanding of the technology. Here are some helpful hints to get you started on your cloud program journey.

No. 1: Define cloud

First and foremost, what does cloud mean to you and your organization?

This sounds like a simple question, but everyone seems to have a different answer, and making sure you’re correctly defining cloud can have far-reaching impacts for your organization. Some say cloud is automated virtualization on premises, because users can request virtual machines quickly, and others say it is software as a service (SaaS) that powers their business. Some might counter that cloud is about using the native capabilities of public cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS). And then there are others who argue that cloud is not a destination but rather the way IT should operate to deliver value.

Cloud is not a destination but an experience. Cloud is a different operating model for IT, where infrastructure becomes code, functions become fully automated, and both infrastructure and application code are launched into live production environments without the constraints of release windows. Cloud is also a world where human error and inefficiencies are virtually eradicated when implemented and configured correctly.

Before you embark on your cloud journey, figure out what cloud means to you and how that definition aligns with your organization’s goals.


No. 2: Determine whether cloud is right for you

The next question to answer is, “Why cloud?” If you’ve read Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why, you might remember the line, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” The cloud experience significantly changes the way enterprises currently operate their businesses. This change impacts people, process, and technology, and, by far, the people aspect is the most difficult—and the most impactful. If you want your teams to follow you on this journey, they need to buy into why you are doing it.

Conducting cloud adoption workshops before starting cloud initiatives enables you to openly discuss the hidden issues, face fears, understand and agree (even in principle) on the desired outcomes, and generally get aligned with the “why.” The consensus and shared vision established during these workshops allow the company to more easily overcome the various issues you may encounter along the cloud adoption journey.

For example, a common issue is not getting security and governance groups involved early enough. Teams can get defensive and even adopt a “not our problem—you should have asked earlier” attitude, which of course has a negative impact on progress. This is not because they are not interested in helping, but because they are put on the spot and being told what to do instead of being included as part of the solution from the start. Prevent the finger-pointing by getting consensus early.

The key benefit of getting consensus and addressing the question of why is that it makes you think through the problems you are trying to solve. Cloud, as good as it is, might not be the right answer for everything.

Consider the classic people, process, and technology intersections shown in figure below.

People, process, and technology make up the what of any transformation, including cloud adoption, but they are not the why. There are different “whys” you might identify. The three most common drivers for “Why cloud?” are:

1. Culture change is at the intersection of people and process. Companies need to break away from the status quo and the “we have always done things this way” mentality.

2. Time to value is realized by getting the best out of process and technology. It is not just about the automation of software deployments but rather improving the entire value chain.

3. Innovation is driven by people applying technology to come up with new ideas. Cloud certainly allows companies to experiment and innovate much faster than they were able to before.

Make sure you are clear on why you want to go to cloud, before you embark on the journey.

No. 3: Make sure the timing is right

Humans are creatures of habit, and change is hard. For some people, it is never the right time for change, and so-called analysis paralysis is prevalent in a number of organizations. On the other hand, just because cloud might be the right answer for you doesn’t mean it is the right answer right now.

For example, if you have a long-term contract with your data center provider and still have a few years left, now might not be the right time for cloud. Or, if you just made a significant investment in your on-premises infrastructure, you may have to wait a couple of years before taking on additional financial obligations.

But the biggest reason the time may not be right is that the organization is not ready for the change. For example, you might be going through a number of changes already (an acquisition, a reorg, a new ERP system implementation) and do not have the capacity to absorb more structural changes. Cloud transformation involves exercising every one of your organizational muscles, so you need to be truly ready to do that. The simple “sure, sure, we will just deal with it when it comes” approach is not going to work. You need to be truly prepared to face the challenges ahead.

So, are you ready for change, and is everyone aligned with what that entails?

No. 4: Establish a Cloud Business Office

Cloud adoption will have an enormous impact on your company, evolving processes that have not been seriously touched in decades. For the first time, developers are able to create and modify their infrastructure requirements using software. The implications of such power are both dazzling and frightening.

Software development has lived in a static world of change management, where the critical nature of the business impact has created tight control processes and long approval cycles. Thus, the need for a Cloud Business Office.

The CBO serves as the central point of decision-making and communication for your cloud program, both internally and externally. More than a cloud center of excellence, the CBO is a permanent operational and governing body that directs and guides all aspects of your cloud program, from the first implementation through ongoing operations.

Members of the CBO fall into two categories: full time and part time. Full-time CBO members are leaders who have daily responsibility for the successful adoption, implementation, and management of cloud in your organization. These include:

  • Cloud program leadership
  • Technical operations leadership
  • Chief architect(s)
  • Security operations leadership

Part-time CBO members are leaders who have a vested interest in the success of the cloud program and need visibility into the process. These include:

  • Legal and risk leaders
  • HR leaders
  • Procurement
  • IT finance
  • Application owners and business units (BUs may have a full-time role for a short duration during their onboarding process)

The cloud has completely changed how we consume and operate IT. The agile nature of cloud technology enables dramatic benefits for the enterprise and touches almost every department within an organization. In addition, compared with on-premises environments, the cloud requires far fewer people to manage and operate it, so you need a tighter, more cohesive team to break down silos. Because you are combining operations, development, infrastructure, risk, and finance, you need a central set of processes (see figure below). These include:

  • Project management
  • Technical decision-making
  • Application owner onboarding
  • Technology training
  • Risk/security decision-making
  • Organizational change management and training
  • Financial governance
  • Operational services and governance
  • Vendor management

No. 5: Know your cloud economics

Understanding the economics of cloud adoption seems like a no-brainer best practice. As commonly seen, more than 50 percent of enterprises do not take the time required to determine the business case for moving to the cloud, probably because they “already know” it is a good thing. Nevertheless, an organization gains many valuable insights by building a business case and improving its understanding of cloud economics.

