The CEO Perspective - Lessons on Cloud Migration

By Russell Crowley, co-founder at Principle Networks.

  • 5 months ago Posted in

Moving a company’s data, applications, digital assets, IT resources and other operational elements into the cloud is something that every single business is going to be looking at, if they’ve not already done so. As a business leader, you’re going to need reassurances that the transition will go smoothly, that BAU can continue without disruption, and that your new IT infrastructure will be fit for purpose and futureproofed.  


While it’s important to delegate the technical aspects of cloud migration to the experts, nobody wants to go into this important process blindly either. So, what are the key things that senior leaders should be aware of before embarking on their business’s move into the cloud?  


Here we’ve collected some of the lessons that board level executives have shared with us on their experiences of cloud migration. It’s our take on the level of detail that every CEO should have in terms of understanding the impact of a cloud migration project on their business and how to make this transformational move as successful as possible. 


Be prepared 


The Scouts always tell us to ‘be prepared’, and they are not wrong. One of the main reasons big cloud migration projects fail is a simple lack of planning. In 2022, TSB was fined £48mn by regulators for operational risk and governance failures due to a failed migration project that left millions of customers unable to access their online banking. The project was described by regulators as ‘ambitious and complex’ with a high level of risk, and that senior leaders had failed to plan for the migration properly.  


While most cloud migration projects won’t carry this level of jeopardy, they will all be business critical projects, so don’t rush into it without first considering all possible ramifications. This starts with understanding your existing infrastructure, identifying the data you have and how it it is used across all business processes.  


Making sure that there is a full audit before anything is moved will help prevent surprises. It will uncover any interdependencies between different processes. You don’t want to end up switching all the lights out by accident as you move one aspect from its original home without being aware of how it impacts connected processes. Aside from the disruption this would cause, it could also open the door to serious security vulnerabilities, accidentally exposing sensitive business information or disconnecting it from security procedures.  


Day-to-day business will need to continue throughout the migration, so work with your digital transformation team to map out exactly what is moving to the cloud, and when it’s going to happen. This will give you an overview of the full scope of the project and some peace of mind before the major work begins. 


Success doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time 


Look to the long-term objectives and benefits that you will gain from the cloud migration project, such as better security, improved systems, integration of new technologies and software, and greater business agility. Or, to put it another way, don’t expect there to be immediate cost savings or operational enhancements overnight, because that’s not how it works.  


Research suggests that 73% of cloud migration projects take a year or more to finish, and 62% of business leaders said the process was harder than they expected or failed. It’s like anything in life, there will be bumps in the road and not everything will go exactly as planned, so you need to have a realistic timeline that has built-in contingencies. The last thing you want is for the board to expect a tight turnaround before another major business initiative is scheduled, as this will introduce unnecessary pressure and increased technical debt if shortcuts are used to meet deadlines. 


Migrating staff to online tools 


It’s best to introduce staff to cloud-based tools such as Microsoft 365 and Teams as early as possible. This will help them to get used to working in the cloud with regards to things like saving and sharing files and collaborative working. There will invariably be a transition period as staff get used to the new systems when you have a hybrid server / cloud set up. This means that if there is a server outage during the migration, staff can continue working and your business doesn’t come to a grinding halt.  


It’s also important to remember that a server or data centre isn’t just a storage facility. The active directory within them manages all your users' login credentials and permissions, which need reconfiguring in the cloud. It will take several weeks to get everyone in the organisation updated, backed up and reconfigured on the new platform, so this staff transition period is really important. 


An opportunity to streamline working practices 


We’ve all got our favourite ways of doing things. Whether it's using Google Docs to create monthly financial reports, Slack to communicate with other departments, or Zoom to conduct external meetings. The problem is that these preferences could differ from one member of staff to the next. Over time, there will probably be a mix-and-match approach to completing similar tasks, and this becomes very inefficient in terms of data management. Valuable information is left in places where people can’t find it, so you end up reinventing the wheel every time that similar jobs are repeated. The scattered nature of these tools is also a significant security risk, as they all have different security configurations and don’t communicate on the same network. 


Migrating to the cloud is a chance for a bit of spring cleaning. You can review the different tools that are in use and then implement official guidelines for staff to follow. Some room for preferences might be fine, like choice of web browser, while using other tools correctly may be more business critical. Cloud migration is the ideal opportunity to get people working to the same processes, and perhaps save costs by removing unnecessary licences and redundant or replicated processes.  


Bring people with you 


It’s a brave person who ignores the human factor of cloud migration, because if your team isn’t on board, the train isn’t leaving the station. Research suggests that employee resistance to change is one of the top three causes of cloud migration failures in large enterprises. It’s not just a technical shift. It can be a complete cultural transformation and some employees may struggle to adapt to new ways of working.  


Successful migration hinges on cultivating a mindset within your organisation that embraces change. Offering training sessions, support mechanisms and rewarding adaptability can facilitate a more positive transition. Emphasising the benefits of working in the cloud and creating an environment that supports adaption should be central to any strategy for employee buy-in. Use proactive communication to share updates and new guidelines on things like data storage, sharing practices and collaboration with third parties, as this will help staff understand what’s going on and why it’s important for the business’s success, and with it their own success.  

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