What monsters are lurking in the shadows?
It is said that ancient maps would label dangerous and unexplored territories with a dire warning for sailors to avoid these uncharted territories, lest they be devoured by fantastical monsters.
In trying to map out your organisation's cloud journey through these troubled waters, a lot has been written about the goals, the perils along the way and the opportunities that lay just over the horizon.
What I want to focus on in this post, is the safe ground upon which you think you are standing on now. My premise is that, in reality, the real monsters you will face up to are actually all around you. They are the systems that shackle your organisation like an anchor; that prevent you from even beginning the search of a better future in the cloud.
Below are my top three monsters within your organisation that are preventing you from excelling in your cloud journey; as well as some tips on how you can defeat them to help prepare for your transformation.
Monster 1: Vampire Systems
These systems are usually mission critical legacy applications - like an ERP, finance or some highly-tailored operational system. It served its purpose well back in the day, but now is at the core of the organisation to the extent where it dictates how the business operates.
Keeping the vampire fed has meant both budget and opportunity cost as legacy dependencies hinder other improvement projects, restricting and throttling attempts to move forward.
3 tips for killing the vampire:
You'll need a wooden stake - Put a stake in the ground and make a public declaration of intent; the vampire is legacy and agree that it must be killed. There will be no more upgrades, development or integrations. Call it propaganda, but this will ensure that every conversation that includes the vampire will also include the words: legacy - retired and replaced.
Go for the heart - Look for the key function or strength of the vampire system in terms of your business - is it logistics? Sales force automation? Service? Include key people in the selection process to show them how much better this is. However, don't get carried away with a massive shopping list of requirements. These systems, like vampires, can only be killed through the heart. Failure to do this will result in two systems; a shiny new untrusted one, and the vampire system quietly plotting its revenge.
Bring in the daylight - When you shine an objective light on a vampire system, you'll find a lot of things that are causing more harm than good, only being done because that’s the way it has always been. Identify these pillars and turn them to dust - look out for:
Data and process flows that had an original purpose but now are dubious e.g. reports no one reads, data captured for no justified reason.
Workarounds - This is where the original problem could not be solved and had to be worked around. Review the problem, is it still a problem? Could the new cloud world address this problem or, better still, nullify it altogether?
Duplication and data quality - Poor control on data becomes a massive issue very quickly, particularly in older systems where the rot is not easily detectable.
Monster 2: Hydra Systems
If you have a hydra system, the chances are it may not be a system at all. What you may have is a useful hammer, utility or integration (or even the dreaded office tools, such as Excel). Once you have a hammer and nail (pun intended), a Hydra system then starts to sprout more heads, as everything begins to look like a nail. Classic middleware that glues systems together now becomes a system in its own right, ending up a Frankenstein-like collection of functions that have a finger in every pie. These functions were developed for a tactical purpose originally but end up hanging around like an evil smell.
3 tips for killing the Hydra:
Cut off one head at a time - The Hydra has many heads - attempting to cut them all off at once is a herculean task. A better approach is to catalogue the heads (the functions provided by the Hydra) and importantly the neck (the systems to which Hydra is attempting to glue or fill gaps in). By identifying each neck, you will understand the functional gap that the existing underlying system could not address, and you prioritise this in your cloud migration, effectively cutting off the head.
Sever the neck to prevent the head growing back - To stop a Hydra’s head growing back, something simple needs to be offered in its place. Ideally, something like an ETL platform, helping consolidate all data and logic to a single point. Once you have selected this integration layer, mandate it for all new connectivity so that it can be shifted to the final cloud version if that needs to change. This may require a retraining internally, but most employees will jump at the chance to add cloud integration to their skillset.
Cut off the immortal head - The last head on a Hydra is said to be the immortal one. In an organisation, this is likely to be the data model. Inside the Hydra’s head is probably the only place in the organisation where the true meaning of core data is understood. Data from various systems will be transformed, enriched and corrected through the head, the likely rules known only at code level. To ensure you can remove this, building an enterprise data model and service catalogue may be useful. Be careful though, sometimes this can lead to the Hydra’s head growing back.
Monster 3: The Sirens
In Greek mythology, Sirens were beautiful and dangerous creatures, who would lure sailors from their journey to shipwreck them on nearby rocks. In modern day business, Siren systems are usually niche cloud systems, who solve one problem but create a whole lot of others.
A classic example of a Siren system is a cloud email marketing tool. The call of a Siren system, particularly in the cloud, is so seductive to business users because it is usually slick and pretty complete for the one thing it does. However, after some initial successes a whole sea of problems soon arise. Questions like, where's my data stored? How is it protected? Other questions also then raise their heads, like on customer data with GDPR, security, user identity and audit trail.
3 tips for killing the Sirens:
Wax Ear - Be wary of the seductive songs of many cloud vendors who are selling a seemingly tactical solution. It is tempting to get quick results, but that may not help you achieve sustained results. No one will thank you for anything less, but expect to face stiff opposition about the urgency versus delivering strategic cloud value.
Change the tune - Sirens sing their own song, but what if you could change their tune? Most of the Siren systems address a specific problem and then go on to sell a 'complete' solution, but often with sub-standard, non-integrated reporting, security, and data access. Identify these areas as mandatory requirements and pull them in-house if required.
Map the journey - Work with the business stakeholders to give them clear value milestones so that they know when the cloud journey will impact them for the better. With that in mind, the cloud journey then should be set up with a relentless cadence of value delivery and early trumpeting of this is necessary to avoid solo tactical runs from within the business stakeholders.
Before embarking on your cloud journey you should take a hard look at your existing IT landscape. Uncover and rediscover the monsters within, give them a name and then create your plan to defeat each of them in turn. Only by facing up to these creatures can you use the cloud to finally beat them. The solution is defintely in the cloud but the vampires, hydras and sirens you will face are very much here down on Earth.