Generate steadier value sooner by treating migration as a pathway to company transformation

Stefan Holdermans
Aug 23, 2021 · 6 min read
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What cloud-bound company isn’t looking to generate value as much as possible as soon as possible? None. Every organization under the sky that migrates to the cloud seeks to lower IT and operations costs, shorten time to market, increase flexibility and scalability, and often also to boost innovation in products and services. That said, while almost every migration starts out with a similar rate of value generation and then initial plateauing, some are doomed to stay flat while others pick up again. Charted on a graph, all these curves of value delivery over time begin rising in rather boringly comparable arcs. But then at an inflection point, some companies ascend into that reassuring S-shape while others experience diminishing returns. So what accounts for the difference?

After years of helping customers get the most out the cloud, we well recognize the symptoms of a company with a flagging value curve versus one that promises to plot upwards and rightwards. And while there’s no magic bullet to ensure sustained value generation—that is, to get the curve rising again towards the sought-after S-shape—increasing the cloud’s business benefits and opportunities doesn’t require pulling a rabbit out of a hat. It requires an IT partner that treats migration not as a one-off project, but rather as a customer-specific pathway to generate value. That path then inevitably leads to a transformed organization that does better business sooner.

Flames ablaze and/or wheels going nowhere

We’ve witnessed how companies experiencing diminishing returns face similar circumstances, no matter their business nor how deep into cloud migration they are. Frequently, platform engineers are stuck in firefighting mode. In a worst-case scenario, the blaze is so big that the functionality and thus credibility of the entire company is at risk. In a worse-case scenario, some migration has taken place, but hardly anything with relevance was moved to the cloud. It’s clear that the project team avoided complexity in leaving those difficult legacy systems and core applications untouched. In a moot-case scenario, there are so many little fires to put out that migration has fallen to the wayside. To extinguish these flames, staff are too busy spinning their wheels or, for that matter, seem to be trying to reinvent the wheel. Recurring discussions are punctuated by refrains of “here we go again” and (rhetorical) questions, such as “Didn’t we just do this last month?”

At the same time, the staff are involved in their own circular discussions. Talks produce a dialogue along the lines of:
CFO: Cloud costs are out of control.
COO: What a shame. Those few workloads we did migrate are showing little to no returns as it is.
CTO: So it’s time for a new cloud migration partner or two, no?
CIO: Maybe…
CFO: But cloud costs are out of control!

Meanwhile, a chorus of colleagues worries about security and compliance. But compared to the more pressing issues, those concerns can be put off to an imagined day when the organization is comfortably fireproof. With such symptoms presenting, how can a company regain control and return to generating value?

Sifting before lifting

It’s crucial that a company be seen for the unique organization it is, and that its migration be consequently treated as a unique case. That’s why, while many vendors have pre-compiled how-to-move-to-the-cloud literature to convince prospects, we find that the most effective relationships start with a conversation. Less like a cloud evangelist and more like a social worker, at the start of our partnership we want to learn what keeps our customer’s C-suite awake at night. And we do not presume that it is necessarily what management or engineers lose sleep over, which we also want to hear about. With this understanding, we can prioritize and plan for what a particular company needs at a particular time.

Just as there’s no archetypical customer, there should be no one-size-fits-all migration. The lift-and-shift approach is by now regarded as crude, not to mention inefficient and ultimately costlier. However, that simplistic mentality still prevails and can sway companies to neglect evaluating what is really necessary to migrate and what isn’t. Before making any lifts or shifts, we first sit down with a customer and together sift through the value streams. Only after defining each stream’s worth, current and/or potential, are technology decisions made. In short, we urge for a process of sifting before doing any lifting.

