Thomas Linck considers the challenges that many organizations are now facing after rapidly adopting cloud and other technologies when the COVID-19 crisis hit earlier this year.

When the COVID-19 crisis hit, organizations had to rapidly change to respond to the protective, social distancing measures  

Almost overnight, these changes posed several unforeseen business continuity challenges to business leaders. A core concern being: Can our IT infrastructure support this?

This is especially true for the majority of smaller businesses who have had to set up VPNs to ensure work employees can work from home or deploy new routes on employees’ computers in order to access resources remotely.

Larger, more established, companies faced a different problem. Yes, many of them may have already been able to accommodate remote working, but not on a global scale.

The solution is cloud

These challenges triggered many organizations to take their first steps in the cloud – or accelerate the baby steps they have already taken. For some, this involved rapidly adopting Software-as-a-Service solutions (SaaS) like Zoom for video conferencing or Google Workspace. For others, it meant DaaS solutions (Desktop-as-a-Service ) like Amazon WorkSpaces solutions.

For other more ambitious businesses, it meant migrating applications into public cloud.

With pressure mounting to put employees (sometimes thousands of them!) back to work, quick fixes were needed. Projects that normally would have taken organizations months to plan, procure and rollout, had to be accelerated over a few days. As in any crisis situation, the focus on a lot of these projects was placed on the result and on the deadline rather than on the quality and the method.  

But what happens next? What happens a few months after you put these quick fixes in place? How secure or fit-for-purpose are these solutions in the long run? How have these rapid transformations impacted the people and culture within these organizations?

Here are just a few of the cloud challenges organizations will be facing after COVID-19:

Shadow IT: The hazards of decentralization

Consider this use case: A company needs its employees to access a computer system (whatever it is) to do their work but does not want to open up access to its on-premise resources for security reasons. The cloud appears to be the hero in this scenario, allowing the company to give controlled, and secure access to their cloud infrastructure in a decentralized way.

This was great at first – business was able to continue and the cloud solution can act as a band-aid until everything goes back to normal.

Fast forward to now. Remote working is now normal and many businesses are thinking more about ‘if’ rather than ‘when’ they will return people to the office.

Facing the new reality of a hybrid workforce – accommodating for both remote and in-office workers – the company can’t revert back to a centralized model. Instead, the cloud becomes a part of the company’s long-term strategy, alongside its existing on-premise resources.

Not just a band-aid anymore.

Suddenly you need a plan. A hybrid model can be daunting for organizations that don’t have experience with the strategies and networks involved. You have to align stakeholders, you have to conduct workshops to find solutions, and sometimes to make compromises. You also have to manage the cultural impacts.

The linear organizational and security processes you had in place before will not translate well when you are working in this new paradigm. 

Left alone, this situation will inevitably lead to the emergence of shadow IT. This shadow computing emerges when the needs of users or administrators are not quickly addressed by decision-makers. Users can go-rogue, spinning up resources without the necessary approvals. 

To overcome this challenge, avoid falling back on threat rigidity. Lean into the changes brought about by decentralization by introducinge policies, processes and governance that empowers your teams to work and collaborate securely.

Efficiency at the expense of costs

Let’s take another example: A company decided at the start of the COVID crisis to buy laptops for its employees who normally used an office-based desktop computer.

Then, a few months later, an IT decision-maker likes the look of a workspace virtualization solution, so decides to migrate all the employees on this platform – allowing them to use their own device to securely access what they need for work..

The company has now purchased two solutions to solve the same problem.

While speed was of the essence when the crisis hit, it is important now to re-evaluate any decisions made and revisit any TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) discussions.

After all, this is a mistake that many organizations make when adopting cloud even in normal circumstances.

It is common to see infrastructures that are totally oversized, costing much more than they should.

That’s why, during a deployment or migration to the cloud, it is customary to analyze the performance of machines in the data center to assess the needs in the cloud. Many in this situation underestimate the importance of analyzing the use of these machines and ensuring the right sizing decisions are being made. Even more fail to put a reminder in their calendar three or four months later to review these resources and monitor billing.

Now is the time to review the cost of your tech stack from both a fit-for-purpose and cost-efficiency perspective. Revisit the decisions made during the crisis and identify where you can consolidate and scale solutions in line with how your business currently operates

Technical Debt

Another challenge applicable to both of the examples suggested above, is that of technical debt.

Technical debt refers to the cost of delivering a weaker, insufficient solution quickly, rather than taking more time to deliver a more robust, long-lasting fit for purpose solution.  it is the cost of taking a short-cut and prioritizing speed over precision.

You could argue that tech debt is an inescapable bi-product of any technology transformation – even outside of a crisis – as deadlines and budget constraints inevitably lead to pragmatic, imperfect decisions being made.

Now think of all the decisions that needed to be made when the crisis hit. Think of all the corners that need to be cut to rapidly scale a remote working solution in just a few days. How secure or reliable is that solution going to be over the long-term, hybrid-working model many organizations will be expected to maintain over the next year (at least)?

Rapid crisis response was necessary for business continuity but so too is a detailed audit of your tech stack as the dust settles. After all – if this is the new normal – make sure you are building it on solid foundations.

Revisit your cloud migration strategy

As suggested in the previous point, in times of crisis, a simple solution is easier to deploy and communicate than a complex one.

The simpler the processes, the better they are applied. This was the whole challenge of the barrier gestures linked to this epidemic: it was necessary to define simple gestures, easy to reproduce for anyone including those, like me, who are neither epidemiologists nor microbiologists.

We react in the same way for IT operations, we are looking for simple processes and simple operations so that they can be carried out in good conditions including in high-stress situations.

However, it is very hard to simplify cloud migration. Yes, the pandemic may have highlighted the benefits of cloud, and many organizations may have turned to various cloud-based solutions or kicked off migrations in their time of need. However, the accelerated, crisis-driven nature of many of those forays may, in the long run, do more harm than good.

 After more than five years of technically supervising migrations to the public cloud, whether it be a few machines or several hundred, I can promise that cloud migration is not easy.

Cloud adoption involves a robust strategy and skilled execution – all of which require expertise, training, and preparation.

In a migration, several aspects are addressed: it is first necessary to define account structures, network architecture, user access matrices, maintenance processes in operational conditions and a multitude of other elements without which a cloud deployment will not be optimal. You also need to redefine how your organization will operate. We see too many companies who think that it is not necessary to evolve their operating model with the cloud, it is a serious mistake that risks jeopardizing the performance and availability of their applications. 

Public cloud and other cloud-based solutions have helped many organization survive the pandemic. Now, if these same organizations want to thrive in the new normal, they need a plan. A plan to enable their teams to work in a decentralized way, to monitor and optimize TCO, to manage and eliminate technical debt and switch focus from short-term survival to long-term success.

Are your cloud initiatives facing any of the challenges outlined above? With over ten years of expertise helping some of the world’s largest organizations navigate complex cloud adoption, our expert team is here to help. Find out how we can get your cloud journey back on track here.