Don’t Bring Your Junk Drawer to the Cloud

February 10, 2012 Nick Hamm

By Nick Hamm (@hammnick) and Balakrishna Narasimhan (@bnara75)

A question we often hear from enterprises that are considering cloud applications or platforms like Salesforce, Google Apps, or Workday is, “Have you ever migrated from System X?” This is a natural question, and we understand why people ask it.

But if you think about migrating away from a legacy application like moving out of an old house, this would be like only asking your moving company, “Have you ever moved anyone out of a brownstone with a basement?” You may have asked about logistics but you probably spent a lot more time checking references, doing background checks, and ensuring that the company was adequately experienced in moving and had maintained a good reputation.

It is all too common to look at migration from a legacy application to the cloud as pure technical gymnastics. We’ve helped hundreds of enterprises migrate from every legacy platform imaginable including Siebel, SAP, Oracle, Outlook, Lotus Notes and even Rolodexes! What we’ve learned is that migrating to a cloud application is about a lot more than migrating your application logic “as is” from your servers to someone else’s. Cloud applications and platforms are much more flexible and easier to work with than traditional applications and bring enterprises new possibilities that were simply unavailable with traditional systems. With traditional applications, you had to spend so much time thinking about the infrastructure and the data that the things most important to user adoption (ease of use, user experience) were an afterthought.

With cloud applications and platforms, since a lot of the headaches of the past are gone, you can focus on thinking about your application from the perspective of those who are actually going to use it. Adoption, usage and business impact are what ultimately determine the success of your application. As you migrate to the cloud, you have the opportunity to focus on the things that improve your business rather than replicating every feature and data field from a legacy application that is going by the wayside. But how?

1. Define the Goals of Your Migration
It’s critical to start by defining the goals you want to achieve with your new application. Again, there may be a tendency to think of goals in very limited terms, e.g., IT operating expense, capital savings or hitting a specific deadline. But what we mean here is defining the business goals of your migration. What does your company hope to achieve by implementing a new application? What business goals and metrics do you want to impact? Often, enterprises embark on IT projects with a pure focus on technical and financial goals without defining business impact goals. This is a missed opportunity. A cloud migration is an ideal opportunity to engage with business stakeholders and determine how your project could address broader business priorities.

2. Understand the Business Process and Users Impacted by Your Application
Implementing a new app or platform is the perfect opportunity to revisit your business processes and enhance those that are working well and rethink or eliminate those that are not. Interview project sponsors, management, and end-users to gather many perspectives on what each group values as its priorities. Unlike a traditional process re-engineering effort, the idea is to quickly gather input on priorities and what’s working/not working, followed by prototyping the new process. The rapid prototyping capabilities available by adopting cloud platforms is one of the hidden benefits that you won’t find on any data sheet.  Take full advantage of this capability and it will lead to a pragmatic and actionable blueprint of the new process and how it could work in your new application.

3. Iteratively Build Your New Business Process in the Cloud
Once the business process blueprint has been defined, the team should turn their focus on how they can make those processes as automated and easy to follow as possible. After all, a great business process on paper is useless if it is complicated for the user to follow. In this part of the project it is important to prototype, iterate, user test, and repeat.  No matter how smart you are, your end users will always be smarter when it comes to how they want to work, and it will be invaluable to get their buy-in before expecting widespread adoption. Bottoms-up adoption can be more valuable than top-down (mandated) adoption, and this also promotes an open channel for ongoing feedback which will be critical for your application’s roadmap and continued relevance.

4. Transform and Migrate Your Legacy Data
So you noticed that we haven’t talked about your legacy application in a while. Well, that’s the point.  We don’t want that legacy baggage cluttering up your shiny new application. But we do need the data, so this is where we have to go back, extract the data, and start mapping and transforming it to your new model.  We didn’t let the old model dictate the new model, and that is critical. This move is your opportunity to clean out and reorganize all of those junk drawers and boxes in the back of the closet.  It’s easier to think, “I’ll just throw all of this stuff in a box and reorganize everything once it’s at the new house”, but most of us know how that story ends – with the same boxes of clutter in the back of a different closet at the new house. It’s more work, and sometimes more complex, to transform a legacy data model and data into a completely new system, but you’ll feel better about not having any old skeletons in your new closets, we promise.

Conclusion: Build for the future, not the past
The overarching message here is that no matter which legacy application you want to retire on your road to the cloud, the process you follow should be the same. Our experience over hundreds of implementations of cloud applications like SalesforceGoogle Apps, or Workday has shown that today’s migrations don’t carry the same technical concerns that you had to worry about with old on-premise apps, allowing you to focus on the user and process instead of the technology. So don’t let your old technology weigh you down – build for where you want to go tomorrow, not for where you were yesterday.

Nick Hamm is a Sr. Solutions Architect at Appirio and Salesforce MVP.  He has helped over 200 companies across a wide variety of industries transform the way they do business by implementing cloud solutions., @hammnick

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