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Are you brave enough to look beyond ‘Lift and shift’?

What do cloud solutions have in common with the electric vehicle industry? On the face of it not much. 

Corporate successes in the last few years have proven that slow evolution and retro fitment are not good enough for firms to thrive and excel. The most successful companies start off with an idea and a philosophy from the ground up. Take the example of Tesla and BYD who have taken over the electric car industry despite being late entrants to the automotive industry. They achieved this by rethinking the way road transportation is perceived, challenging existing norms and ingraining their philosophy into everything they do – developing, manufacturing, selling to and servicing their customers. Traditional automotive companies that chose to evolve from the legacy fossil fuel engines to electric vehicles have seen mixed successes, with most lagging behind the curve despite having many years of experience and a massive head start against these new entrants. 

The same is true of digital-only ‘neobanks’ who have started from a cloud-native base, unfettered by the legacy processes and tools of traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ banks. The cloud revolution has seen many industries, including banks and financial institutions, seeking to gain the advantages of the cloud and accelerate their digital journey. However, these organisations are often hindered by, amongst other things, their legacy applications, the lack of documentation and a deep understanding of their existing tools; rendering them ‘unupgradable’. 

Moving to the cloud was accelerated by the pandemic, and the speed of change required, resulting in quite a few IT managers having to sugarcoat, underplay or misestimate their modernisation business cases to get them through their financial and business stakeholders. They were expected to do more with less, and hence experienced multiple failed iterations in their cloud journey, whilst subsuming careers, reputations and consuming large amounts of time and money.  

There are a number of approaches which most firms have considered in approaching their cloud migration strategy, including: 

  1. Retain – do nothing and leave the existing legacy systems as they are!

  2. Lift and shift – migrating existing legacy systems into a new cloud environment 

  3. Refactoring – making small code and config changes 

  4. Replatforming – making service changes such as databases to cloud native 

  5. Rebuilding – starting from scratch and redesigning the application to fit the cloud 

  6. Replacing – looking for an existing SaaS provider that offers similar functionality 

The easiest path to accelerate the move to cloud in many business cases has been the lure of ‘lift and shift’; a commonly used approach to move existing applications from legacy platforms directly to the cloud in another state. However, this often comes with the burden or greater cost and no improvements in overall efficiency.  

In our personal lives, where we often decide on and implement our own ‘business cases’ (e.g. a house or car purchase etc.) it is quite unimaginable to think that whilst shifting from an old to a new house that we would move our rubbish, broken furniture and old curtains as well. Perhaps some might do this, is the shift was being done by someone who had no idea (ignorance) of what an ideal house should contain, what is good and what should be taken to the new house. Hence, to avoid any risk (risk avoidance) and save time in the move, they might decide to move everything - the good things and the rubbish as well. 

In the world of IT the thinking is very similar, and ‘lift and shift’ is often seen as the next best option after ‘do nothing’, often driven by time pressures, such as the deadline of leaving an existing data centre. Ignorance of their IT systems, needing to catch up and risk avoidance, are also some of the reasons why most firms initially use the lift and shift approach. 

However, reaping the true benefits of cloud is really only achieved after the application is refactored or even reimplemented for the cloud, using the full range of elastic computing, governance, security and scalability, amongst other ‘cloud native’ approaches. Unfortunately, after most ‘lift and shift’ implementations, the true benefits of the cloud continue to be kicked down the road as ‘change fatigue’ creeps in and technical debt continues to accumulate as further upgrades are deferred. The ‘promised land’ of a more efficient, integrated and scalable future seems at this point to inch further and further away in a vicious circle of cost and complexity. 

Breaking this vicious circle 

It is difficult to break this circular path, but it can be helped by understanding and embracing some of the following actions: 

  1. Understand and agree the reasons for your digital / cloud upgrade, consider your future scenarios and possibly even take a fresh look and how you want to do business in the coming few years or decades. Align your business vision with your digital journey.  

  2. Try to understand your application to the maximum extent possible. Get your metadata analysed to see what needs to be upgraded, retained, replaced or discarded. An objective analysis with hard facts beats ‘gut feel’ in terms of analysis, estimation and execution. A tool-based approach often helps for bulk applications. However, remain open to call out areas that are unknown and factor in optimal mitigation approaches for those areas. 

  3. If a ‘lift and shift’ approach is the only optimal option in the given timeframe, factor in future upgrade plans to set the expectations of your stakeholders and appraise them of how to achieve cloud benefits as part of a roadmap, rather than a ‘big bang’ approach. 

  4. Use a low-risk and contained area to pilot the upgrade. You can then agree the methodology and the approach that is fit for your organisation and set your criteria for success. Roll it out to subsequent applications and landscapes as part of the journey, learning and adapting as you go. 

  5. A measured re-build or even a replace (with SaaS) could be a valuable option which is often put off for initial cost reasons. This should be high on the agenda of any business stakeholders who value real-world total cost of ownership (TCO). 

  6. Beware of falling again into the trap of previous legacy applications with zero to low documentation, or awareness of what it contained and who uses it. Invest now in data governance, catalogues and metadata processing tools to enable insights to be recorded of who uses it, when and how. There are many best of breed tools as well as applications from the major cloud providers work very well. This will also help you keep track of your costs and improve adoption.  

Hopefully, these insights, gained from many protracted enterprise level cloud migration and transformations should hold you in good stead for your next upgrade cycle or digital wave. And when you make it to the cloud and enjoying the benefits, be ready to embrace the quantum cloud or the next wave of AI-managed capabilities - as they say, the only constant in life is change! 



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