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Cloud is the catalyst for your business transformation journey

Not every business knows what to do with the cloud to unlock the business transformation it makes possible, says Ruairi Allen of Deloitte Ireland

Now is a good time to take stock after an intense period of adjustment to the way we work, the way we bring products and services to market, and the way we interact with customers. ‘Disruption’ is a much-used term, but it feels like an apt description for the last 12 months we have all lived through.

As we can hopefully start to look forward, it is clear the disruption won’t stop there. We face a future likely to be characterised by rapid and continuing change. Transformation is now on everyone’s agenda.

To some extent, there was little choice: many of the things we used to do by walking into a shop or office were now only accessible online – from grocery shopping to citizen services. Consumers have discovered they like the choice, convenience, and flexibility of digital channels. Many businesses and public services embraced technology to serve customers or simply to keep operating. In the process, they discovered a newfound ability to deliver quickly, scale fast, and keep improving.

In many cases, the systems and processes implemented in the past year were quick fixes. Any transformation needs to have deep roots if it is to endure and sustain the business into the future.

Yet that simple phrase doesn’t do justice to the complexity of the change, or the challenge involved in getting it right. Real transformation covers organisational processes, people, and technology. Let’s consider the third aspect of this: if we accept that digital is now the default way of working and doing business, what technology will enable organisations to be as flexible as the market now demands, to serve customers the way they want, get citizen services to those who need it, and to be agile enough to respond to disruption of all kinds?

Cloud is that technology

Cloud enables businesses to adopt new agile ways of working and deliver solutions more quickly. Cloud is flexible and cost-effective, with a pay-as-you-use model that means businesses no longer need to make capital investment in equipment that needs to last for five years or even decades. It can scale up or down as business needs or seasonal demands require.

With no data centres or servers to maintain and run, leaders can focus efforts on the business and reduce the need to ‘mind’ the technology. Cloud also makes it easier to access the latest technology such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, RPA or those not yet known.

To be clear, this is not an argument about investing in technology for its own sake. Cloud is not the destination but a catalyst and method for change. It’s about solving business problems, delivering transformation, and optimising the way businesses operate and engage with their suppliers and customers.

So why is cloud top of mind for executives and the c-suite? Some of this, as we have covered earlier, is driven by market demand for innovation and high-quality services. Another driver is the state of legacy systems many businesses use today. Built up over years or even decades, they have served well but are not flexible or scalable enough to meet their future needs.

There is also a cost to not investing in modernising your core technologies, which is technical debt: older systems are expensive to support, skills hard to get as the technology market moves on and most importantly they can hold back the execution of business strategy – cloud offers unique benefits in tackling this challenge.

The beauty of the cloud is how it allows you to start small, learn, iterate and scale

It might help to think of legacy technology as a giant supertanker: effective but cumbersome and, as recent events in the news have shown, incredibly hard to turn around. The cloud provides an almost unlimited array of tools at the user’s disposal. It’s more akin to a flotilla of smaller speedboats that turn the organisation into a series of smaller enterprises instead of treating it as one homogenous entity, so it gains the agility to navigate through tight spots or react quickly to rough tides.

Another crucial edge with cloud is how it opens up a world of possibilities with data. Under a traditional IT model, it can be impractical and expensive to scale advanced analytics to meet every evolving business, customer and regulatory demand for insight. The flexible storage options and best of breed analytics capabilities make this easier and more advantageous in the cloud.

This way, businesses can gain better insights into operational performance, to identify areas for improvement in the backoffice, finance teams, operations, or supply chain. Sales-driven organisations can analyse data to get a full perspective of customer behaviour and serve them more effectively or identify cross-sell opportunities. At a more advanced stage, businesses or public services can think about using automation or machine learning tools to handle routine customer requests or execute repetitive business tasks like moving data from one file to another. Using technology this way frees up an organisation’s most valuable assets: its people.

The range of possibilities is vast but implementing cloud doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach. Too often, we’ve seen organisations plan large business transformation programmes but the sheer scale of the undertaking leads to paralysis by analysis, and the project never takes flight. The beauty of the cloud is how it allows you to start small, learn, iterate and scale. Here are three actions to get started in a more manageable way.

1. Identify the right business issue

When building the roadmap to the cloud, a useful place to start is by asking where the biggest burning need exists in your business. Invariably, since technology touches every part of the business, it follows that the solution to business problems will have a strong technology element. Find the business problem that will let you cut through all the decisions you have to make in your cloud adoption journey. Start small, pick a priority area, develop a proof of concept, and be willing to fail and pivot.

2. Prioritise quick wins and measure business value

You might start with moving a timesheet system to the cloud; it’s a useful and important application but not necessarily critical to the business. Alternatively, there could be some legacy technology in the business such as a contact centre system that’s coming to the end of its working life and no longer provides the flexibility you need. Upgrading it to a cloud-based system could provide new opportunities to transform customer experience.

Learn the lessons from the smaller projects before you take on higher-risk items. This way, you can build a business case and bring stakeholders on the journey, creating a cloud culture. Over time, as the organisation’s people become familiar with cloud, it paves the way for adopting it more broadly in the business. The technology alone is not enough: there needs to be a change in in how you do business, adopting new culture, agile ways of working and learning new skills along with transforming business processes to enable transformation.

3. Build capability in the business in parallel to IT

As you start out on your cloud adoption journey, you need to identify the skills in your team if you already have them or get them in if you don’t. That can be either by recruiting or by working with a partner that can supplement its resources with yours. Keep in mind the skills for successful cloud projects go beyond technology alone. Your cloud team should also cover governance and operating models, so you’re putting the right structures in place that can evolve as your cloud adoption matures.

Cloud still is IT, and IT can be hard: it needs to be managed, invested in, and watched 24/7. But now there are a lot of options and choices in how you adopt cloud. The providers are maturing all the time, and their suite of tools keeps growing. There is ample help to guide you on your journey, and there is no better time to start.

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