A case in point: when a large multinational supermarket chain wanted to accommodate more online orders, we recommended a move to the public cloud. This would replace the company’s self-hosted online platform, which was launched to accommodate a few thousand orders a week. Over the next five years, orders had boomed to a few thousand a day, with a pre-Christmas peak reaching 20 times that. Because the supermarket got so much daily traffic, our cloud migration strategy had to enable a gradual transition, certain not to cause outages and leave home shoppers hungry. The entire existing platform therefore stayed online throughout solution development and testing. In the process, we discovered that some of the many applications weren't designed or built to run in the cloud or couldn't be migrated as they were. And so we worked closely with our customer to determine which should be redesigned, replaced, or retired. Together, our considered choices produced a stabilized application landscape that guaranteed 24/7 uptime. In the cloud, the supermarket could handle all loads, including the tremendous ones that would come a mere year later, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Experts on all sides and knowledge within

An ideal IT partner strikes a balance between advising and executing. Too much of the former leads to a consultancy-like relationship in which the customer has been fed with good business ideas but lacks the technical knowhow to implement them. Too much of the latter equips the customer with the latest and greatest IT toolkit, but no instructions whatsoever on how to get more business out of it. A way to achieve both is by always putting the experts in the lead. In doing so, we short-circuit all the unproductive role-play and circular conversations that cause companies to flail, rather than fly, in the cloud.

In our partnerships, we’re less concerned with whether the expertise comes from within Schuberg Philis or our customer’s organization. In fact, some companies already have the best experts in house. Their capacity and talent aside, knowledge of their own employer makes their expertise fit-for-purpose. So while we ourselves have high-level knowledge and experience, we recognize that our customers’ own IT architects and stakeholders have much to offer. We first look to them to set priorities for value generation. If they struggle to make those decisions, we help identify what hurdles exist and how to overcome them. With the experts in the lead, we waste no time in finding solutions. And once we’ve laid down a solid foundation for our partnership and have ready experts onsite, we can start building.

We saw this transpire with a government organization whose mission is to safely guide over thousands of shipping vessels 24 hours a day. A few years ago, the organization expressed concerned that the IT platform maritime pilots relied on for information was experiencing much downtime, which could have disastrous effects, logistics-wise and reputation-wise. To find a 100% fail-proof solution, the organization asked us to support its digital transformation of daily operations and help improve IT performance. But we could only do that by working closely with its own experts. While we had ready experience to devise a solution that automates communication into digital format (bye-bye, facsimiles!), we were in uncharted waters when it came to processing hydrometereological data combined with information about nautical conditions, traffic, ports, and berths. And so to devise a data-processing solution that let pilots assess wave heights and safely transport their ships, the organization’s technicians were leading us.

Intimacy and co-creation from day one

If the more tangible components of a cloud migration are building blocks that have been identified and codified in collaboration with the experts, the less tangible but no less critical components are trust, commitment, and a sense of co-ownership. Together these qualities breed intimacy. At first, it might seem odd to link a need for intimacy with the massive undertaking of a corporate cloud transformation. But customer intimacy is the mortar that seals the bricks of our work together.

This was certainly our experience working with a large electricity-grid operator. Long aware that climate goals would only increase demands for wind, hydro, and solar energy, the company also knew that its application platform—which was hosted on an inflexible, expensive on-premise datacenter being controlled by a third party—desperately needed to move to the cloud. Since the provider had zero public cloud experience, they readily looked to us as their guides and were glad we could fully engineer the solution. Once the initial solution was put in place, however, we fine-tuned and optimized it in collaboration with their own engineers. At least twice a week, we worked side by side. We educated the company’s team, ensuring all the knowhow and skills needed to run and manage the platform were transferred in house. In turn, during this period we got on-site training in how the company’s own operations work. This give-and-take wasn’t only a method for knowledge exchange, but also a means to get to know and trust each other.

From day one, our shared incentive to pursue value fells any customer-supplier barrier. We become one team. We’re eager to co-own our customers’ challenges, which necessarily involves forever keeping their value goals in view. Crucially, it also means translating all the IT frameworks to meet security, compliance, and resilience requirements. When it comes to successes, we also see that the more companies become cloud-native, the more they realize how many more capabilities the cloud has. In addition, they see how the cloud can generate value—exponentially so. Yet, leveraging these opportunities often requires changes within an organization, such as new skills, new operational focus, and sometimes even new staff positions. At that point, the cloud migration is clearly no longer just a project, but a pathway to a company transformation. Teamed with an IT partner that intimately knows its business, a customer should find that the path generates greater value sooner and keeps that curve rising in a steady S-shape.

Interested in partnering with Schuberg Philis or having a one-on-one dialogue session with an engineer? Get in touch.

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