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Consulting for Cloud Services: The Why and How

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Consultant
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Moving IT services to the cloud is often disruptive. On the positive side, properly-managed cloud initiatives can significantly improve your organization’s capability, flexibility, and efficiency. On the negative side, poorly-managed cloud initiatives can put your organization’s operations, reputation, and bottom line at risk. Since cloud vendors and their services are often new and ever-changing, achieving proper project management may require expertise that an organization doesn’t have.
 
In this article, we’ll briefly review the “why” and “how” of using an expert consultant to achieve project success.
 
Why Use a Consultant for Cloud Services?
As an organization considers an impactful cloud or Anything-as-a-Service (XaaS) initiative, it must first review the project life cycle, and then assess whether its own capabilities and expertise will meet the project needs. One rule of thumb: unless an organization has recently done a similar cloud initiative, successfully from start to finish, it may not have developed the necessary internal expertise. To assist with this assessment, and by way of comparison with traditional, premises-based IT projects, the risks and costs of a cloud initiative involve:
  • Reduced Risks and Costs: Moving IT workload to the cloud lessens the direct risks and costs associated with running on-premises and co-location data centers. The initial financial risk becomes reduced, since cloud initiatives typically replace capital expenditures (CAPEX) with operating expenditures (OPEX).
  • Similar Risks and Tasks: Many of the tasks and risks are the same in both on-premises and cloud IT initiatives throughout the project life cycle. These include identifying the right business needs, defining the requirements correctly, selecting the right vendor partner(s), and managing organizational change. While tasks may be the same, how you perform them in a cloud project likely will require specialized expertise.
  • New Risks and Costs: Moving IT workload to the cloud introduces new risks and costs, including both vendor risks and significant, ongoing financial obligations. The risks of data center and major network outages move to the vendor, which puts a premium on cloud vendor selection and management. The finances g, on a total cost of ownership (TCO) basis over 3-5 years, can make the cloud decision just as impactful as a traditional capital project.
With capabilities assessment completed, and if consulting expertise is desired and identified, the organization will need to find the right consultants and incorporate them into the project team.
 
How Best to Use a Consultant for Cloud Services?
Find an outside consultant by leveraging your network and using consulting organizations like the Society of Communications Technology Consultants (SCTC). Incorporate the consultant into the project team for the phase(s) of the project where they are needed. At a high level, you can think about applying consultants in three phases:
 
  1. Definition: Organizations often use a consultant to help identify needs and document requirements, including discovery and interviews of staff, along with developing and analyzing options - producing a strategic options and budget report that the project sponsor can use internally to get the project approval.
  2. Selection: Organizations differ on their need for formal procurement (RFI/RFQ/RFP) processes. In less formal procurements, organizations often use consultants to help develop a shortlist of vendors to contact given their project’s specific requirements. In formal procurements, using an independent consultant (more on this below) is invaluable for doing a structured RFP and analyzing vendor responses. Regardless, the consultant assures that project requirements are addressed correctly and completely in the vendor contract and scope of work (SoW). Also, consultants have deep knowledge of contract terms and conditions, and comparison pricing, both of which can be crucial during contract negotiations.
  3. Implementation: Organizations also differ in their need for subject matter expertise (SME) and program management (PMO) assistance during the design, programming, testing, training, cutover, and support activities. The selected vendor does the implementation work, yet using a consultant SME can help assure that all contract obligations are met, for instance by leading user acceptance testing (UAT). The organization’s own PMO may take a strong role, yet using a consultant SME can augment their oversight function.
One last point is that organizations should decide on whether to use an independent consultant, who works solely for the client and has no ties to or financial arrangements with vendors, or to use consulting services from the vendors themselves, their VARs, or brokers. This decision isn’t necessarily an either/or where, for instance, an independent consultant might take the lead in “Definition” and “Selection” and then move into a team arrangement with the vendor’s own professional services consultants during “Implementation.” Each situation differs.
 
Conclusion
The future of information systems is in the cloud, if only because vendors are putting substantial research and development (R&D) investments into XaaS technologies and services. That moves some of the IT issues to the cloud vendor, yet most other IT project issues remain, along with the new cloud vendor management risks. As Robert Townsend, author of “Up the Organization,” said in his still timeless advice: “There are two kinds of decisions: those that are expensive to change and those that are not.” The expenses include not just direct costs, but all of those organizational and reputational ones that might incur due to a poorly-managed cloud project. Engaging the right consulting expertise can help avoid that expense and ensure project success.
 
Additional Reading
Take a look at these two previous No Jitter articles for more tips on cloud service initiatives: