South African companies are continuing a steady migration to cloud services in the wake of more reliable bandwidth, a maturing market driven by large multinational cloud services providers and a better understanding of the value proposition of cloud services.

But, says Dr Mariana Carroll, head of the Cloud Computing Centre of Excellence at Deloitte, there are some hard questions that need to be answered before companies can successfully migrate essential IT services to a cloud environment.

“Many companies already feel that they’re good at IT outsourcing and vendor management. Often these companies run in virtualised environments, which set them up well for cloud services adoption. However, executives need to consider a number of business and technology issues before I’d advise a company to go the cloud route.”

According to Carroll, determining whether an enterprise is ready for cloud services adoption comes down to how they answer these three questions:

* Is it relevant to my business? “Companies need to look at whether there is business value in adopting cloud services. Often the answer depends on who is driving the process – business or IT? It’s important to understand the true value proposition of cloud,” explains Carroll.

* What are the barriers and risks and how do we overcome them? “Many enterprises fail to understand the unique risks associated with cloud services and how these risks differ from traditional systems. This lack of understanding often leads to executives ignoring the risks – with potentially disastrous results.”

* Do I have a roadmap? “Cloud adoption is a journey,” explains Carroll. “There has to be a clear strategy around integration, aggregation and orchestration, else it’s nearly impossible to tie the process back to your business objectives.”

Stephan Pienaar, COO of software development company Framework One, says there are two additional questions he asks.

“Considering the skills shortage in Cape Town and rest of South Africa, we always ask clients whether they have sufficient in-house technical skills to manage the cloud integration and management process. You need slightly different skills to manage your cloud environment and it’s important you have internal capacity to do this efficiently.”

According to Pienaar, there’s also a cultural fit that needs to be considered.

“Many of our clients are eager to adopt modern technologies and see cloud as a natural fit. However, there are still old-school IT professionals that prefer the hands-on aspect of having physical on-site IT infrastructure, and for them the cloud will never be an option. Understanding a company’s culture enables you to make a more informed decision on whether cloud adoption is the correct route for them, and helps avoid costly mistakes.”

Carroll says the key drivers for cloud services adoption include cost reduction, access to scalable infrastructure, the freedom to focus on core capabilities, and the ability to quickly and efficiently bring new products and services to market.

“You also need to consider governance, risk and compliance factors – just because your data is with an external provider doesn’t mean you’re absolved from your governance obligations. You also need to clearly define responsibility for data management and control, and ensure your infrastructure security is exceptional. Here, vendor management plays a critical role.”

Carroll says vendors are typically very good at understanding the technology and how it integrates with existing systems.

“Vendors are not, however, very good at understanding how the cloud service fits into a longer-term business strategy. Companies need to manage the strategy and ensure there is a bigger picture underlying the process.

“Here, management plays a bigger role than IT – there’s a real need to take into account all the trends and factors that are likely to influence the business in the long term, and to then work with IT to ensure business and technology objectives are aligned.”