Building Your Cloud Strategy – Starting at the Beginning

Netgain Blog TeamFinancial IT, News

Originally published November 12, 2019 by Bill Sorenson, VP of Strategy FinTech – CISO, Netgain at www.boomer.com.


The Cloud is Here to Stay       

The migration to the cloud is happening in an extremely fast manner. We saw it start with specific applications that were developed and delivered across the Internet, then movement forward to backing up our data and disaster recovery in the cloud.  Now the focus is on moving as much of your infrastructure as possible to a cloud solution and getting to a Zero Footprint. The benefits here are dramatic, and progressive firms have taken advantage of them already. It’s time to take a look and see what your firm’s plan is and your strategy to get to the cloud.

1. Your Firm’s Goals
The key place to start is identifying specific goals that fit your firm’s direction. About half of the firms we talk with have formal business strategic plans. The balance have a variety of annual objectives for the business and utilize that more tactical approach to move the organization forward. These goals address products and services, growth, employee retention, acquisitions, and customer care.

Our goal as IT leaders is to align our IT strategies with the business’s goals. By focusing first on that alignment, IT organizations can see significant and dramatic success in their delivery of service, as well as their inclusion into the core business processes across the firm. We want to make sure your value proposition aligns with your firm’s needs.

2. Alignment with Your Firm’s Strategy
So let’s look at that as we develop your cloud strategy. In your firm’s formal strategy, you may see items on risk management, remote employee workers, acquisitions, and cost control.  These fit well and align with the development of a cloud strategy. At this point, reviewing and understanding the business strategy will help you develop specific supporting strategies. Let’s look at how that manifests itself.

3. Items to Include in Your Cloud Strategy 
As you’re developing your firm’s cloud strategy, you want to make sure that you include items that align with your organization. These items may include:

  • Consolidation of systems and centralization of data
  • Consolidation of like applications across the firm
  • Support of remote workers in remote offices
  • Increases in cyber security protection
  • Increases in performance and responsiveness of systems and software
  • Ease of integration of new acquisitions
  • Reductions in complexity of existing systems
  • Increases in real disaster recovery
  • Flexibility for the future

By reviewing each of these and adding additional ones specific to your firm, you can quickly define the scope of the moving to the cloud project. As they say, “Beginning with the end in mind”. This dramatically improves your likelihood of success and your ability to communicate the alignment of your goals with your firm’s goals.

4. Plan and Team Development
It’s time to develop your plan. List out the items that you’ve identified in the process above and create smaller sub-projects related to each one. As part of starting out, it’s key to identify a business partner Champion and an IT Project Team Lead. The Team Lead may be you, but it also could be one of your staff. The goal with the project Champion is to help facilitate progress in the project with the other partners, some who may not be on board in the beginning. This team should also include key leadership in your major areas including audit, tax, and other business services. It’s key to get these leaders on board as these technology changes impact their staff significantly.

5. Understanding What You Have Today
On the technical side of things, where do you start? It’s best to do an internal IT assessment of your services and technologies and get a handle on what you have today.

This should include:

  • Complete hardware inventory from the server-side
  • Complete inventory of data including files and folders, all database sizes, application data, full backup size, and any other miscellaneous data
  • Inventory listing of applications currently utilized by your firm
  • Review of security groups across the organization and what they have access to
  • Review of the last 60 days of tickets to understand what’s going on in your user community
  • Network and firewall documentation, as well as virus/malware, IDS, IPS, and other security solutions in place
  • Understanding of your current state of patching operating systems, application versions, and your approach to keeping up to date

This overall understanding will help you be organized as you look at solutions that fit your firm’s needs. By having this information, you’re able to provide the best options available to your firm’s management. One thing to note here too; any prejudices or biases either toward or against specific cloud platforms or delivery methods should be put aside. We want to go into this process with our eyes open and biases put aside to really get an opportunity to look at the solutions that fit our firm’s needs completely.​

6. Consolidation Needs
Another piece here is to look at your consolidation needs. Many people are dealing with multiple locations, legacy equipment, and software. Since much of the industry has gone through consolidation within the acquisitions process, we sometimes see significant opportunities here. If you could technically deliver from one central environment, how significant would that be to your firm? For smaller firms, this may be what you’re doing today. For larger firms, you may have 6 – 15 locations you have to worry about, and the need to consolidate those is huge. Either way, let’s make sure we include applications within this consolidation.

7. Software Application Direction
An important point to consider is that of applications. We see many customers running multiple tax products, audit products, document management, and other software solutions where a selection of a single product would be best for the firm. From the IT side, we can be a catalyst to these decisions. We can help bring vendors in to present solutions, we can work with our partners internally to build consensus and direction, and we can show the financial value across the organization. Although this may at times be hard, the process is worth that effort. Ultimately, there is retraining that can happen to make it easier, but the benefit to the firm is substantial. If you’re still supporting UltraTax, Pfx tax, Lacerte, and others in combination, it’s time to lead the organization out of that mess.

8. Cloud Options
Let’s take a moment and talk about realistic cloud options for your organization. Typically, these break down into the following:

  • SaaS Applications – Internet based applications provided completely by the vendor
  • Private Cloud – Your equipment hosted in a data center
  • Private Cloud Hosted – Someone else’s equipment and systems hosted in a private data center
  • Public Cloud – Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, others – Access to hyper-scale services and systems delivered by huge focused organizations
  • Hybrid Cloud – Any part of each

Many organizations have adopted a directional approach to applications that are currently delivering solutions via the Internet via SaaS (Software as a Service) applications. We see these in application suites and single applications where the vendor provides the infrastructure for all of these applications out of their cloud. It has taken a significant amount of time for large applications to be successful in this process, but this is the direction for most applications in the industry.

But you have a significant number of things you have to deal with. You need to worry about existing applications that are installed on your servers or someone else’s. You need to worry about file and folder data, security and performance around those, and all the other applications that it takes to run a firm. Across our customers, we typically see somewhere around 29-100+ applications per customer. These include any combination of SaaS and local installed applications. You need to identify a solution that can handle all these applications today, and not limit you in the future.

9. Next Month – Selecting the Platform and Working the Plan to Success
Join us next month as we work through selecting the correct platform and working the plan to completion.