A Cloud’s Illusion: Implementation Project Acceleration

Cloud Technology Provides Many Obvious Benefits; Faster Implementations is not Among Them

Since the popular rise of “cloud” technology, countless and dramatic claims have been made by associated vendors regarding its benefits. Many of the touted benefits are both easily explained and manifestly true such as infrastructure agility, access to abundant pre-built services, the freedom to concentrate human resources on business matters rather than IT, increased security, cheaper storage, and the like.

One claim of cloud-related technology benefit that remains, well, cloudy, is that it eases and accelerates enterprise application implementation projects. While we have no argument about the potential for considerable business and economic benefits derived from cloud technology post go-live, we have reservations about said benefits in the course of an implementation project, especially one in which applications software is being moved from on-premises servers to a cloud environment.

Vendors often tout cloud as an implementation project accelerator when in fact the cloud itself has little to no effect on the pace of a project. The cloud is merely the location of the software and its data. That these are no longer resident on a client’s in-house servers is of no import regarding project celerity. However, when a move to the cloud also entails the application of pre-configured software and the reduction in client-vendor business blueprint activities, project acceleration can occur. Neither pre-configured software nor a reduction of blueprint activities is in the least dependent upon the cloud.

There are three distinct scenarios regarding the enterprise applications to be implemented:

1. Classic business process engineering by which an organization acquires core enterprise software and custom-designs its business processes to meet specific organizational requirements and ambitions.

2. Pre-designed business processes to be adopted by the implementing organization but which can be tailored or modified as per need after go-live

3. Pre-designed business processes to be adopted by the organization that cannot be modified for whatever reason because the coding/programming is not available to the client using it.

Options 2 and 3 are presumed to be faster than option 1 and at less cost for the implementation only. For option 1, the time it takes to implement can be largely determined by the time required of business stakeholders and IT engineers to design a system tailored to an organization’s requirements, aka business process re-engineering.

In place of that option’s well-known time and cost burden, option 2 is measured by the time it takes to customize any of the pre-designed business processes that will not work for the implementing organization. Using pre-designed processes requires an organization to revamp their business practices to fit the system. This is a reversal of traditional enterprise applications implementations that can significantly reduce business process design and configuration complexity while sacrificing potential business process excellence specific to the implementing organization.

Option 3 is riskier than option 2 in that it does allow for any customization whatsoever of the pre-designed business processes that an implementing organization must adapt to. This option is referred to as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) which includes a fixed configuration of business applications that cannot later be modified by the organization. With SaaS, an organization is utterly dependent upon whatever functionality its software provider affords them and is not recommended for firms seeking the business process agility required to respond quickly to threats or opportunities.

As regards business process evolution, SaaS presumes that the vendor will always be ahead of its clients’ evolutionary curve which is very often not the case.

Below is a summary of potential time savings afforded by adoption of cloud technology for each of the three options in the course of an enterprise applications implementation project.

A more important consideration is what gains do you really make by accelerating the implementation? Your consulting costs will almost certainly be lower and your time-to-benefit probably accelerated but these are petty gains when measured across the probable 20 to 40-year life-span of your enterprise applications plant and may be offset by problems caused by acceleration.

In this light, implementing organizations are advised to take a longer-term view than just the project parameters when measuring time requirements. Think of the implementation project as the wedding and the deployment of your enterprise applications as the marriage.

Unduly accelerated enterprise application implementations lead to:

1. Limited business process reengineering, which lowers project costs while almost certainly losing key elements of business process excellence thus requiring your staff to adapt to pre-design processes that may well not be flexible or coherent for your enterprise.

2. Foreshortened organizational change management by which management and user staff will not be sufficiently prepared for the change-over from previous business processes to new ones. Lack of preparation leads directly to a degradation of new systems deployment and a consequent degradation of benefits realization.

3. Insufficient post-implementation planning will result in your having the same business and IT dynamic that you had with your legacy applications. This may well lead to an inability to sustain continuous business gains and a relapse into pre-implementation lassitude.

Brian Dahill, a veteran of both enterprise applications implementations and post-implementation strategies, once said: “If your legacy enterprise applications are already on cloud, yes, it can help streamline a new implementation. Otherwise, cloud offers little project streamlining as it adds a side project (cloud adoption) to the implementation project. The learning curve for cloud is as high and steep as the learning curve for integrated enterprise applications, thus undermining any attempts at ‘project streamlining’.”

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