The year 2020 will go down in history books for many reasons. One of those is that the business world is more distributed than ever -- customers, partners, and employees work from their own locations (and rarely their offices) today. What does that mean for businesses? The consumer touchpoints are different today, wherein supply chains and delivery networks have changed. This is where organizations have to find new ways to deliver value and new experiences to customers.
In response to the pandemic, business organizations had to fundamentally change the way they operate. They had to transform processes, models, and supply chains for service delivery. To sustain business and remain competitive in a post-COVID world, they had to challenge the status quo and make a lot of changes. In an increasingly connected world where the customer touchpoints were moving to digital platforms like mobile phones and apps - the path to this transformation is digital.
Digital is no longer an option.
When the global pandemic gripped the world in March this year, organizations with three to five-year digital transformation plans were forced to execute plans in a few months or days. Either that or they would go out of business.
A new IBM study of global C-Suite executives revealed that nearly six in 10 organizations had accelerated their digital transformation journey due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, 66 percent of executives said they had completed initiatives that previously encountered resistance. In India, 55 percent of Indian executives plan to prioritize digital transformation efforts over the next two years.
This calls for new skills, strategies, and priorities. And
the cloud and associated digital technologies will strongly influence business decisions in the post-COVID era. Organizations need to have a full-fledged cloud strategy and draw up a roadmap for cloud migration.
To achieve this, the leading-edge companies are aligning their business transformation efforts with the adoption of public and hybrid cloud platforms. For many sectors, remaining productive during lockdown depended on their cloud-readiness. Operating without relying too heavily on on-premises technology was key and will remain vital in the more digitally minded organization of the future. In a way, we can say that with the right approach, strategy, vision, and platform, a modern cloud can ignite end-to-end digital transformation in ways that could only be imagined in the pre-Covid era.
To deliver new and innovative services and customer experiences, businesses - be it large corporates, MSMEs, or start-ups - all are embracing disruptive technologies like cloud, IoT, artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, big data analytics, etc., to drive innovative and profitable business models.
For instance, introducing voice interfaces and chatbots for customer helpdesk is a compute-intensive task that requires big data analytics and artificial intelligence in the cloud. This enables customers to just speak to a search bot if they need help in ordering products on an e-commerce website. They can also order the product just by speaking to voice bots like Siri or Alexa, for instance. The same is applicable to banking services. Voice-based interfaces are enabling conversational banking, which also requires processing in the cloud. These services simplify and improve the customer experience and provide customer delight. But to introduce such an innovative service requires an overhaul and transformation of traditional business processes – that’s digital transformation.
Solving infrastructure & cost challenges
Cloud computing has been around for ages, but CIOs still grapple with cloud challenges such as lack of central control, rising/unpredicted cost, the complexity of infrastructure, security & compliance, and scaling. However, over the years, public cloud technology has evolved to address these challenges.
Central Control: Public cloud offers dashboards through which one can monitor and control cloud compute resources centrally irrespective of where it is hosted (multi-cloud).
Managing Complexity: IT infrastructure is getting increasingly complex, and CIOs have to deal with multiple vendors for cloud resources. Infrastructure is spread out over multiple clouds, usually from different vendors. And various best of breed solutions are selected and integrated into the infrastructure. As a result, the management of all these clouds and technologies poses a huge challenge. CIOs want to simplify the management of infrastructure through a single-window or single pane of glass. Cloud orchestration, APIs, dashboards, and other tools are available to do this.
Reducing Costs: Demands on IT resources are increasing, but budgets remain the same, and lack of billing transparency adds to it. Public cloud addresses both issues as it offers tremendous cost savings as you do not make upfront capital investments in infrastructure. There’s also a TCO benefit since you do not make additional investments to upgrade on-premise infrastructure – that’s because you rent the infrastructure and pay only for what you consume. The cloud service provider makes additional investments to grow the infrastructure. There are cost savings on energy, cooling, and real-estate as well.
And since the usage of resources is metered, one can view the exact consumption and billing on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis. Usage information is provided through dashboards and real-time reports to ensure billing transparency.
Compliance & Regulation: Regulatory and compliance demands for data retention and protection may be taxing for your business.
