people on 3D stairs in clouds (gualtiero boffi/


How to mitigate the hidden hazards of cloud migration

The business case for cloud migration is compelling: cost reductions, ease of growth and expansion, outsourcing of infrastructure maintenance and increased access to next-generation technologies. Many organizations that are migrating to the cloud, however, focus on technical factors and overlook the broader business implications of their projects.  Agencies can complement their project’s technical plan and magnify the human-centered opportunities of their cloud migration by avoiding the following risks.

Risk 1: Incomplete business risk and opportunity management

Most implementation plans are technically oriented, detailing what needs to be done, when and by whom.  A risk and opportunity framework complements a purely technical approach by applying a business and human perspective.  How could a cloud migration help or hinder leadership and strategic objectives? What are the key business outcomes to be aware of? By identifying and prioritizing risks (and opportunities) across the business spectrum,  IT managers are forced to develop plans to mitigate the risks and capitalize on the opportunities.

Creating a risk and opportunity framework is distinct from building a technical project plan. It takes a higher-level perspective and answers the "so what" questions.  So what would be the implications if the cloud migration went wrong? So what would be the unintended consequences? Risk categories may include financial, reputational, operational, regulatory, business partner and employee risks.  What can go wrong and what could it cost?  What risks can be mitigated and opportunities capitalized on?  In developing a risk and opportunity framework, agencies should identify risk and opportunity components, develop estimates of their cost or revenue implications, ballpark their probabilities and most importantly identify and track mitigation (or promotion) activities.   Updating the risk and opportunity framework then becomes part of ongoing project management.

Risk 2: Incomplete/ineffective communication with stakeholders

Moving infrastructure and applications to the cloud impacts a variety of stakeholders both inside and outside the agency.  A common cloud migration hazard is failure to completely identify all classes of stakeholders and plan for their information needs.  Each class of stakeholder will have different requirements for both content communication and the delivery of that information.   A few examples include:

Example stakeholder class

Key communication needs

Common communication risks

IT infrastructure workers (possibly including unions)

Job security, executive commitment, changing job functions, updated metrics

Untimely, insufficient communication, lack of executive support, lack of vehicles for Q&A

Organizational governance (boards of directors, auditors, Congressional committees, upper levels of the  organization)

ROI, adequacy of project planning, implementation high-level details, risks, issues and opportunities

Untimely, insufficient communication, reactive communication

Funding sources (shareholders, Congressional appropriations, banks, auditors)

Financial and cash/flow implications

Inadequate communication of risks, overly optimistic scenarios

Users of IT capabilities

Why now, benefits of migration, changes in processes, changes in services and focal points

Untimely, insufficient communication, lack of communication of purpose, lack of executive support

Business partners

Benefits of migration, changes in processes, focal points

Communication omission, lack of focal point

Business press

Benefits of migration, implementation plan, implementation partners

Communication omission, reactive communication

Cloud service provider and implementation vendor

Service-level agreements, updated processes, escalation channels, data security plan

Communication efficiency over effectiveness, communication frequency, communication timeliness


Risk 3: Not thinking through and planning for all of the required process changes

Unintended consequences may wreak havoc with a cloud migration that includes changing a number of processes, including  governance (e.g., systems management, security administration, change management, problem management and disaster recovery) as well as operations (e.g., help desk operations, application developer changes and communication with utilities). Each process change must be identified, rearchitected, communicated, tested and, if necessary, revised. Focal points must be identified, and escalation paths defined.  Common errors include ignored processes, incomplete communication and lack of mechanisms for resolving process difficulties.  An all-inclusive walk through of current processes (often including process modeling) with users and leadership helps to identify impacted processes, and modeling of revised processes should include updated responsibilities, metrics and escalation paths. It’s important to be comprehensive, since many requirements for process change are not intuitively obvious.

Risk 4: Not understanding key human-capital competencies needed for cloud migration success

Migrating to the cloud requires a different set of competencies for many classes of employees. These competencies include both technical and professional skills such as customer service, problem-solving and communication. An integrated human capital competency plan identifies the skill needs for each class of employees and is used to develop an individual gap analysis for all affected staff. While this is most critical for infrastructure management employees, it is also relevant for an IT organization’s users and partners.  The good news is that once an updated competency profile is defined and acted upon, an agency can institutionalize its human capital strategy to ensure that competencies are hired for, evaluated upon, consciously developed, promoted for and serve as basis for succession planning.

As agencies work through the technical aspects of cloud migration, it pays to think through these mission-critical, human-centered elements. How can business implications of the migration best be managed? Who are the key classes of stakeholders and what do they need to know? How does the migration change the processes of operations and the core competencies of the workforce? Understanding, planning for and managing the bigger picture, the human picture, will help make cloud migration not only more efficient, but more effective.

About the Author

Bonnie Wald is a manager with Evans Incorporated.


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