Building Your Cloud Strategy – Selecting the Platform and Working the Plan to Success
Author: Bill Sorenson, VP of Strategy FinTech – CISO, Netgain
Last month we looked at the beginning portions of building your cloud migration plan and making sure that you are in complete alignment with the strategic plan for the firm. Looking at consolidation needs, application suite direction, and focusing on making sure that your strategic plan aligns with your partners’ expectations significantly helps this process.
In this article we’re focused on selecting the platform that fits your needs, updating your plan, and then working your plan to success. This is a realistic goal for any firm, no matter the size. As you look at your application and user needs, it typically becomes straightforward to understand which cloud direction fits your situation. Let’s look at the selection options.
1. Selecting the Best Cloud Platform Fit
Web Based Software First - SaaS When we look at the cloud options available, the best approach is to focus on your applications first. There is a diverse set of core applications for the accounting industry and seeing where you fit today, and your future direction, will help guide you to this first decision. In your suite of applications, does your core vendor offer a current complete cloud option for those applications? CCH Axcess from Wolters Kluwer is an example. CCH Axcess can include tax, practice management, document management, support, and other tools that can fit your needs.
Similarly, if you look at your audit solution, Thomson Reuters’ web-based solution fits in this category. If you’re a CCH Engagement shop, you need a solution where hosting CCH Engagement provides the best service to your users.
Let’s not forget about all the other auxiliary applications that firms use. We typically see organizations run 32 to 70 different unique applications, with a combination of local install and web-based solutions fulfilling those needs. Web-based applications are here to stay but getting full-featured functionality out of those takes vendors a tremendous amount of time and expense. In the meantime, firms continue to be very successful with hosting legacy applications in a cloud environment.
Private or Public Cloud
Next, it’s important to look at the difference between the private and public cloud. Within the private cloud environment, there are basically two choices. You build your own private cloud, or you buy time and service from someone else’s private cloud. There is no perfect answer here, but places to look at include your interest in having access to manage, monitor, and configure the environment versus trusting a vendor to do that for you. Secondly, you really need to have your environment segmented from other customers should you use someone else’s private cloud. If you’re running just one application in the cloud, let’s say QuickBooks, the need for isolation goes down dramatically. When running core applications, being on your own set of servers and completely segmented from other customers is key. This last year we saw significant issues in situations where that didn’t happen. Protecting your firm from the impact of other firms or other users is key in an outsourced private cloud solution.
On the public cloud side, we see two main solutions: Microsoft Azure and Amazon AWS. Both environments provide you with a completely segmented subscription and tenant and significant security assurances that no other environments can deliver. These are blank slates when looked at from an arm’s-length. They’re complicated, they’re innovative, and they’re complete. Selecting and moving your environment to the public cloud provides you with the most flexibility in all manners of delivery. You can move part of your environment and develop a hybrid solution or look to move everything at once and provide your users a completely hosted cloud solution. Both methods and directions are reasonable.
2. Updating Your Plan Time to make your decision and update your plan. You’re focused on your users and the firm’s needs around applications, so update this section in relation to application strategic direction. Any application change should include an understanding of the impact on productivity in the first year, training, support, and acceptance within the organization. As you know, switching applications isn’t simple and emotions can run high.
It’s now time to look at data and the supporting applications. Most likely, data will be moved together with the application as their interaction with each other is significant. The key decision on location needs to be made at this point. Do you utilize VPNs to move data back and forth from your cloud location and your users’ devices, or do you move to the virtual PC/desktop approach? As we look at both Microsoft Azure and Amazon AWS, we see directionally that the move to cloud desktops is an effective option with AWS’s Workspaces, Azure’s Windows Virtual Desktops, and remote desktop services. With the new versions of Windows server operating systems, remote desktop services now provide a similar experience with full-motion video and sound and a dramatically less expensive footprint. You have options!
With files and folders, we see firms begin to utilize their Microsoft Office 365 subscriptions with OneDrive for users’ personal data folders. Many firms are trying to move most of their documents into document management, but we continue to see typical Microsoft office and other application documents being held in the normal network files and folders. Your solution needs to support both.
With this move of activity to the cloud, Internet connectivity becomes key. Firms are utilizing two connections per location with dissimilar transport methods. One fiber connection, one cable connection. The security layer at the edge of your local network needs to take advantage of the best of what today has to offer. Keeping the bad guys out and providing great performance for your users are the goals here. There will be additional items like phone systems, faxing, security systems, video security, HVAC connectivity, and other items that need to be considered. Make sure your plan includes these.
3. Firm Size Matters
Do it Yourself or Get Expert Help
So how do you get there? There are vast skills you need to provide a commercial quality solution within these environments. Here we see a split. Firms less than 400 employees typically look for an external provider to help them with getting to the cloud. Larger firms, with larger staffs, may look to do this themselves. I would caution you here and ask you to look at where you should spend IT resources in pursuit of supporting your firm. Moving those resources from managing servers, worrying about sizing, day-to-day performance, etc., to productivity-focused activities to assist employees and the firm in reaching the firm’s goals makes the most sense.
4. Working Your Plan Tasks, dates, and milestones. Project management at its core. Here we want you to work on formal project management in relation to this plan. Keeping stakeholders up-to-date, vendors on task, users in the loop, and solid communication to your technical staff dramatically helps this be a success. Understand that you won’t get everybody behind you but having your project champion be able to help in key places will assist in making this smooth.
5. What Success Looks Like Success! What does success look like here? It’s good to understand what each of your stakeholders sees as success in this endeavor. At the partner level, cost-effectiveness, happy employees, growth and productivity, are likely key. From the staff accountant side, applications and desktops that perform extremely well helps them do their job and increase productivity. From the IT side, a solid vendor who’s really a partner and an extension of your staff removes headaches and risk from your environment. It’s worthwhile here to map out that success section, and as this move happens, include this in your communications.
6. Zero Footprint Future We at Netgain talk about Zero Footprint as a goal for many firms. The removal of all, or close to all, server hardware and resources from the local environment dramatically reduces risks, complexity, and costs. Leveraging what the cloud has to offer to provide the best solution for your firm is the key direction here. Leveraging partners with expertise in doing these pieces significantly improves the IT’s group ability to deliver on the promise of increase productivity that helps drive the firm. As web-based solutions continue to mature, balancing the selection of those with their risk profile helps you give guidance and direction to your firm. Progress happens every day.
7. Post Cloud – What’s Next As you complete your move to the cloud and look ahead to see where you add value going forward, continuing your strategic alignment with your firm only increases the value you can provide. Firms are growing their service offerings across the board. As artificial intelligence and automation assist with tax and audit and consulting services, security services, and client support services grow, your continued involvement impacts their success. Moving away from managing hardware and the underlying resources to helping with core application usage and productivity increases IT’s importance and impact. Looking at artificial intelligence, bots, automated processes, and employee productivity helps keep you focused on the high value that you can offer. The organization’s risk profile is also a critical area where you need to focus.
It’s a wonderful time to be in our industry. Significant changes in technology, software applications, and future innovation continue to make each day interesting. Moving to an environment that has unlimited options for you provides you with the dramatic landscape for growth. Let’s help make all our firms as productive as we can!