Automated Scaling: Public cloud offers the ability to scale up or down to provide the exact capacity that your business needs to avoid overprovisioning or underutilization of deployed resources. Cloud service providers ensure that the resources are available on-demand throughout the year, even when business peaks during festive seasons. And this scaling can happen automatically.
Global Reach: Apart from scale and cost savings, the cloud offers global reach so that your customers can access your services from anywhere in the world. Furthermore, the cloud’s ability to explore the value of vast unstructured data sets is next to none, which in turn is essential for IoT and AI. Big Data can be processed using special analytics technologies in the cloud.
Agility: The cloud also makes your business agile because it allows you to quickly enhance services and applications – or a shorter time-to-market for launching new products and services.
Then there’s the benefit of control and management. A
‘self-service cloud portal’ offers complete management of your compute instances and cloud resources such as network, storage, and security. The self-service nature offers agility, enabling organizations to quickly provision additional resources and introduce enhancements or new services.
With all these advantages, businesses clearly recognize the need for transformation and are gradually leaving legacy technologies behind in favor of next-generation technologies as they pursue competitive advantage. Public cloud is critical to this shift, thanks not only to the flexibility of the delivery model but also to the ease with which servers can be provisioned, reducing financial as well as business risks.
It will not be possible for most companies to transform their businesses digitally unless they move some of their IT applications and infrastructure into public or hybrid clouds.
Key considerations for cloud migration
Regulation and compliance are other vital considerations. What kind of compliance standards has your service provider adopted? There are industry-specific standards like HIPAA for data security and privacy. Besides, there are standards like PCI-DSS applicable across industries -- and regionally specific standards like GDPR. Ask about compliance with all those standards.
Keep in mind that the onus of protecting data on the public cloud lies with both – the tenant and the cloud service provider. Hence, it would be a good idea to hire an external consultant's services to ensure compliance and adherence to all the standards. This should be backed by annual audits and penetration testing to test the robustness and security of the infrastructure.
You also want to ensure resilience and business continuity. What kind of services and redundancy are available to ensure that?
Ask your cloud service provider for guarantees on uptime, availability, and response time. The other aspects to check are the level of redundancy, restoration from failure, and frequency of backup. All this should be backed by service level agreements (SLAs) with penalty clauses for lapses in service delivery.
WAN optimization, load balancing, and robust network design, with N+N redundancy for resources and hyper-scale data centers, ensure high availability. But this should be backed by industry-standard certifications such as ISO 20000, ISO 9001, ISO 27001, PCI/DSS, Uptime Institute Tier Standard, ANI/BICSI, TIA, OIX-2, and other certifications. These certifications assure credibility, availability, and uptime.
Do you remember what happened when the city of Mumbai lost power on October 12 this year? Most data centers continued operations as they had backup power resources. And that’s why their customers’ businesses were not impacted by the power failure.
A key concern is a transparency in accounting and billing. Ask about on-demand consumption billing with no hidden charges. How are charges for bandwidth consumption accounted for? Some service providers do not charge extra for inbound or outbound data transfer, and this can result in tremendous cost savings. Do they offer hourly or monthly billing plans?
Public cloud for business leadership
Enterprises that still haven’t implemented cloud technologies will be impeded in their digital transformation journeys because of issues with legacy systems, slower change adaptability, longer speed to market, and an inability to adapt to fast-changing customer expectations.
Companies are recognizing the public cloud’s capabilities to generate new business models and promote sustainable competitive advantage. They also acknowledge the need for implementing agile systems and believe that cloud technology is critical to digital transformation.
However, the cloud does present specific challenges, and one needs to do due diligence and ask the right questions. Businesses need to decide which processes and applications need to be digitalized. Accordingly, the IT team needs to select the right cloud service provider and model.
The careful selection of a cloud service provider is also crucial. Look at the service provider's financial strength. Where is your business data being hosted? What kind of guarantees can they give in terms of uptime? What about compliance and security? These are vital questions to ask.
Switching from one cloud service provider to another is possible but not a wise choice due to many technical and business complexity., so look for long-term relationships. An experienced and knowledgeable service provider can ensure a smooth journey to cloud – and successful digital transformation.
—Nitin Jadhav is the Head of Solution Engineering at Yotta. Views are personal.