By Chris Fielding

More and more companies are realizing that improving their infrastructure – and staying in lockstep with the competition – means moving environments to the public or private cloud.

But recognizing the importance of this structural change and actually doing it successfully are two completely different things.

Infrastructure transformation programs reach beyond just your IT infrastructure. They are business transformation programs as well.

As a CIO, I've witnessed firsthand the impact infrastructure transformation can have on an organization. If you're starting this journey, here are all the questions, considerations and challenges you should prepare for.

Infrastructure Transformation Supporting Domain Toolkits and Foundational Toolkits

Two areas greatly influenced by your organization's overall infrastructure are foundational toolkits and domain toolkits.

Foundational toolkits are the critical tools we all need to be productive in the 21st century, from email and phone to collaboration solutions. Domain toolkits are used for specific lines of business, like a customer relationship management (CRM) toolkit or accounting and procurement systems.

Infrastructure transformation for the IT supporting domain toolkits is only slightly different from that for foundational toolkits.

The three possible approaches to changing the IT supporting your domain toolkits include:

  • Re-platforming: Lift and shift the entire infrastructure into the cloud. This will require you to maintain a deep knowledge of managing your applications at the infrastructure level. Managing your non-cloud applications in a new cloud environment is a complex change and will require new skills.
  • Cloud innovation: Re-develop all or parts of a non-cloud applications to take advantage of cloud tool concepts. Here, you are handing over control of the base infrastructure layer to the cloud provider while you focus on managing the new tools. Or you can choose to move to a platform-as-a-service and use the cloud provider's toolkit. Either way, you're handing over varying degrees of control to a third party.
  • Moving to a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution: This is a radical change from both an IT and business perspective, requiring you to move off your existing systems to SaaS. You are giving up all IT control of your infrastructure to the vendor, and your IT team must manage that relationship.

For foundational toolkits, the approaches are similar in some ways, and more radical in others. They include:

  • Re-platforming: Move infrastructure to the cloud environment (see above).
  • A collaboration platform: This offers the greatest risk – and affects the largest number of users – as it involves taking a SaaS approach and majorly changing your organization's IT.

Any move you make requires you to understand your network architecture, the potential changes and the cost implications.

Getting Company Buy-in – Especially from IT – Is Imperative

For any type of high-risk change, your executive team must buy in to the plan and understand the risk. However, make no mistake, you need participation from the entire company – especially the IT team – to make this work.

Educate your users about why you're making these changes and be prepared to answer the IT team's questions. What's in it for them? Why should they change from something that they know and is comfortable to a riskier path of the unknown? They know how complex this change is going to be. You need to show them why it's worth it.

Facing the Challenge Head On

Can your IT organization cope with the change this transformation will bring? Will your waterfall methodology deliver in this new world? Can your IT team complete their day-to-day work and achieve this change?

You can't shy away from questions like these.

Consider the toolkits you are recommending to your business, and determine who in your organization possesses the skills to handle the change. If no one does, what would it take for someone to cross train in the new skills?

IT transformation is a negotiation about cost, speed and willingness to change. Work out what you'll need for employee buy-in, as well as the cost of this transformation, and how much change the business community can deal with at any one time.

The Journey Often Requires Flexibility

IT transformation is a journey with many stages. The longer the journey takes, the more likely you'll have to shift your strategy. Don't be single-minded, as there is always the possibility of a significant change in the business strategy or technology -- or both -- during the transformation timeline.

How much time the journey takes is heavily dependent on your business strategy as well as your IT budget and the amount of simultaneous change your business can manage.

Your plans must be flexible. Make sure you can adapt to any shifts in your environment – whether it be business-related, technology-related, or attitude-related – in order to minimize organizational risk.

Remember, infrastructure transformation programs go beyond your IT infrastructure. They are also business transformations. These high-risk changes are going to impact your organization in a multitude of ways. It's going to be challenging.

But if you get everyone on the same page – answer any questions, show how they're going to be affected and outline the eventual benefits – you can be sure you'll be heading in the right direction.

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