Today there is almost no question that the future of business applications—whether it’s ERP, HCM or CRM—lies in the cloud. The payoff in business agility, innovation, and lower IT costs is becoming clear to more and more businesses. But moving to the cloud can also present new challenges for companies. Most notably, cloud migrations can be unsettling for many in IT, as well as employees on the business side, forcing them to learn new processes, roles, and ways of working.
The fast pace of cloud migrations is one of the biggest challenges companies will face. In the past, when companies implemented traditional on-premises solutions, they typically had the benefit of ramp-up periods lasting months to years. Then once the application went live, companies could “relax” until the next big upgrade, which could be a year or more down the road.
Not so with the cloud. The initial migration to a cloud solution can happen at a surprisingly rapid rate, with go-live timelines measured in weeks, followed by a continuous cadence of application upgrades. This is why we encourage companies to initiate a change management program immediately after the cloud investment decision is made.
The good news is that with the right planning and deployment framework, cloud migrations – and the people and process changes involved—can be a very manageable process. At PwC, we developed an efficient framework that makes moving to the cloud both fast and painless—and then helps businesses efficiently handle the speedy new cadence of cloud updates. It’s called the Fit to Cloud Framework (F2C) and it enables us to deliver Oracle ERP Cloud and other Oracle Cloud applications in an extremely short timeframe. For example, it’s not uncommon for our clients to deploy a core Oracle financial solution in the cloud in as little as 18 weeks.
Built on our experience with Oracle implementations, the F2C framework draws on a wealth of new techniques and assets we’ve developed at our Digital Delivery Centers, including accelerators and model systems pre-configured with specific industry best practices. Eventually we plan to build models for seven industries.
We usually start a project by exploring what the client is hoping to accomplish by moving to the cloud. Although our clients love how the cloud can generate IT savings, most of the time we lead with business transformation and innovation. Frankly, I think that’s the best way to think about the cloud.
When it comes to innovation, one of the lowest hanging fruits is self service. It’s a simple but powerful innovation that pays off handsomely in productivity, cost savings, and employee satisfaction. Self-service HR and procurement systems are now common across industries. Another innovation includes cloud-based platforms that help companies connect geographically dispersed teams, enabling faster product innovation and time to market. After adopting the Oracle Cloud, for example, one of our clients found that the majority of its product design work could be done virtually, which dramatically reduced travel and accelerated innovation.
After a company moves to the cloud, they will need to get used to the near-continuous nature of software updates. (In the case of Oracle Cloud applications, updates are rolled out every six months.) I have a client who equated it to owning a sports car, where you wake up in the morning and suddenly discover your car has just downloaded and installed a bunch of new features.
Most companies, however, can effectively prepare for regular cloud updates and avoid surprises. Oracle is particularly good at giving customers advanced notice of what to expect with the next “functionality drop.” Companies can learn to make cloud updates a part of a bi-annual process that should include regression testing to ensure that the new functionality hasn’t introduced new faults. One of our clients set up a bi-weekly call between IT and business to talk about the coming changes and resolve issues well before the release date.
In our experience, very few organizations require ongoing outside assistance with their Oracle Cloud upgrades. Most companies experience zero disruptions and continue with “business as usual” after each upgrade cycle. Only occasionally will PwC be asked to navigate through a particularly critical or complex upgrade. Where it makes sense, PwC is looking at offering post-go-live cloud support as a subscription service.
It’s worth noting that vendor-controlled cloud updates can pose a potential problem in heavily regulated industries such as pharmaceuticals, where agencies like the FDA are required to approve any new process change that could affect production lines. However, we are currently developing a framework and tool set that will help fix this problem by spotting potential compliance issues ahead of each update.
Remember that moving to the cloud is not only about changing technology. Organizational structures can be jolted when enterprise applications and infrastructure move “off premises.” Resource needs, skills sets, and job descriptions are likely to change. For many, the cloud will present a great opportunity to broaden their experience and skills and boost their relevance to the business. Increasingly we are seeing IT people reassigned to business and internal consulting roles. Even the job of the CIO is changing, as the cloud frees technology executives to spend less time troubleshooting systems issues and more time collaborating with business leaders on how to meet their challenges.
Perhaps the most exciting part of moving to the cloud is the power it gives IT to play a more central role in the business. By offloading the mundane tasks of hardware and software support, IT can deploy people more strategically and focus on projects and initiatives that really make a difference to the business, that will help it grow and innovate. More and more, these are the kinds of conversation we are having with clients, and this is what really gets IT excited.
Troy Lutes is a principal at PwC with over 20 years of experience in managing and delivering transformational technology solutions. During his career, Troy has advised numerous Global 1,000 companies across a variety of industries, with his focuses in retail, consumer goods and energy. He has worked on assignments in Europe, North America and Asia/Pacific, giving him a broad perspective in designing and implementing complex global solutions.