The Cloud – a journey with many benefits?
This article explores some aspects of the cloud approach, what to be aware of and how the involvement of the business analyst role can help make it a success.
Why migrate to or use the cloud?
The cloud is by no means a new concept and in the year 2022 it has arrived on the radar screen of many enterprises. Nevertheless, some companies are not sure whether a particular software solution or a special product should be moved to the cloud.
Comparing the past with the present gives us some guidance on the question why using the cloud can be beneficial.
Cloud Computing in the past
In the past, the corporate application landscape was usually built up with monolithic applications (for example one big ERP system) that have been customized fulfill most of the business requirements.
One of the benefits of this approach was a centrally managed provider that facilitated the fast root cause analysis in case of an error occurring at the productive system.
However, the technological advances were closely tied to the innovation rate of singular vendors. Thus, investment risks were increased, high dependencies did inhibit flexible solutions for complex and dynamic requirement changes. The attempt to meet the requirements with such large systems led to lack ambiguous and poorly documented interfaces and modules, which was resulting in legacy software on the long run.
Cloud computing in the present
In current times, with applications and components fully or partially migrated to the cloud, the landscape is more diverse and monolithic systems are generally found on rare occasions.
- The investment risk is reduced. Components can be replaced more easily due to the diverse interface architecture. New application components can be tried out much more flexibly. The cloud model severely reduces initial investment costs for single server at the own data center and replaces them with rental costs or pay-as-you-go.
- The encapsulated system architecture demands developments according to clearly defined APIs that keeps applications compatible. In return, the IT architecture becomes more flexible to meet dynamically changing business models, specific opportunities can be identified and exploited more easily.
- The optimal solution can be constructed based on a modular approach and several applications from different vendors. The resulting solution will have a significantly better cost-benefit ratio than a monolithic application.
- Since there are several well-thought-out interfaces and modules, an increased communication effort is required.
Nevertheless, communication is always important to gain benefits from enterprise-wide cross functional use of digital information.
- Additional integration costs (SLAs, API costs, etc.) will occur. However, the flexibility, value for money, better solutions and avoidance of legacy software counteract these costs (see chapter What to look out for during the cloud journey).
Since several applications can be combined into one solution, the best provider can be selected for each application creating hybrid cloud. In addition, pay-as-you-go results in reduced CAPEX and investment risk. At the same time, the company remains flexible and can replace old technology components with more modern ones.
In addition, suitable services can be purchased via cloud applications (Software as a Service (SaaS)) which can be used quickly and are only paid for when in use. Some enterprises need high-performance servers only to work a few hours a day (e.g., OCR server). Instead of buying such costly hardware and wasting it for the most time it can be set up within the cloud with a far better cost-benefit ratio, while being highly scalable.
Despite of the multiple benefits of cloud solutions, many factors must be taken into consideration while designing a suitable cloud strategy to create real added value:
Our approach to provide you with a customized cloud strategy
During our initial cloud review, we identify potential opportunities based on the following steps:
- Analysis of corporate strategy
- Analysis and review of IT-, user skills and enterprise culture
- Analysis of the IT architecture
- Analysis of the IT strategy
- Subsequent definition of a target architecture with cloud components aimed at increasing your profitability and flexibility.
The result is a roadmap of implementation options that focuses on the essential content according to the Pareto principle. Precondition to achieve this is a superior corporate and IT strategy as well as aligning skills and attitudes of the employees to positively encourage the change process from all relevant dimensions. A coherent strategy for the company is created where IT substantially supports increasing competitiveness.
How to choose the right cloud provider?
After the cloud strategy and roadmap have been aligned with all relevant divisions and motives, the search for the right cloud provider begins. However, the required cloud services differ depending on the specific use cases to be addressed as they result from the roadmap.
Well-known types of cloud services are:
- Software as a service (SaaS)
- Platform as a service (PaaS)
- Infrastructure as a service (IaaS)
If a cloud provider is to be chosen, the cloud provider must be evaluated regarding the specific use case at hand. Because evaluations are made through comparisons, different providers must be compared.
1. Define goals
An essential necessity of a cloud project is the identification of goals and determining the benefit that a business case promises. The goal-oriented method leads to a systematic way of thinking and to interdisciplinary cooperation.
2. Define framework conditions
It is not possible to select a vendor purely based on the defined goals. In addition, framework conditions, data governance and other conditions must be considered.
3. Create specifications
A well-founded comparison of vendor can only be made based on individual requirements. All goals and framework conditions are summarized in a specification sheet. This gives potential vendors the opportunity to submit a suitable offer. To demonstrate the different level of importance regarding the requirements, these should be weighted (critical criterion, required criterion, optional criterion). Open questions need to be asked to gain a deeper understanding and enable a comparison of the different providers.
4. Selection process
The selection process often starts with well-known (golf course decision) or easy-to-find companies (google search). A lot of companies are comfortable with such a process, but it carries the risk that not the most suitable vendor is selected. The better method is the funnel method (top-down) – the more providers are filled into the funnel, the more likely it is that the right provider will be selected at the end.
What to look out for during the cloud journey
Having defined a vision for the cloud, written a strategy, examined and selected the right cloud provider (or cloud providers – buzzword multi-cloud model), it is time to take action and move to the next phase.
As with any journey, there will be obstacles in your way that need to be overcome, or better to be aware of beforehand, so that they can be avoided as much as possible, as early as possible.
