In the ever-evolving IT world, there's always a better, faster way to get things done. But IT upgrade projects are rarely cheap—and staying on top of tech trends isn't always a business priority.
Yet some tech trends just can't be ignored. For instance, the deluge of data inundating local servers has inspired organizations of all shapes and sizes to store and manage digital assets off-site, in the cloud. Over 50 percent of all server workload is currently virtualized, according to the Cisco Global Cloud Index, and this proportion is on the rise. Overall, data center workloads are predicted to triple by 2018, and cloud servers will process more than three-quarters of this information.
To make the most of this maturing technology, many organizations are looking to increase efficiency and productivity by integrating disparate cloud services and applications, as well as existing on-location servers. Some want to streamline public cloud data fragmented across enterprise systems to make it easier for teams to collaborate—and for leaders to identify opportunities for improvement. Others are investing in private clouds that need to communicate with public clouds and local servers for backup or collaboration purposes. (Private clouds are used exclusively by one organization, while multiple tenants share space on public clouds—see “A Hybrid Approach” sidebar.)
But whatever the business purpose, cloud integration projects should deliver increased agility, a more consistent user experience and more actionable data analysis, says Radovan Jovanovic, PMP, a Frankfurt, Germany-based principal IT project consultant at SAP, a PMI Global Executive Council member.
“Try to transform your system from something complex to something simple. It should be easy to understand, a natural approach and intuitive in use.”
—Radovan Jovanovic, PMP, SAP, Frankfurt, Germany
“Try to transform your [system] from something complex to something simple,” he says. “It should be easy to understand, a natural approach and intuitive in use.”
Simplification often starts with streamlining—or shutting down—legacy systems that can cause delays. On-site servers, for instance, often require direct access to databases and file systems, which can create bottlenecks that slow down implementation and impact future performance, says Tom Tsongas, PMP, senior manager, Symantec, Orlando, Florida, USA.
“The result is that an aspect of the project will likely involve redesigning or modifying legacy systems to allow them to better integrate with the overall solution,” he says.
Plus, investing in integration projects that align to an overarching strategy and blueprint can help an organization reduce its technical debt—and make it easier to adopt future tech evolutions, says Curt Jacobsen, advisory principal at PMI Global Executive Council member PwC, Los Angeles, California, USA.
“Overall, there needs to be an aggressive policy of eliminating legacy technologies, shortcuts and non-standard solutions,” he says. “Everything should either be part of an app or a resource. This way, you dispense with multiple integration layers and begin to simplify the organization's IT architecture.”
However, it can be difficult to identify which systems can stay and which need to go from the outset. This poses problems when project managers need to provide accurate cost estimates before an integration project can be approved. To overcome this obstacle, Srini Jasti, PMP, a Brisbane,
“Overall, there needs to be an aggressive policy of eliminating legacy technologies, shortcuts and non-standard solutions.”
—Curt Jacobsen, PwC, Los Angeles, California, USA
Australia-based project director at Microsoft, a PMI Global Executive Council member, recommends simplifying the initial scope.
Seeking approval for only a project analysis phase can help teams validate their project plans and adjust cost estimations based on real-world data before getting sign-off on the entire project, he says.
“It is not always feasible to provide a fixed cost estimate when the requirements are not detailed enough or there are several unknowns that require clarifications,” Mr. Jasti says. “In such instances, provide a budgetary estimate for future project phases and revise estimates based on detailed requirements produced at the completion of the analysis phase.”
While there may be some initial sticker shock, organizations should resist the urge to cut corners and make partial investments that don't align with the strategic blueprint, Mr. Jacobsen says.
“Oftentimes companies will want to leverage existing investments and cobble together the integration fabric from parts they have lying around,” he says.
While making a gradual migration helps organizations mitigate risk and manage budgets, they should keep their long-term integration goals top of mind, Mr. Jacobsen says. Otherwise hodge-podge projects can build islands of integration, where applications and services are optimized across a department or business unit, but fail to communicate across channels. To create a plan that people across the organization will get on board with, project managers must build true partnerships across departments, Mr. Tsongas says.
“Design discussions should not operate in a vacuum. Without a defined process for when and how certain technologies can and should be utilized, you risk the chance that one team member's technology choice can compromise other aspects of the overall project downstream.”
A Complex Ecosystem
If an organization can't commit to a full integration upgrade, project managers may have to make do with what they've got. To avoid unexpected complications and delays, Mr. Tsongas recommends that teams work closely with people familiar with the legacy systems. Leveraging their expertise can help project managers identify and plan for potential delays.
