A Channel Perspective on Cloud Transformation
For many solution providers — independent software vendors (ISVs), managed service providers (MSPs), strategic integrators (SIs), or value added resellers (VARs) — the promise of new customers and revenue streams in the cloud are becoming a reality. The idea of cloud transformation has slowly permeated organizations for quite some time, of course. Companies are looking closely at consolidating and realigning their cloud assets — from cloud-based file sharing tools (Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, and OneDrive), to free cloud email (Hotmail, Gmail) and other social and business applications, such as payroll and customer relationship management (CRM) services. Cloud is becoming integral to how customers connect, how we archive our messaging and content, and how we approach complex business activities.
Microsoft, Salesforce, Google and other technology providers have focused much of their messaging on reducing the fears surrounding security and cloud performance, and at the same time providing more tools and content and support for pure cloud and hybrid solutions.
What has become clear in my conversations with partners and customers is that organizations are being very thoughtful about what to move into the cloud, and how quickly. For some, the move is fairly straight-forward because of years of slowly moving their on-prem investment toward the cloud. For others, it will take time and effort to transition these workloads — consisting of workflows, third-party solutions, and other line of business (LOB) integrations that could take time to re-architect for the cloud model.
As you begin to work with your customers to build a strategy for moving to the cloud, some questions you might ask and start planning for include:
What are their plans for the cloud today?
Hopefully your customer is experiencing some degree of introspection, possibly initiated by corporate goals to move some or all of their collaboration activities and other workloads to the cloud. Developing a strategy should begin with an understanding of the drivers behind the move, and expectations from end users, admins, and business stakeholders.
Which workloads do they have in the cloud today?
If you think your customer is 100% on-prem, you’re not looking hard enough. Part of your initial assessment should be to catalog the various solutions they have in use today — approved or unapproved — and to include those cloud assets as part of their broader strategy, which may include plans to incorporate (or shut down) rogue cloud tools, and re-train employees on the new technology. They will likely also need to reinforce training on policies for unapproved tools and data usage.
What is their transition plan?
Once you understand the drivers behind your customer’s move, and have an accurate picture of what is in place today, start thinking about the workloads which can easily be moved — versus those that will take time and budget to re-design, re-architect and re-build for the cloud. Depending on the complexity of these workloads, they might consider a phased approach, rolling out email and possibly a cloud-based partner extranet as their first steps, and then work with your customer to prioritize each subsequent workload rollout. While there are many variations of hybrid, the most common strategy is to move the easiest workloads to the cloud first, such as email and basic team site collaboration, and then to assess and rebuild more complex workloads over time.
What is their governance strategy?
Remember that a hybrid environment means that they will be managing (at least) two disparate systems. Ensure that their policies and procedures around security, auditing, and other compliance measures are being met during and after the transition. Remember that tasks they may have automated in their on-prem system around things like permissions management, reporting, and provisioning all operate very differently in the cloud. Be sure to review their transition strategy through the governance lens so that they are not caught with their guard down.
A hybrid solution is not the desired end-goal for most organizations – because hybrid means you are supporting and maintaining two separate systems. There’s no way of getting around that. Management costs and risks go up, period. Having said that, it may still make sense to work with your clients to move to a hybrid model, either as a permanent solution or as a long-term strategy to transition to the cloud. The fact remains that companies have made large investments in their on-premises environments, and it may take time for many to transition to the cloud.