Why Move to the Cloud? Why Not?

8 Jul 2019

If the primary objective of your project is to move your communications, collaboration or contact center to the cloud, then you are likely on the wrong path.

This is not to say that moving to the cloud is a bad thing; but rather, project objectives should be based on measurable business outcomes and then the appropriate solution, which may include a cloud-based solution, should be identified. Deciding to move to the cloud is putting the cart before the horse.

Often when people say they want to move to the cloud, they have one or more specific expectations about what benefits the cloud will deliver. In my experience, it is important to define, quantify and build consensus around these specific expectations so that the correct technical and non-technical choices can be made to ensure your overall project is a success. Clearly discussing and documenting measurable business objectives, most often through facilitated sessions with leadership, will deliver a clear answer to the question “why move to the cloud?” and in some cases may shed light upon whether moving to the cloud makes sense in your specific case.

Often wanting to move to the cloud is “code” for wanting to…

  1. Save money. Moving to the cloud may save money but compared to a reasonable well-run on-premises solution in most cases it will not. Let’s be clear, when you move to the cloud, you are paying someone to manage your infrastructure. And even if cloud providers do this at scale, there is still cost associated with managing an environment. In specific cases, for example if you intend to operate only for a few years or you have greatly fluctuating usage patterns or expect explosive growth, the cloud may save money compared with building capacity to accommodate the highest growth projections or completely amortizing infrastructure investment over three or fewer years.

    If success is based on saving money, you should understand a) how much money would the baseline / non-cloud solution cost? b) how much money would you need to save with a cloud solution for it to be considered material? For some organizations saving $100,000 is relevant, for some $1 million for other, larger organizations, saving less than a $10 million dollars a year might not be noteworthy c) over what period of time would you be expected to save money? 1 year, 2 years, 5 years? d) is it total cost of ownership (TOC), licensing, staff cost or something else that will be evaluated when looking at savings? And if it is TOC, you should be clear on how this will be calculated because it can be very complex and often the calculations become contentious.
  2. Convert CapEx to OpEx. Some organizations can manage cash flow but have trouble getting approval for large upfront infrastructure investments. In this case most cloud models can absolutely help.
  3. Reduce complexity. The cloud hides the complexity inside a giant “black box” in the sky. As such, the cloud is often seen as less complex, and it is when everything is working. However, when there is a problem, the opaqueness of the solution, which once seemed to reduce complexity, suddenly becomes a problem. The bigger problem with staking success on a solution that reduces complexity is that measuring the relative complexity of multiple solutions often falls between massively hard and impossible. A hard truth is that cloud solutions often become hybrid solutions with elements both on-premises managed by you and “in the cloud” managed by your selected vendor; hybrid solutions end up being more complex based on the number of technical components and groups involved in delivering the service.
  4. Reduce or refocus IT staff. Good people are hard to find. The reality is, if you have good people, architecting, designing and operating an on-premises UC, collaboration or contact center solution is straightforward. The wrinkle is that most organizations have trouble attracting and retaining good or great people. Concurrently, most organizations have IT staff that excel at maintaining the current solutions, which for many mean legacy PBX and contact center solutions. While some of these people can and should transition to supporting a new solution, at most organizations, some choose or are unable to transition to a new set of skills.

    A cloud solution potentially sidesteps a skill gap, eases the “exiting” of legacy staff, or, in the best case, allows existing IT staff to be re-focused on areas of competitive advantage as opposed to standard operational duties related to communications.

    If your success is based on staff re-allocation, you should work to understand a) to be considered successful, how many people are expected to be re-allocated? b) what are the specific roles (and perhaps people) that are expected to be “freed up” or “made redundant” (i.e. exited)?
  5. Provide improved user experience. Most cloud solutions provide the latest and greatest features including new artificial intelligence features such as speech to text, facial recognition, etc. The key question is what features will make your users more efficient and effective? The challenge becomes knowing whether your users will adopt these new features, what training and communications will be required to drive adoption and whether your users are welcoming to change. Cloud solutions often involve a large change initially but in addition typically require users to accommodate on-going change as features are rolled out on a regular basis, often without allowing IT to control the pace.

When properly explored, there are many potential benefits to moving to the cloud, several very valid answers to the question “why move to the cloud?” Better understanding the question and the detailed answers is key to success.

In the second part of this series, we will look at real and perceived obstacles that prevent organizations from considering the cloud. In other words, we will attempt to answer the question “Why not move to the cloud?”

I spend my time helping organizations succeed when implementing communication and collaboration systems. Cloud solutions offer unique opportunities and benefits but also new obstacles and risks. If you have specific questions please tweet @kkieller or message me on LinkedIn.