Businesses of all sizes and industries are moving away from on-premises infrastructure for the advantages of the cloud. Especially in the wake of COVID-19, businesses rely on cloud services to accelerate their digital transformation and keep up with market demands.
With the rapid pace of change, it’s essential for organizations to have a formalized Cloud Center of Excellence and a holistic cloud management strategy. From my experience as the Director of Delivery for Enterprise Services and Cybersecurity at the Financial Times, I’ll share our business’ journey to the cloud, how we developed a Cloud Center of Excellence, and best practices for your organization to accelerate digital transformation.
The Financial Times’ journey to the cloud
Like many companies, the Financial Times didn’t start out in the cloud. But as the business scaled and the number of subscribers grew, we had to decide—do we invest and upgrade our data centers, or get out altogether? Considering our data center’s persistent fixed costs, connectivity issues, firewalls, limited and inflexible data storage, as well as the round-the-clock support needed from our employees, we decided to move forward with a cloud-first approach.
In 2013, the Financial Times purchased its first AWS instance. Then two years later we invested in CloudHealth to help manage our multicloud environment and growing cloud footprint (15-20% each year).
Even before COVID-19, the Financial Times was investing heavily in cloud with the goal, “work from anywhere,” as part of our company-wide strategy to embrace agile ways of working. The pandemic has accelerated our efforts, as 75% of our digital estate is now in the cloud, with the goal to be at 100% by the end of 2020.
A cloud-first strategy empowers the Financial Times to bring products and services to market fast. Rather than spending time maintaining data centers, our teams can focus on delivering great products and experiences for our customers.
Rather than spending time maintaining data centers, our teams can focus on delivering great products and experiences for our customers.Director of Delivery, Enterprise Services and Cybersecurity
Managing legacy systems
However, any company that’s been in business as long as the Financial Times, likely has a legacy problem. We learned early on that the inertia of legacy technology and infrastructure can slow down your digital transformation goals. At one point, we had over 750 systems running at once—that’s two per tech employee!
To make a way for our new cloud strategy, we built a registry to track all our systems and to tag cloud resources. The registry data integrates with our CloudHealth platform to power dashboards broken down by service, group, team, or product. So now we can see if and when legacy systems are being used, for what purpose, and by which teams, and then make informed decisions about growing, sustaining, or retiring those resources.
Establishing a Cloud Center of Excellence
The driving force behind our digital transformation strategy is our Cloud Center of Excellence. The Financial Times started with a team responsible for cloud engineering and cost visibility, called “Cloud Enablement.” This team helped create repeatable and streamlined processes, such as setting up accounts for business units new to operating in the cloud.
However, we didn’t want just one team “controlling” the cloud, because other parts of the business can start to think that the cloud—its security, costs, efficiency—is only that team’s concern. In reality, the success of an organization’s digital transformation in the cloud relies on all parts of the business. So now, we’ve formalized a more robust Cloud Center of Excellence (CCoE) program involving finance, governance, engineering, and operations.
The CCoE meets regularly to align on optimization efforts, keep teams accountable, and track progress. For the Financial Times, our ultimate metric is customer value. We want to know how our cloud spend and usage is tied to the revenue our subscribers are generating, and how we’re keeping them engaged.
The business understands that our subscribers don’t come in for free and that you have to spend money to acquire and sustain revenue. But the CCoE needs to be able to show how its efforts and spend ties to business value. To better measure the relationship between lifetime-value (LTV) and costs-to-serve, we’re developing a Cloud Operating Model. Owned by the CCoE, the Cloud Operating Model will be a roadmap of the processes and outcomes required to provide value through our cloud services.
Best practices and pitfalls to avoid
From the Financial Times’ experience migrating to the cloud, forming a CCoE, and building a Cloud Operating Model, here are some of our best practices to help accelerate your organization’s digital transformation:
- Buy, don’t build. Before you know it, a new service is released that sinks the cost of what you built
- Formalize a Cloud Center of Excellence that includes key cloud stakeholders from across the business
- For visibility into your entire infrastructure, partner with a cloud management provider like CloudHealth
- Define metrics and cloud KPIs that align with business value
- Take time to analyze your legacy systems and make decisions on whether to grow, sustain, or retire those systems
- Digital transformation is a cultural challenge as much as it is a technical challenge—overcome potential resistance early on, communicate early and often, and invest in your employees’ training and development
- Get easy wins on the board first (the Financial Times saw 50-75% savings just by switching off non-production instances when they weren’t needed)
- Share wins! Communicating success helps motivate teams to continue following best practices and reinforces value to the business
Because not all businesses are the same, what’s worked for the Financial Times may not necessarily be the best for everyone. With that said, I encourage you to take CloudHealth’s Cloud Management Maturity Assessment to see where your business stands. You’ll receive personalized next steps and strategies for your organization to move along the cloud maturity curve.