By Ewan Cameron, Moorhouse

Cloud – what’s the deal?
Cloud computing is ‘IT-as-a-Service’ and consumers buy what they need from a supplier who provides it via the Internet. If you imagine cloud-computing solutions as a block of flats: the water, gas pipes, and wiring are all in place. You then simply rent a room equipped with these utilities already installed and get going straight away...think software or infrastructure or platform in place of these utilities, all provided to you via the internet to whatever device you happen to log onto using your browser. Need to expand? – rent another room.

Immensely successful? - rent a floor. This ‘multi-tenancy’ aspect of the cloud makes it relevant across corporations of all sizes and sectors, all potentially living within the same 'building'.

What are the opportunities for my business?
Changing to a rental business model that uses the Internet to access your IS/IT brings low-cost, mobile, quick to deploy and scalable solutions to the table. With boardrooms firmly focused on optimising the return achieved on capital expenditure and minimising operating costs due to economic uncertainty, this is juicy stuff. So too is the scalable potential of cloud... 42% of respondents to a recent Economist Intelligence Unit survey deemed this to be the key benefit of cloud, and with the importance and pace of organisational change increasing this is hard to dispute.

Another benefit of cloud is the precept that by shifting your IS/IT to 'the cloud', you’re freed up to focus on what should be critical for you - building the business. ‘Yes please’ cry CIOs, so often busy keeping the ship afloat rather than charting new courses that can apply IS/IT technologies to give their companies a competitive edge.

What are the risks?
Yet while there is fantastic potential in cloud, there is also a great deal of hyperbole around it that has the potential to distract businesses from making the critical decisions needed to plan, design and effectively deploy what's needed to reap the potential benefits.

Gartner recognises the following areas of risk as key to assess for any cloud move: data integrity, recovery, and privacy, and an evaluation of legal issues in areas such as e-discovery, regulatory compliance, and auditing. The potential and impact of some of these have only been too well illustrated by the recent Wikileaks controversy with Amazon stopping their service, plus the recent Microsoft revelation that US authorities have the right to access any cloud stored data, even if that data resides within the EU.

As a fully managed service understanding these risks in terms of likelihood and impact in the context of your enterprise is a key starting step. Do the pros outweigh the cons? Or vice versa? Only then are you going to be able to mitigate and address the risks and issues that are likely to accompany the delivery phase of your strategic vision.

Understand what you want (and what you’ve got)
If you’re looking to get from A to B to achieve your IT strategy, it’s important that you understand where A is. Asking the right questions requires a good hard look at the key ingredients to any cloud solution such as your data centre requirements, your network, your business processes and your people. For example, for those keen to take the leap to cloud on an enterprise wide level (think junking the desktop), then consolidating and securing your data centres should be an important first step if yours are scattered liberally across the globe. If your network performance is poor, ensuring you’ve got access via bigger pipes and that you’ve optimised your network may be where you need to focus. Likewise, if you are adopting cloud software for your key business functions don’t ignore your current processes. As just one tenant in the building you may have to conform towards the out-of-the-box functionality and enterprise processes your software ‘suggests’ you adopt. Being web-based and used by different enterprises in different industries these may be more limited and less customisable than you may be used to.

Check this and the control you will have over your data carefully before signing on the dotted line. Don’t get so caught up in where you want to be and the potential of cloud that you forget to examine the realities of your environment and of your people. Is it possible to get the cloud solution you need with what you have? Will your users adopt cloud based ways of working and thank you for it? Will they insist they can use cloud on any device and do you have the security to enable this? Will it guarantee return on investment?

Take a planned approach
Whether you start by streamlining and optimising your information technology resources (assets, people and processes) to improve their value and utilisation before moving to cloud, or look to move direct, you will need a clear organising framework and methodology to coordinate the various technical, commercial and service management dimensions involved in moving to cloud. Having the programme and project management skills to do so will be a critical part of ensuring your success. Make sure you put in place a team of people who have the knowledge, budget and accountability to deliver and a senior responsible owner who knows and cares enough about cloud to see it through.

Ewan’s project and programme management experience has been gained over the past few years working as a big-firm consultant in public and private sector organisations. He joined Moorhouse from Accenture’s management consultancy practice where his client work predominantly involved working with global organisations.

Ewan has worked with a varied client base including Unilever, AstraZeneca, BT Design, DEFRA’s Rural Payments Agency and Amnesty International. His consulting experience includes large-scale change management, organisational design, outsourcing, project management and business transformation assignments.

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