Cloud economics falls into two separate, and highly valuable, buckets. The first is a straight-line total cost of ownership analysis, along with hard cost savings. TCO compares the like-for-like replacement of on-premises services with cloud services. When determining your current costs, look at the whole package, not just server-for-server comparisons. Areas to consider include:

  • Hardware and networking costs
  • Downtime costs (planned and unplanned)
  • Upgrade costs
  • Disaster recovery/business continuity costs
  • Service-level agreement penalties
  • Deployment costs
  • Operational support costs (day-to-day operations)
  • Performance costs
  • Costs of selecting vendor software
  • Requirements analysis costs
  • Developer, administration, and end-user training costs
  • Cost of integration with other systems
  • Quality, user acceptance, and other testing
  • Application enhancement and bug-fix costs
  • Physical security costs
  • Legal, MSA, and contracting costs
  • Replacement and takeout costs
  • Cost of other risks (including security breaches)

The second bucket of cloud economics includes agility and other soft costs. What is the benefit of having cloud-native, highly flexible, and agile infrastructure? What is the financial impact of decreasing provisioning times from months to hours? Quantifying these intangible cloud benefits for an enterprise can be difficult. Consider these questions:

  • How do you measure the impact of productivity (in person-days)?
  • What is the total benefit of accelerated application development?
  • How do you measure the impact of faster software lifecycles?
  • How do you measure a “fail fast” model?
  • How much do human error and outages cost your organization?

Getting to solid answers around these topics is challenging; however, many companies have been able to determine tangible benefits. For example, one financial services company saw a 10 percent productivity gain in its software development after moving to AWS. On a $700 million budget, that gain is significant and can help build the business case for a cloud-native commitment.

Finally, it is a best practice to track your financial KPIs as you build your cloud program. Your economic model gets better over time, as you add more and more use cases.

No. 6: Execute well

To do something well, you have to know what you are doing. These are the what and how parts of the why, what, how trifecta. You have defined what cloud means to you and why you want to do it, and you’ve prepared yourself for the journey. Now, here’s a look at what you should focus on and the actual execution.

The what

Companies are adopting the cloud to deliver more value to their end customers. They want to mature their operations so they can stay competitive by delivering value faster and more cost effectively. The right cloud initiative can fundamentally transform how a business operates, but it can be a daunting journey. Following a proven Cloud Transformation Maturity approach can help focus your team’s priorities on the core components of a cloud transformation (see figure below).

These maturity domains are all interconnected, and to be truly successful in the cloud, companies must address all of them. That does not mean you have to focus on every domain right away, nor that you should put the same amount of effort into each one. However, you should absolutely understand your current level of maturity first and identify your desired target end state so you can chart your course accordingly. Transformation takes time, so do not worry about boiling the ocean right away. Pick a couple of areas and begin the journey. Good candidates are typically the strategy and security domains.

The how

The majority of technical personnel at large enterprises adopting cloud either do not have the required skills or, more important, the time needed to focus on the new initiative. Oftentimes, they are busy supporting mission-critical applications every day, which does not give them enough bandwidth to dedicate to other work. Therefore, most enterprises choose a partner to help accelerate the cloud transformation and enable the IT staff to become capable and self-sufficient in the cloud over the long term.

Could an organization’s IT staff do everything on its own? Maybe, but certainly not right away and not at the velocity a partner can help establish. Sometimes, there is a bit of healthy tension between the partner and internal IT, but you should resist IT’s argument that it can do the same work with the same quality and in the same time frame as the partner. If it could, who would be doing IT’s regular work?

The key thing to remember is this: It is not about “us vs. them.” There is plenty of work for everyone. In the most successful projects, teams identify all the key stakeholders relevant to the undertaking and get their buy-in and participation out of the gate. The whole point is to accelerate your journey and enable your people, and it is easier to do those things when you have the right partner alongside you, instead of trying to do it alone.

No. 7: Keep learning

As noted, cloud is not a destination but a way of doing business, involving agility, lessons learned, and additional improvements. Whatever applications, operations, or services you end up migrating to the cloud, make sure you foster a culture of continuous improvement in your organization to keep getting the best you can out of the cloud. This includes constantly monitoring your spend, focusing on your security and compliance posture, and innovating based on the feedback you are receiving. Do not punish failure, but encourage innovation, creativity, and feedback. A shorter feedback loop will result in better software, quicker deployment of features for customers, more efficient operations, fewer issues, more cost savings, and better value.

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This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.