Best practice advice for moving to the cloud

So you want to move it all into the cloud? Then learn from these tips from someone who has already done it.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor

CTO Chris Hewertson: "The ability to share documents has been profound. I can't imagine how we worked before."

Image: Wavebreak Media LTD

While some IT leaders remain cautious about a move on demand, other executives are embracing the cloud to the fullest possible extent. One such technology chief is Chris Hewertson, CTO at hotel group glh, who has pushed a cloud-led business transformation in his organisation.

The firm began its IT change programme three years ago. Executives wanted systems that were always available, easy to set up and intuitive for the users. Hewertson says the cloud became the natural mechanism to support business change and growth.

Today, the firm does not run any in-house servers and 95 per cent of IT services are delivered through the cloud. Here, Hewertson shares his best practice advice for moving to the cloud with other c-suite executives.

1. Use a corporate risk board to mitigate financial dangers

Going on-demand can feel like a step into the unknown. Hewertson says the support of key executive peers will be crucial. "You have to get the CFO on board," he says.

"For most organisations, moving to the cloud involves a shift in finances, because you're moving from a well-understood capital expenditure model to an operating cost-based model. That scares people sometimes."

Hewertson says IT leaders must take time to explain that, while operational costs will rise, the long-term effects of depreciation will be lower as the business avoids a hit every few years when it needs to upgrade its infrastructure.

To ensure everyone understands the potential risks and benefits, Hewertson has established a corporate risk board, which highlights the potential risks of the current operation at a formal level. Hewertson advises his CIO peers to use a similar approach to receive the broad support of senior executives and to help alleviate risk, particularly at an individual level.

"When you present alternative options to a corporate risk board, they become your ally - you don't have to single-headedly put your career on the line," he says. "You can tell the business that you'd recommend a move to the cloud because of certain reasons, but the decision is the board's - and the answers should speak for themselves."

2. Find a strong business case and develop an integrated approach

Hewertson joined glh in 2012 and began preparing for an IT-led business transformation. The firm's first major step to the cloud took place in June 2013 when the hotel chain switched to a cloud service for its hotel management application.

"Overnight, the approach removed all the operational issues we had struggled with before," he says. "That was the first evidence to the business that a cloud model could work - it was a wake up call."

The firm than began investigating other on-demand technologies. Hewertson says his experiences suggest organisations must look at moves towards cloud services in a holistic way. Looking at each service individually might mean the benefits are not clear.

"You often have to bring the case together for three or four services," he says. "The true value from the cloud often only becomes clear when you're running many services because the benefits of resourcing then become sharper to the rest of the business."

3. Take a calculated risk when you know service can be improved

During the past two years, Hewertson has continued to move more services to the cloud. He says glh started its progression on-demand with tried and tested companies, such as Rackspace and Amazon Web Services, but now has access to a broad range of suppliers.

"You do sometimes need to take a risk," he says, referring to the decision his firm has made in regards to email platforms. "We wanted to go with a cloud provider and the easier approach would have been to use Microsoft Office 365, because most people know how to use their applications. But we chose Google and I've been amazed at the level of take up."

Hewertson refers to a number of benefits, saying Google was cheaper and felt more intuitive to use. The firm has now gone beyond Gmail and rolled out additional Google services, such as Sheets, Slides and Forms. Hewertson has also been able to turn off the company's internal storage area network because workers have access to Google Drive.

"People in the business use Google to collaborate," he says. "The ability to share documents has been profound. I can't imagine how we worked before - to all be able to work on the same documents as a team, across different time zones and locations, is fantastic."

4. Consider transitioning to the cloud in an alternative fashion

Hewertson recently moved the firm's core SAP platform to a cloud-based solution. He used specialist consultant Absoft to help with the transition. Hewertson says the timing of the transition is crucial. "Rather than starting with core systems, we've worked from the outside in," he says.

The glh transformation, says Hewertson, is first and foremost about helping its revenue-generating businesses - its hotels - to be successful. The board was keen that its outlying businesses had access to great technology. Hewertson and his team only dealt with core systems once the hotels were satisfied.

"It's helped us because we've transformed our management structure at the same time as we've updated our hotel IT infrastructure. We've had to embed those structures within SAP and our financial reporting. That's been undertaken tactically during the past two years," he says.

"Now we're upgrading our approach to SAP, we can embed those tactical changes into the business in a structured way. If we'd started with SAP and the core, we'd have to re-engineer our approach after we've sorted out hotel systems and services. Now we know how our business is run and how we want to set things up structurally. And we can take that structure into SAP."

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