Part 2: Laying the Groundwork for Cloud ERP

In my last post, we took a look at some of the signposts that indicate we’ve reached a tipping point in the adoption of cloud computing among large companies and, especially, among manufacturers.

Today, we’re going to spend a few minutes taking a closer look at a simple but important question: what does this mean for you and for your IT team?

The short answer is changes. Big changes. The longer answer is that you’ll need to reconsider the mix of skills your team possesses, what you consider to be your biggest challenges, and who you work with, both inside and outside your organization.

New Skills

You’re going to find that working in a cloud-centric environment requires skills that may or may not be present on your team today. You’re also going to find that you’re far from alone in needing to add these skills, so prepare to be aggressive in recruiting professionals who have them. Right now, it’s more a seller’s market than a buyer’s. Some of the more important skills are…

Migration – Moving your applications and infrastructure is not an easy thing. You’ll need people who understand the strengths and weaknesses of different cloud deployment models, who can grasp your current workloads and infrastructure, and oversee an uneventful transition to the cloud.

Security –Operating in the cloud, by its very nature, introduces new and difficult security issues. People on your staff surely know how to secure your data and network behind the firewall. Beyond it, however, different security challenges await. The Cloud Security Alliance has some good resources to start learning more.

Programming – The cloud is a new type of playground for developers. Those who understand the differences and can take full advantage of the ability to more quickly build, deploy, manage and scale applications in the cloud are valuable assets to your team.

New Challenges

The more you migrate your infrastructure to the cloud, the less time and effort you’ll need to spend on the basic tasks of “managing the plumbing.” And while there’s plenty of upside to this (not the least of which is the chance to redefine the role and value of IT), it introduces new obstacles to your success. For example…

  • Security takes on new dimensions outside your corporate firewall. We’ve all seen the horror stories. We all know the truth: keeping your data, applications and infrastructure secure in the cloud is exceedingly difficult, no matter how diligent your cloud provider might be.
  • You can’t tolerate failure, but you have to assume it. Your customers, your partners…they don’t know and they don’t care if you’re in the cloud or on premise. If your site goes down or an application fails, all they know is they aren’t happy with you. So you have to ensure that your deployment can accommodate the system failures that will inevitably occur.
  • You’ll need new types of expertise that will be harder to find and more expensive to hire. As stated above, working in the cloud is different. It requires different skill sets. Those skill sets are in short supply and high demand. Prepare yourself to fight for the best talent.

New Relationships

Internally, be prepared to sit at the table with those who create corporate strategy. Why? Because cloud deployment creates opportunities for strategic initiatives that don’t exist in the on premise world. Fundamentally, using somebody else’s infrastructure lowers the cost of experimentation. Your executive team is going to want to know how that can translate to increased velocity and innovation. They’ll look to you for answers.

Externally, you’ll need to consider new vendors. Amazon Web Services, Google, and Microsoft Azure dominate the cloud services market. When was the last time you considered any of those companies as an IT partner? Established technology vendors like IBM and HP are doing their best to gain market share and relevance. But, as I mentioned in my last post, they’re often more interested in a “hybrid” deployment – to  protect their installed base – then they are interested in what’s best for you.