Three Easy Steps to Planning an Effective Cloud IT Strategy

Whether or not your company has an official cloud IT strategy, your organization is likely already using the cloud in some capacity. Perhaps it's on your phone (with iCloud or Google), a Software-as-a-Service you purchased, or a virtual machine hosting a website. 

Cloud may be driven by the IT department, but there's a good chance it's not.  Even as of two years ago, surveys showed that as many as 61% of businesses were using "Shadow IT," the practice of non-IT departments signing up for and using cloud services without the IT department's approval or knowledge. 

And when a cloud strategy isn't driven by IT, there can be challenges involved: a service level agreement that isn't in line with the requirements, or integration between platforms that won't easily connect.

In light of the risks of Shadow IT, here are three easy steps to establish a cloud strategy or assess your current strategy.

Step 1: Identify the core application requirements for your company.

In a Word or Excel table, or on paper, make a grid of the needs of your organization.  Here's an example:

Service:

Importance

Impact on
company

Up-time
SLA

Business
demands

Email

1

High

100%

Low

Files (Shared)

1

Medium

80%

Low

Workstation

2

High

100%

Medium

Phone

1

High

100%

Medium

Office software

2

Medium

90%

Low

ERP/CRM software

2

High

98%

High

Web server

3

Medium

99%

High

Your table may be different, but the goal here is to identify the components of your business operations that matter the most.  Does your company take orders via phone versus the web? Or web versus phone? Adjust your ranking system accordingly.

Step 2: Identify what your team is good at (where 5 is the highest or best)

Service:

Current
Satisfaction

In-house
staff ability (1-5)

In-house
availability (1-5)

Email

3

3

4

Files (Shared)

5

5

5

Workstation

4

4

4

Phone

3

4

3

Office software

3

5

2

ERP/CRM software

2

2

3

Web server

3

4

2

It's ok to be hard on yourself.  If you have a mission-critical system, perhaps an ERP solution, the goal is to compare it to your current staff's ability and availability to maintain and support it. Perhaps they are quite well versed on your ERP system, but not staffed after 5 p.m.  In that case you might rank them higher for "ability" and lower for "availability."

Step 3: Identify the intersections.  What are your strengths and what are your weaknesses?  Work backward from your highest criticality systems to the least.

Many IT directors or staff will be inclined to keep simple systems close to the vest because outsourcing them used to be an embarrassment.  For example, maintaining a "file server" is in some ways perceived as IT 101. However, just because you have an A+ player on your team that CAN maintain it, doesn't mean that you want to pay them to maintain it and keep up with file systems, permissions and anti-virus. If you put those in the cloud, then you have freed up many hours of a highly skilled person to focus on items that cannot be outsourced.

Similarly, with a larger department, you may have the ability to manage ALL of your core systems.  But if you're working your team too hard, or they are spread too thin, they are potentially making mistakes or allowing the tyranny of the urgent to dictate the priority of the tasks.  This is one reason why backups and disaster recovery items often get put on the backburner - they aren't necessary until, well, they are necessary. Then, it's too late.  However, in today's age of 24x7 availability, outages and even the new plague of ransom-ware viruses can put your organization out of business without a tested backup and disaster recovery plan.

Summary

Planning a cloud or IT strategy isn't rocket science, but neither is it a piece of cake.  The key is to take a step back from the day-to-day of the company and identify what allows your business to run better and what could cause it to fail.  Let that understanding dictate your cloud strategy.  The cloud isn't one-size-fits-all - not everything should be outsourced, and not everything should be kept-in house. 

A solid strategy can help you roadmap pieces that are important to prioritize in the cloud and align your cloud choices accordingly. A highly-available public cloud platform such as AWS or Azure cloud may deliver maximum benefit and lower entry costs for some applications.  For other applications, such as an ERP system with specialized security or industry compliance requirements, a managed virtual private cloud may be the best fit to offload tasks of your IT team as well as eliminate down-time risks.  

At the end of the day, having an effective cloud strategy is actually a business play as well as a technical one. Don't be overwhelmed with the latest tech trends and cloud buzz. Choose the right cloud platforms to support your strategy, not dictate it.