May  07,  2019

Most kids today have never seen an actual floppy disk. They know the icon means “save”. Over the years, where and how information is saved and accessed changed significantly. In the days of floppy disks (and writable CDs and thumb drives), working on a group project meant making several copies of the disk so each person had one. When anyone made a change on one copy, none of the others would update. The final days of work on the project were spent consolidating work into a single file. Even with email to share project pieces back and forth, one person had to consolidate everyone’s work.

When I entered the working world, tasks were very much like one big group project. Several employees would update deliverables and, in the end, it was consolidated into a single product for customers.

By 2009 processes changed. Instead of saving individual pieces of data locally, we used a centralized system. Software ensured formatted deliverables, we just entered the data. Clicking “save” on my PC, meant validated work was passed to a company owned data center 1700 miles away on the ninth floor of a building in Chicago. There was no need to compile work across all 2000 employees. It compiled as we worked! That data center had to cost a fortune, but it housed all our company’s data. The cost for rent, electricity, and 24/7 IT support was surely worth it, right?

By 2012 it was all gone. The risk and cost associated with keeping everything in-house were simply too high. A single natural disaster, malware, or IT screw up could wipe out all our work. The solution was the “cloud.” Not simply a data center, but the ethereal server farms somewhere in the world. It was impervious to being wiped out by a single event. It also freed up overhead for investment in new services. The way forward was obvious, but that didn’t mean there weren’t bumps along the way.

My experience in migrating to the cloud was as a passenger. However, I picked up considerations along the way.

3 tips cloud migration

Who are you going to call?

When saving work locally, it became part of my responsibility to format and secure the data quarterly. Being fairly technical, I didn’t have much trouble adhering to those standards. However, it was a challenge for all employees with various backgrounds and proficiencies to follow the same standards. If a piece of data wouldn’t merge properly when packaging the final product, it could be an exhausting investigation to figure out what happened and how to fix it.

In 2009, our internal IT department oversaw a large database stored at the data center. The software ensured proper formatting, so managers could trust consistent product delivery. If there was a problem, we all knew who to call: IT. If there was an issue packaging the final product, the managers and IT worked it out.

Once on the “cloud”, who to call became unclear. The IT professionals were on the vendor side now and they treated all client data the same. If there was a problem, who should help? The vendor? Only a privileged few had access to the vendor, and it was on their schedule, not ours.

When migrating to the cloud, it is important to consider the impact and roles the IT department will play post-migration. They may no longer hold the keys to the Porsche, but if the Porsche is in the shop, it’s good to have a spare mechanic or driver around to ensure the business runs smoothly.

Don’t forget apps

Running apps in the cloud became a big deal around 2017. Some benefits include no installs, centralized tech support, on the fly company-wide updates. On the downside, if apps are proprietary, should that IP be out there in the open world? Working for a data-driven company that used proprietary software, this became a concern.

The solution was to create an entirely new piece of lite, online software. The legacy software would do the grunt work, while the cloud-based software would handle the rapid data input. Of course, the two had to talk to each other, and it required more people to validate the data on the back end. The faster, more efficient “cloud” based solution, turned into an amalgamation of tools and responsibilities, causing confusion across the board.

Consider how all employees will interact with the software. Do apps even need to be in the cloud? When migrating to the cloud, think about the benefits of running software from the cloud or whether customizing an off the shelf solution is an option. Allow extra time and roll it out in stages to build on successes.

Anticipate employee adoption

When migrating to the cloud, the saved data location changes. Don’t overlook changes to the literal “save” button. The user interface can completely change and impact skillsets in unanticipated ways. For innovators and early adopters, this can be an exciting new world, but those fearful of change can potentially bring down the boat and delay full adoption of cloud-based systems and software.

The first time I went through a similar migration, we had trainers and champions communicating a consistent positive message. They advocated for the new tool and the benefits it would bring. They were quick to point out improvements and show us the software in advance. Our office looked forward to discussions about the new system as we lamented the challenges of the old software. This was due in large part to the solid communication channels established by our training department. The 12 trainers, leveraging the early adopters, spread tastes of the new system across 2000 geographically dispersed employees.

When go-live was close at hand, a massive training initiative was executed within a month of the go-live date. As can be expected with complex systems, there were last-minute delays, and the release of our new cloud-based infrastructure was pushed back. Fortunately, our training team anticipated this might happen, and post-go-live materials were repurposed for just in time training.

When migrating to the cloud, it’s about more than bits and software on a computer. Software stability and employee preparedness must meet at the same intersection. Be prepared for the human aspect of migration. Communicate a positive message through the early adopters and take advantage of flexible training delivery tools such as microlearning or just in time training to ensure a smooth transition.