A quickly growing cloud presence demands careful thought and planning. Here's what you need to do to set your organization on the right course.

Now that cloud computing is an integral part of virtually all IT infrastructures, every enterprise needs to prepare a comprehensive and flexible cloud strategy.

Dave Bartoletti, a vice president and principal analyst at IT investigation firm Forrester, recently noted that cloud computing has become an essential linchpin in enterprise business technology. "Customers demand more cloud-enabled experiences." Business managers want the latest cloud applications, developers want new cloud-native tools to deliver software faster, and tech managers need cloud infrastructure platforms to run it all, he explained. "You'll only realize these benefits with a pragmatic cloud computing roadmap." Forrester presented its strategy for developing a cloud roadmap in its recently-released 2020 Cloud Computing Playbook.

While leveraging public cloud resources provides great value, transitioning to the cloud is not as straightforward or intuitive as many IT leaders expect. For many IT organizations conventional to operating on premises data centers, cloud adoption can also mark a major paradigm shift, noted Scott Sinclair, a senior analyst at IT research firm ESG. "The need to leverage both on and off premises resources is a top driver of IT complexity," he said. "A cloud roadmap reduces the risk, cost, and complexity of integrating cloud resources as operations become more efficient and more predictable."

A well-crafted roadmap will guide every step, observed Josh Ma, CTO at life science industry cloud platform provider Benchling. "Successful cloud integration requires careful alignment, planning and coordination across the organization," he added.

Developing the roadmap

When creating a roadmap, the intention shouldn't be developing the optimal cloud strategy, but discovering how cloud technologies will best match the enterprise's business strategy. "The resulting cloud roadmap will be unique to your business and ever evolving," Bartoletti explained. Generic advice or reference architectures won't suffice. "Steer your technology executives away from 'shiny objects' and toward a more pragmatic approach informed by your circumstances and existing investments," he advised. "This means quickly navigating all key inputs in play with an agile process that can evolve along with shifting market dynamics."

Archana Vemulapalli, General Manager, IS Offering Strategy, Management and Development, IBM Services, advised that the best way to begin building a cloud roadmap is to baseline the current state of people, processes, and technology. "Cloud adoption will change how an organization operates," she said. Next, prioritize the applications that will be headed into the cloud, and consider using a single management platform to manage and orchestrate the entire environment. "The security landscape is perpetually changing," she noted. "How we protect applications, data, and infrastructure while allowing for the ability to move workloads and manage across multiple cloud and on-prem infrastructures need to be planned proactively."

Bernd Greifeneder, CTO and founder of software intelligence firm Dynatrace, recommends looking toward tomorrow's cloud environment. "You need to pick a dedicated team that can think out-of-the-box and wants to pursue new paths, such as NoOps and Autonomous Cloud," he suggested. "Cloud technology has reached the point where teams will need to start implementing NoOps, where decisions will be driven by AI and automation, so it's necessary to have team members who are willing to lead the way in establishing that culture throughout the organization."

Building support

A cloud roadmap should never be built in a vacuum or developed only by IT staff and management. "While IT must play a central role, developers, line of business consumers, and security/compliance officers all must have a seat at the table," Sinclair said. Parties that are left out of the roadmap development process are more likely to bypass IT, adding risk and cost to cloud projects.

As the work progresses, invite key decision makers to meet regularly -- weekly or every other week -- to evaluate the roadmap's progress, add new details, and make necessary adjustments. As goals are addressed and decisions are reached, the roadmap's high-level aspects shouldn't change very often. "Have monthly check-ins at first and then shift to a less frequent schedule as the process matures," Sinclair said. Too often, organizations attempt to build their cloud roadmap quickly, when development should be a multilayered, complex process requiring a significant length of time. "The best approach is to focus on building momentum, identifying the most critical projects you want to tackle first, and then preparing to iterate as many times as necessary, understanding that a fully built-out cloud roadmap will serve you in the long run," Ma explained.

Leveraging the cloud's full value, and the innovation it inherently offers, can only be fully achieved when an organization’s cloud strategy ties-in directly to business transformation. "Knowing the challenges an organization faces and aligning your cloud strategy and roadmap to solve business problems is key," Vemulapalli said. "A cloud roadmap is essential it operationalizes the business transformation vision and enables a successful transition.