The cloud-first approach to IT is becoming increasingly popular as a paradigm for guiding companies through digital transformation. However, for many companies, a cohesive sense of what “cloud-first” means, why it’s important and what goals it serves and exactly how their planned transformation will happen can be lacking. It’s like they’re trapped in a strange limbo between the “cloud-first approach” as a buzzword and the process of turning it into something real and actionable. That’s a trap to avoid if your company wants to leverage cloud computing to its best advantage, and that’s where having a coherent enterprise cloud strategy comes in.
What Is a Cloud Strategy?
The term “enterprise cloud strategy” refers to a document that provides a high-level overview of what cloud technologies and services your company will prioritize and why, as well as providing guidance about how to limit any risks associated with new technologies.
Shadow IT and the Absence of Strategy
Working without a cloud strategy leads a lot of businesses to an ad hoc approach to their technology and infrastructure. Various groups within the organization wind up adopting their own solutions to keep up with productivity needs as best they can, and the overall lack of guidance creates a chaotic mixture of nonstandard approaches and silos of technology. This is a phenomenon known as “shadow IT“ that effectively makes it impossible to optimize costs and increases the difficulty curve for teams trying to work together across the company or with external partners. Once this kind of patchwork has arisen, it can be incredibly difficult to get back on track.
What a Cloud Strategy Does
Cloud strategies help enterprises define their relationship to and plans for cloud services and technology and integrate cloud transformation into the company culture and operations across all their departments, committees and working groups. It lays out how the cloud will be used to achieve better business outcomes and what the rules of various parts of the organization will be in realizing that vision.
The basic purpose served by a formal cloud strategy is high-level clarification about several dimensions of planned cloud usage:
- Benefits: Establishing the clear benefits of cloud service consumption relevant to your company’s goals and objectives
- Policy and governance: A picture of how consistent policy and governance for cloud services, and their management, will be carried out across the organization
- Division of services and partnerships: Which services will be built in-house and which consumed from public cloud providers (and in the latter case, which partners have been secured or are being pursued)
- Nature of services: Which service providers are approved and what associated services they’ll provide, along with the policies, risk and consequences associated with non-approved service use
- Processes: Defining the processes by which services can be added to the approved list
- Security: Determining how data privacy and resource availability will be protected (typically, until these protections can be established, a private cloud is generally used to provide services to users safely)
Contents of a Successful Cloud Strategy
Going beyond the basic purposes it should answer to, the complete details of what to include in your cloud strategy will vary depending on your company and its specific needs. The full range of possibilities is outside the scope of this article, but certainly some of the fundamentals it will need to cover include:
- Scope: What’s included and what isn’t
- Alignment: How it aligns with your company’s broader transformation initiatives
- Objectives: Outlining the objectives that drive the cloud strategy
- Capabilities: Outlining the capabilities the company will mobilize to meet those objectives
- Current and desired status: Stating where the project presently stands and where it needs to go, preferably accompanied by timelines of how the project as a whole is meant to play out
- Requirements: Outlining what’s needed in the way of tools in each department to get the job done, preferably alongside timelines with the estimated time to completion on each step
- High-level adoption plan: Spelling out hosting needs, strategic partnerships being used and the national and international compliance requirements that will need to be satisfied, along with bench-marking key performance indicators and scheduling progress reviews
In addition to these details, the strategy should clearly identify the major stakeholders across the company. Covering all these bases effectively, of course, requires some intentionality about how the strategy is drafted and who drafts it.
Cloud Service Models
Teams in a modern company can generally expect to have to operate in both private environments and public ones. Whether it makes the most sense for your company to have a public cloud or a private one would likely reflect where you are in the process of cloud migration and adoption. It’s generally a hybrid cloud approach, however, that provides the best mixture of robust services, efficient governance and excellent consumer experiences for most companies.
Who Should Draft Your Cloud Strategy?
Often, a company will designate a Cloud Architect to draft their cloud strategy. Having this kind of dedicated champion is a good way to achieve the best cloud strategy possible, provided they have the skill set the position really needs.
An effective Cloud Architect will have the technical skills needed to develop and coordinate a company’s cloud architecture. They’ll also have the cultural savvy needed to talk effectively to both the administrative and tech arms of the business and to make sure they’re able to communicate clearly with each other. They mobilize these skills to develop an informed and technically literate cloud strategy and coordinate its adoption across the company.
In the absence of a Cloud Architect, a strategy should be developed as a collaboration between your IT department, management and any significant stakeholders from departments across the company, and it should have sign-off from management before it’s promulgated to the staff at large. The strategy should be written to cover the necessary levels of detail while still being readable by non-IT users.