From One CIO to Another: Why The Dominant On-Premise Model Has Had Its Day

Gavin Whatrup is a former CIO, Director at ME8 Consulting, and 30-year IT veteran.

I’m sure most of you are already using at least some cloud services, either tactically or for a specific client or use case. Or perhaps you’ve migrated to one of the major email services. But what’s your long-term plan? What’s the bigger picture?

We are in the next stage of technical evolution, similar to the shift from mainframe to micro, Command Line to GUI, bulletin boards to Web sites, and spinning disk to SSD. On-premise dedicated tin combined with locally installed desktop applications will continue to have a role. But this is a resource-intensive model in terms of financing, support, and management. And SaaS is a better, leaner way of achieving not just the same end result, but also adding so much more in terms of capability.

The benefits to throwing away an on-premise model

There is a “push” and “pull” going on here. We are being “pushed” to do more, for either the same or less cash, and to do it more quickly. And this is coming from several different sources. By equal measure, we are being “pulled” in new directions by new services, capabilities, and working methods that are being adopted either with or without our knowledge or assistance. And surrounding this “push” and “pull” tug o’ war is a threat landscape that is becoming much more sophisticated, and a data governance and regulation environment that will punish the unprepared.

Putting all the hype to one side, why should you follow the new conventional wisdom of using SaaS and throw away an on-premise model that has worked well up to now? There are significant gains on multiple levels:

Financial

Public SaaS shifts from a capital expenditures (CapEx) model to an operating expenditures (OpEx) model. This isn’t always a good thing as it depends on your commercial model. But it does allow for licensing transparency: Pay for what you use, but also don’t pay for what you don’t use.

Operational

This is perhaps where I see the biggest gains, but also the biggest headaches. Not having to store, protect, back up, recover, or configure secure access to applications and data from multiple sources will be a huge boon. But it changes your IT team dynamic.

You now have to potentially manage many repositories of data (data sprawl) and commission bespoke suites of apps, each one with its own governance profile. So new management tools will be required, as will new onboarding and offboarding processes and procedures.

The support model will change too, fortunately, from technology provider to cloud broker, focusing less on end user support.

Tactical

Once the new processes are in place, commissioning new capabilities will be a lot faster and a lot more customizable. An EFSS system can be spun up relatively quickly (in the same way an in-house SFTP server can be now) but you won’t need to manage the infrastructure behind it. It can be spun down equally as quickly, without wasting any of the investment.

Security

If ever there was a perceptual barrier to the adoption of SaaS services, security would be the one, but that is changing. The resources these providers can dedicate to security vastly exceeds ours. But this is where you need to do your due diligence. You still need to ask the right questions that relate to your requirements.

Check out our Cloud IT Live webinar, Not All Clouds Are Created Equal: Choosing the Best Cloud App for Your Business, to hear three IT experts discuss the process and value of developing a success criteria in order to determine the right cloud app for your business.

Cultural

There’s been a cultural shift from IT-centric tool adoption to user-centric. The rise of SaaS apps has been in part due to their ease of use, giving people what they want in as simple an implementation as possible. It’s the UX that has won them over.

Strategic

You shouldn’t tinker with the adoption of SaaS technologies. As you can see from above, there’s a lot involved, and you can’t do all this properly without developing a strategy around it. You can do it gently though. Put the groundwork in place first, and start simply, but with a roadmap of conversion and adoption. Eventually you’ll end up with a “cloud-first” approach in the knowledge that you can manage it rather than the other way around.

Vendor movement

It’s an observation, but every major software vendor has adopted a cloud-enabled approach to their future development. They wouldn’t have done this without realizing the way the wind is blowing.

Clearly, what you can’t do is nothing. What you also can’t do is tinker around the edges. A Dropbox account here and a Confluence license there is not going to amount to a hill of beans. Nor is pulling down the shutters completely and blocking everything. What you need to do is develop an adoption strategy that aims to move from mainly on-premise application deployment to mainly SaaS. If you are experiencing the “push” and “pull” pressures, SaaS apps give you the best option for a resolution.

Moving to SaaS means changes, but it needs to be part of your solution set

To be clear, cloud apps–and I’m focusing on Software-as-a-Service as opposed to the broader “as-a-Service” ecosystem–are not a panacea. That state does not exist. But they should form part of your solution set, whether that be public, private, or more likely, hybrid.

SaaS adoption is also not easy. It presents as many challenges as it resolves (a topic for a separate post). You can’t simply decide to replace one “fat” application with a SaaS equivalent. Moving to a predominantly SaaS-delivered model changes the shape of your ecosystem financially, operationally, and culturally. Done in the right way it will deliver significant benefits, but any kind of change is painful to someone. And that means resistance, perhaps in the form of:

  • One person’s Yammer is another’s Slack
  • Your users may love Google, but that isn’t going to fly if your major client is Microsoft
  • If your client dictates Australian data residency, but your SaaS provider stores data in the US
  • If data is encrypted “in transit” but not “at rest”
  • Will a SaaS ERP system interoperate with your CRM?
  • Going from having all your data in in one place to having it distributed amongst many SaaS providers
  • Migrating to and from a SaaS provider; data is big and connectivity pipes are still relatively small

There are lots of reasons why moving to a SaaS model is not easy. You will have to make many changes, from your onboarding and offboarding processes to your data governance practices. Staff will need to be re-trained to support services, and many more of them at that, but not the hardware and networking behind them. Very quickly your internet connection becomes your single biggest point of failure rather than your domain controllers and file servers.

Don’t get in the way–help navigate

Yet despite all these challenges, SaaS is the direction of travel. 

Justifying continued and exclusive use of on-premise applications and services is going to be harder to do, if not impossible.

As many organizations are finding to their cost, with sensitive data moving to unknown places and in unknown states, ignorance is not bliss.

For those of us in the IT arena, this is a huge opportunity.

As David Politis, CEO of BetterCloud, said in his talk entitled “IT Renaissance: The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Creating a Digital Workplace,” we are, for now, at the center of this digital evolution. We are the subject matter experts and our organizations need our help to take full advantage of it. What we shouldn’t be doing is getting in the way. We should be demonstrating the leadership to navigate our way through this complex time.

The landscape has changed. And our collective thinking must change with it.

About the Author

Gavin WhatrupGavin Whatrup (@gwhatrup) started out helping people do innovative things with data. Nearly 30 years later, he’s now helping organizations protect that data, take advantage of cloud-based opportunities, and reimagine the role IT can play in the new age. An early adopter of virtualization and hybrid cloud, Gavin recently managed the migration of his organization to Office 365, across 12 companies and 1,000 users. From small data analysis company, via marketing start-up, media and advertising agencies to marketing communications group, Gavin has tracked the rise and rise of IT as a core corporate function, which at its heart is a people-based service, doing amazing things on a daily basis.

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