In this spirit, the below describes some that you are likely to encounter:
Expecting “Lift and Shift” to be the magical answer to all problems
While the Lift and shift strategy of migrating on-premises applications directly to the cloud without redesigning has its merits, it is not the one and only approach that will solve all issues and automatically lead to cost savings, reduced risk and / or easier optimization in the future.
The benefits of a lift and shift migration such as requiring little to no application changes, little to no architectural changes are counter-acted by missing out on taking advantage of the features a true cloud platform has to offer. Big data analysis, image and speech recognition, Internet of Things and similar resource-intensive use cases can benefit strongly from the know-how built into the cloud native components.
Should you decide to primarily follow a lift and shift approach, make sure you take advantage of the migration tools that are available to support this.
Using a single subscription in your enterprise
Using a single subscription within your organisation, you can get you off the ground quickly and use a useful strategy for exploration and creating fast prototypes. However, it is a poor choice for a larger scale enterprise landscape. Quickly limitations of technical AND administrative nature will impede further scalability and tip the balance towards an unmaintainable and cost ineffective approach, erasing the benefits identified during the initial planning and business use case creation.
Therefore, segment subscriptions into at least:
- Multiple technical environments such as Development, Test and Production (preferably more to include System Integration Test or Pre-Production – depending on expected complexity and circumstances)
- Multiple business domains to represent the core functions of your business departments
This segmentation strategy will make it easier to implement (cost) governance and compliance.
Not creating a security framework within which to operate
Often in an enterprise grade environment a hybrid-cloud model including On-Premises and Cloud components are part of the architecture.
To adhere to security and regulatory standards (all companies providing services and goods have a myriad of standards they need to conform to), a framework must be put into place to ensure control over the internal processes and handling of:
- Business and customer data (buzzword: GDPR)
- Use of technical components (Ensuring prevention of outside attacks)
Cloud providers invest a considerable amount of money and resources to ensure the services provided adhere to the most stringent security requirements.
The organisation must nonetheless derive and implement a dedicated / specific security strategy to put the provided services to best use while minimising the associated risk.
Not providing a service catalogue
Create a service catalogue which describes the components that have been approved for use by the security and architecture teams.
With a base set of services available, the development teams can implement applications using these and whenever needed, reach out to the architecture team requesting new services to be evaluated and signed-off for usage. This approach shields you from uncontrolled use of components, which would be detrimental to establishing a controlled and secure IT architecture.
Now that we have described a few items to look out for on the road to the cloud, let us learn how business analysts can help you better enjoy the cloud journey.
The business analyst in the cloud
In most enterprise environments, the embedded business analyst performs a variety of tasks in nearly as many roles.
In an academically perfect world, where the business analyst (BA) / requirements engineer entirely focuses on elaborating requirements with the various departments without considering any existing (technical) solutions, the role does not change much when performed within the context of a cloud project.
In real-life, one of the many scenarios where business analysts add value to the process of developing and evolving a system includes supporting the estimation of development effort and associated costs. Sufficient knowledge of cloud concepts, technologies and implementation approaches is therefore mandatory to enable the full potential of the business analyst role to unfold.
As for any other transformational (new) technology that is introduced, the communicative skills of the BA as intermediary are strong enablers to facilitate the transition. A fact that has been a major competitive advantage in the past when similar significant technological disruptions have changed the landscape of enterprise applications, for example when undergoing the transition from fat to thin clients or the move from procedural to object-oriented programming.
In a common cloud project scenario, parts of the architectural landscape continue to be hosted on-premises, so that a hybrid environment is the most frequently encountered design. Not only due to this constellation are the skills and knowledge previously acquired within the BA space a valuable contribution to cloud implementations; the common ground shared between cloud and non-cloud are significant, covering items such as:
- Understanding the needs of the stakeholders
- Capabilities in business process modelling
- In-depth familiarity with Requirements Engineering concepts
- Problem description and solution proposing
- Strong interpersonal skills
Of course, cloud specific skills are on the other hand required as well to permit supporting work items:
- The definition of data pipelines / processing
- Working with the development team to support architecture decision making
Something that is of course impacted by the services available in the chosen cloud.
From the perspective of managing such projects in an end-to-end view, in practice the combination of Scrum with DevOps is a strong enabler to build an ideal team that can handle complex and challenging projects. This is where the BA can contribute – especially by helping to empower the end users to derive flexible and efficient solutions in a low-code approach, by teaching the use of services providing:
- Process / Workflow capabilities
- Reporting capabilities
It has been seen that within these areas the low code approach allows business departments to create very flexible and easily adaptable solutions to cater to needs, without the often perceived overhead of change processes when interacting with the IT realm.
To ensure the overall technical strategy of the organisation is not counteracted by this inherently flexible approach mandates short cycles of coordination between the business and IT department. A role for which the Business Analyst is predestined – being a counsellor with the necessary skills ingrained within the roles DNA.
About the author
Carsten Schuegraf is a Senior Consultant with experience in the banking industry in the fields of Requirements Analysis, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), and Software Testing..
Project Management Consultant
About the author
Philip Bamberger is a Project Management Consultant at SteepConsult.
Highly adept at linking the dots between different fields of expertise, he defines himself as a Strategic Thinker, Problem Solver, Business Analyst, Project Manager and Developer.