7 Tips for Financial Execs Transitioning to the Cloud

by Ike Kavas

If you are actively searching for best practices and tips to move to the cloud, here are 7 tips.

©Jirsak/iStock/Getty Images Plus

A tectonic shift -- or, we could rename it a techtonic shift -- is spreading rapidly across the globe as organizations move to the cloud. The transformation comes from not only the need to use software based in the cloud, but also from companies rethinking their corporate strategies and positioning in terms of their internal data, content, systems, privacy, security and even culture. Financial executives often find themselves in these type of digital transformation projects for their financial expertise as well as for their overarching business analysis, objectivity, compliance knowledge and high-level view of an organization. Fueled by market research data, Gartner estimates that more than $1.3 trillion in IT spending will be directly or indirectly affected by the shift to cloud by 2022. Much of this spend will lead to company goals of improved efficiency, cash flow and overall cost savings. 

Despite statistics, scores of small, medium and enterprise companies are not yet on the cutting edge of digital transformation and haven’t yet made the move to the cloud. If you fall into this bucket of companies you’re not alone, yet. If you are actively searching for best practices and tips to move to the cloud, please read on. 

1. Select Executive Sponsorship

Your first order of business is to nominate your project champion or executive sponsor to lead the cloud transition project. This person must have the power to make decisions and be technically savvy enough to talk and understand “cloud speak.” They must also have the ear and respect of the entire executive team to keep all constituents informed throughout the organization’s shift to the cloud. Your executive sponsor will be able to consider different needs for business units, global ramifications and long-term goals. Similarly, this person will understand the existing infrastructure and the current technology stack, including ERP, CRM, RPA, line of business systems and repositories. Ultimately, this person will sign off on the type of cloud platform and any related vendors with financial implications and business objectives at the forefront.

2. Commit to a Cultural Shift

Shifting the culture of the company is often one of the most difficult steps, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Starting at the top, embracing a cloud-enabled company must be something all employees live and breathe. It’s a mindset. This means being open to change and a new way of doing things. This may involve changing your mission and vision statements. It could mean updating your core values, which reflect a more innovative, futuristic, cloud-centric approach and brand. It also means making the right hires, which either have an open acceptance of cloud technology or direct experience from other cloud-centric companies. 

3. Appoint a Tiger Team for the Transition

In Product Management, it is common terminology to have “Tiger Teams” for larger, cross-functional projects that span several or many departments or business units. These teams often have representatives from different areas. So, when transitioning to the cloud, a Tiger Team would mostly like have one or several people from IT, Engineering, Project Management, Product Management, Marketing/Website, Finance and Support. This is the core team that will meet frequently to drive all activities and tasks. Typically, there will be a collaborative project tool, like Trello, Jira, Asana or others, that document each task with assignments and deadlines. This team will take the project from start to finish and is essential for the success of the entire project.

4. Execute Rollout

The company size will dictate the operational rollout. Larger companies often have silos of data and duplicate systems and departments that don’t “talk” enough to each other. A cloud deployment will solve many of these issues with the ability to centralize data and departments. A complete inventory of all systems will be necessary. Often, there will be accounting departments at multiple sites, which creates extra steps and processes, which can be costly. It is advised to have a horizontal team to bridge the gap between silos and departments. Eliminating the silos is part of the end-goals. Discovering what data is out there can be challenging, but intelligent content capture systems can help your team overcome that challenge. 

Similarly, finding the right cloud tools and solutions are important as well. This requires vendor meetings and selections, which may require a sub-Tiger Team. One of the most important vendor selections is to decide on a cloud operating platform. Will it be on a public hosted server or on a private cloud? This type of decisions can affect service level agreements (SLAs) with cloud vendors, including details about data recovery, disaster recovery and downtime, which can produce financial penalties for failure to meet the SLA mandates.

If your company is not ready for full cloud transformation, you may want to consider hybrid cloud solutions that utilize a company’s existing on-premise storage and processing capabilities with the use of Web Services and OpenAPIs that integrate to other solutions in the cloud. Hybrid cloud solutions can also offload a set of resource-intensive microservices into the cloud and then export the data back into the on-premise system. Hybrid cloud solutions can reduce costs due to increased speed of processing work and improved performance. 

5. Train and Augment Your Operations Team

Once the cloud architecture has been deployed and systems are live, customer interactions are critical to business operations. Streamlined services and support must be executed well. This may include training current operations teams on effective cloud management or augmenting your current ops team with staff who are well versed in cloud-based business operations, from engineering and IT to product development and customer service. To ensure everyone is on the same page, it is important to have defined standards and ways to enforce them throughout the organization. 

6. Plan and Budget for Scale

Many organizations have steady or sporadic growth and change, which can easily be supported in the cloud. Some companies experience peak demand, where scalability and flexibility will be critical to customer experience. For example, retail jewelry stores might experience a high influx of purchases around the winter holidays, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, or a mortgage company may get a high volume of loans during the summer months. Cloud-based systems are flexible and scalable, and allow for new business models, unforeseen or planned growth. Once you look at your business model, you can assess the type of processing space or storage you need in the cloud. 

Again, depending on the size of your organization, it may make sense to scale the implementation in parts. Changing an entire process through a large company may require smaller rollouts before they can scale company-wide. Not only are enterprise-wide implementations time-consuming, they can prove to be financially burdensome. Taking the route to scale one piece at a time can be accomplished by having a Tiger Team split into two, or by adding more tiger teams that are built using new and experienced members to be successful at scale.

7. Prioritize Privacy & Protection

From the beginning, data privacy must be at the forefront of all cloud discussions, with security and protection following that up. Employing a Chief Information Security Officer is advisable. There are many influences and pressures for businesses worldwide to abide by compliance and data privacy issues. We saw this last year with GDPR and its heavy fines, and soon, we’ll see the California Consumer Privacy Act enforced in 2020. According to Gartner, “Through 2022, at least 95 percent of cloud security failures will be the customer’s fault.” Analysts note that the challenge isn’t the security of the cloud itself, but in the policies and technologies for security and control of the technology. 

Companies who utilize private or public clouds need to properly manage the controls used to protect your data. Audits are ongoing, so data will need to be accessible, identifiable and even redactable. There will not be any excuses for unknown data. AI-driven data intelligence will be necessary to meet regulations and maintain compliance. 

Multiple sources report that the cloud can be more secure than on-premise systems. Customers have more responsibility with their on-premise systems because they must maintain system health. Human error accounts for most data breaches, and therefore any type of implementation can lead to risk. Keeping up with the latest security and privacy trends is mandatory and should be made a priority.

Ike Kavas is the founder and CEO of Ephesoft, Inc.