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TECH LEADERS’ APPROACHES TO IMPLEMENTING CLOUD TECHNOLOGIES


Homeworking has accelerated cloud adoption and homeworking is likely to be the new normal. As teams have adjusted to remote working, we arranged a Tech Leaders webinar to share experiences on switching to cloud technologies.

Challenging environments

Manufacturing environments provide some of the greatest challenges when moving to cloud-based solutions. There is a reluctance to move away from physical hardware and systems that support live operations. There can also be a heightened sense of ownership / control from local technical support, in that they do not want to lose the ability to have physical access to something should it go wrong.

Front end systems are easier to move into the cloud compared to factory and operational systems. Production lines with e.g. a 12 hour downtime window each week leaves little time to prepare, move, test and train everything and everyone when moving to the cloud. A business needs confidence that production lines will run interrupted and that the support will be on-hand to help adjust to changes.

Any critical changes to manufacturing such as IT projects, risk unplanned outage/downtime and demand high levels of pre- and post-implementation support. In any IT project, you can never forget the people-factor. The manufacturing workforce can often fear for their jobs resulting from these changes and resist the changes.

Ease of implementation

The scope and ease of implementation of projects that move IT from on-premise to the cloud vary dramatically. As with a many legacy systems though, the issue is compatibility. It’s much easier to go “cloud first” for new businesses or ones less reliant on older technology. Google/AWS/Azure are all different; AWS is easier to implement but lacks governance within it; Azure may be easiest to use but lacks support. 

Saas solutions mean companies don’t have to rely on cloud software to be hosted in your infrastructure. Some organisations may leave manufacturing related servers on site, with back office/front office operations moved into the cloud. Accessing ERP systems from home may be considered more resilient to cautious shop floor workers than accessing a hosted server. 

Barriers of resistance

Most businesses seem to accept that cloud is the way forward. Barriers of resistance remain but have reduced over recent years. Resistance is often influenced by people fearful of losing control.  Prior to moving to cloud solutions, the workforce can physically attend their site to maintain IT and address visible problems. This is done differently in the cloud. But it is still true that not all software moves easily. Legacy systems may be configured in ways that make it more difficult.

Choosing your IT provider

The risks inherent in any significant IT systems change demand that the organisation’s IT provider works closely in partnership. Ideally, the company will have been working with the IT provider for long enough for them to already be familiar with your business and its IT infrastructure. If this is unavoidable, there is a risk that both the company and the IT provider don’t know what they don’t know about e.g. interdependencies between systems and processes. The IT provider needs to be a trusted advisor and that trust needs to be upheld.

Any IT provider needs managing to deliver the project on time and on its commitments. During the planning stage it is advantageous to ask about similar customers they have worked with who have undergone the changes you require.  It is also vital to explore all/any additional third party transfer costs that will be incurred. Too many implementations result in unexpected ongoing costs caused by third party systems that were assumed to be known and accepted prior to the project commencing.

When entering an agreement, don’t get caught out by not appreciating what would and wouldn’t be provided by a vendor. There’s lots of extra considerations around data transfer costs. It is important to understand specifically what they will and won’t deliver. Ask your IT provider what they expect you to be responsible for and how this interfaces with the IT provider’s responsibilities. For example, your company is responsible for ensuring the firewall is correctly configured, or to ensure data quality is consistent. These responsibilities can’t be handed over to cloud providers. Ensure everyone understands and addresses any gaps throughout all processes and third party software. Know where your routing and server sites are physically based and ensure that your business recovery plan is retested under the new environment. 

Smooth implementations require staff to be trained (ideally) in advance. This training should be robust to avoid expensive reliance on the IT provider. And to upskill your 1st/2nd line support teams in a market that has ongoing skills shortages in these areas.

People have also grown to appreciate that just because servers are in the cloud, they still need maintenance. Sometimes MS / AWS, etc. can make changes which can have a significant impact on build pipelines and automated infrastructure processes. Stay on top of the changes to make sure things don’t fall over.

Costs

Automatic scalability and elasticity in the cloud is brilliant… most of the time. However, if you’re not careful and don’t monitor its use, there can be significant cost implications caused by unexpected consequences that drastically scale-up the infrastructure in the cloud due to demand. One example noted was when a developer accidentally created an infinite loop which suddenly incurred $1000s in storage costs. 

Companies can minimise these risks by monitoring and setting alarms on the infrastructure. AWS and other vendors are starting to help organisations manage this by allowing defined spending limits and service controls to avoid surprise charges. This can also be useful for geographical restrictions that can be put in place.

Moving to the cloud doesn’t always lead to cost savings. Costs can increase as the infrastructure costs increase alongside companies’ IT headcount remaining the same. However, the increased capability has shown considerable performance benefits not only in infrastructure but in the wider IT operation.

Security

Companies must take accountability for the security of their systems. There used to be a view that: “If we move to the cloud, security isn’t our concern because it’s down to Amazon, AWS, etc.” It is still the organisation’s responsibility to ensure their systems are secure. Cloud hosts will give you the space, but it’s up to you to manage it.

Business drivers

It is important that all stakeholders within the company understand that moving to systems to the cloud will not necessarily save the company money. For example, hardware that is being replaced is likely to be fully depreciated, whereas cloud costs may be higher.  The drivers are frequently related to spending money more wisely to improve and future-proof existing infrastructure and ways of working.

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