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Facing the complexities of cloud migration

10/05/18

Industry voice: Anna Assassa, chief executive officer of Tisski, highlights issues to emerge from a UKA Live discussion on moving from a legacy infrastructure

Cloud computing has moved into the mainstream of the public sector’s digital plans. There is a growing consensus that it provides a credible way forward for many organisations, with benefits that will help them develop more streamlined, cost-effective ways of working.

But the transition from legacy systems is no easy matter, and any migration involves some difficult issues. Any organisation should realise it will be a lengthy, complex process.

This formed the basis of a recent UKA Live discussion involving myself, Tom Zebedee, deputy director of technology at education regulator Ofsted, and Darren Bassett, former deputy director of IT delivery at the Department for Education (DfE) and now head of business transformation at Tisski. It produced some significant insights into the migration process and how public authorities could manage it successfully.

The benefits of cloud are now widely recognised. For many organisations it can be cost-effective in the long term, as they pay only for the services they use and save on periodic investments in new systems as services are automatically upgraded as part of a cloud deal. This can also ensure that the quality of applications is continually improved and provide high standards of security and resilience.

It can also support the increase in mobile and flexible working, and increase the scope for collaboration as it gives stakeholders access to secure systems from any location. Overall, it breaks through many of the limitations of an IT estate tied to a dedicated data centre.

Lingering resistance

But many organisations have made big investments in their legacy systems, and in some quarters there is a lingering resistance to the cloud. Fears about security, the attractions of a sense of ownership and anxieties about the upheaval persist. Digital leaders who see the need for a move to the cloud need to overcome these.

One of the strategies for this, which Bassett said had been crucial in the DfE’s cloud migration, is to get senior leaders onboard as early as possible. There is a lot to be gained in convincing chief executives of the benefits, anticipating the objections and taking steps to overcome these as early as possible. Explaining the working benefits of a shift to a cloud system such as Office 365, or taking them to a prospective hosting centre to demonstrate the levels of security, can be important steps in winning support.

The effort should extend well beyond the top people. It is important to think about every area of operations that could be affected by the transition, where it will affect risk and working practices, and speak to the people with the relevant responsibilities. Working with them to foresee possible problems and work out solutions in advance will do a lot to reduce internal resistance and provide a successful migration.

This can take a more formal turn with an impact assessment as part of a migration project. A measured approach to looking at every process that will be affected, how it will affect the flows of data and demands on staff, and identifying any risks or tensions it creates can do a lot to prevent problems and break down internal resistance. It shows the doubters that their concerns are being taken seriously.

Dataset location

Another crucial step is to deal with the complexity of the legacy infrastructure, identify the present location of all the datasets to be moved into the cloud, look at how they are formatted and who has access rights. They are likely to be dispersed among a range of legacy systems, and while there could be good historical reasons in some instances, in others it will be due to ad hoc investments made when it was more difficult to join up systems. It will be a challenge to identify which is which, and to manage the migration of data to new cloud services.

In addition, some datasets might already be in the cloud, and there could be contractual issues that affect the cost of migrating them to another platform. It is all a complex business that requires time, careful thought and a degree of tact in dealing with the data ‘owners’.

It could, however, provide a significant benefit in giving the organisation a more detailed understanding of its data. This is particularly important with the approach of the General Data Protection Regulation – due to come into force in May – which creates new obligations in the management of personal data, including the need to make it available on request to the subject and erase it if requested. It will impose stiff demands and having a clear view of what data lies where will be a big step towards compliance.

Hybrid question

There is also a question about how far the migration should go. There are adherents of the hybrid cloud, in which some systems and data remain in an in-house data centre while some rest in private cloud services and others in a public cloud. This can strengthen the sense of control and allay worries about sensitive data.

But others see it as failing to obtain the full benefits and possibly adding a fresh layer of complexity. Deciding on the best course is a business decision that will come down to the specific priorities of an organisation and the nature of the data it holds.

Along with that is a big potential benefit, in which staff are upskilled not just to manage the data, but to configure systems to specific processes. A significant element of Tisski’s service is the transfer of skills to a public authority, helping to build its in-house capability and make it more self-reliant in the long term. A cloud migration provides a good opportunity to take this approach.

All this indicates that moving to cloud is a complex business, but that it can produce benefits well beyond the financial savings through which it is usually justified. It should be at the forefront of any public authority’s thinking.

For information on Tisski's out of the box GDPR Compliance solution visit: https://tisski.com/compliance-gdpr-solution/

Meanwhile, catch up on the full debate with UKA Live on-demand below: 

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