Integrating public and private clouds can help cut costs—but maintaining security requires a comprehensive cloud strategy.
The private cloud has a lot to offer: increased security, compliance compatibility, scalability, customized deployments. It gives organizations exclusive access to the hardware, storage and network they need, the moment they need it—but it comes at a cost. Private clouds require both hardware and maintenance personnel, and these costs grow exponentially with each new location.
To reduce expenses, some organizations often supplement their private cloud servers with rented space in a public cloud, in which server space is distributed to a number of paying clients. And as organizational data has multiplied, so has the need for these hybrid cloud solutions. According to IT research firm Gartner, nearly half of large enterprises will have hybrid cloud deployments by the end of 2017.
“What we found is there is as much risk of shadow IT in government as any other organization. People are people. They want to do things more efficiently.”
—Rajiv Gupta, CEO of Skyhigh, to InformationWeek
But some organizations remain skeptical of moving data and services to the public cloud. Governments in particular worry that storing sensitive data off-site could pose a greater security risk. In the U.K., for instance, 80 percent of parliament members call for increased use of cloud computing services, but 57 percent of MPs believe the biggest fear to overcome relates to moving data to cloud servers offshore.
While public sector concerns are justified, inaction won't make governments more secure. A recent study of public sector cloud networks in the United States and Canada conducted by Skyhigh Networks revealed that some 721 cloud services are running inside government organizations at any time—roughly 10 times more than what government IT departments are aware of.
“What we found is there is as much risk of shadow IT in government as any other organization. People are people. They want to do things more efficiently,” Rajiv Gupta, CEO of Skyhigh, told InformationWeek.
To keep hybrid clouds secure in this type of high-risk environment, organizations need a well-defined cloud strategy that few have implemented. Just over half of global enterprises have defined cloud security policies, and only 43 percent have clearly outlined which applications should or should not be moved to the cloud, according to RightScale's 2015 State of the Cloud Report.
Clear security policies also help project managers maintain security on cloud initiatives. By communicating a well-defined cloud strategy, project managers can build stakeholder support—and spur end-user adoption of the sanctioned plan.
“A common challenge faced in most projects is ensuring high user adoption of the new solution,” says Srini Jasti, PMP, project director, Microsoft, Brisbane, Australia. “When deploying leading-edge technologies like cloud-based solutions, extra attention should be given to focus areas like data security and change management during stakeholder meetings.”
Proper change management can help project managers communicate the value and progress of the update throughout the project life cycle—and make time to train end users on the new system. This added layer of planning can do a lot to spur acceptance of the new solution across the enterprise, Mr. Jasti says.
“As you implement change, there is always a doubt if it will work out. But as you project the advantages, people get on board.”
“Engage with the individuals who develop and maintain these systems,” he says. “If the project manager attempts to guess rather than becoming more familiar with the technology stack as a whole, it will invariably cause problems downstream and increase risk tremendously.”
To streamline communication and avoid costly misunderstandings on a recent global project, Mr. Tsongas’ team integrated an internal wiki-based system with its engineering tool to create a single point of verification for all aspects of the project.
“I prefer web-based content management systems that stakeholders and team members can access on-demand,” he says. “Relying on decks, spreadsheets or other documents passed around via email is not going to fly.”
Clear documentation also helps project managers navigate interdependencies. Anne Caprez, PMP, senior manager, ADI Strategies, Missoula, Montana, USA, starts each cloud integration project by identifying relationships and dependencies on multiple levels. These include on-premise and off-premise system landscapes, processes, organization charts and data owners.
“I like to draw a one-page graphical overview of these elements and list people for each element,” she says. “I do this early and maintain the document throughout a project. It's amazing how something so simple rapidly becomes a valued tool. Some smirk, but eventually, everyone is referring to it and is grateful for its existence.”
“If you're in a design stage and want to see how a proposed cloud system will be affected by 15,000 users, you should test that. It's essential to test how these solutions will scale over time.”
—Srini Jasti, PMP, Microsoft, Brisbane, Australia
Carefully tracking project changes is another way documentation can keep cloud integration projects on track. If a mistake is made, for instance, the change log helps the team identify the problem and make a quick fix, Mr. Jovanovic says.
“Engage with the individuals who develop and maintain these systems. If the project manager attempts to guess rather than becoming more familiar with the technology stack as a whole, it will invariably cause problems downstream and increase risk tremendously.”
—Tom Tsongas, PMP, Symantec, Orlando, Florida, USA
“It keeps the process very clear and simple. We keep an audit trail, so all that is maintained. We can quickly roll back any errors.”
Preparing for Change
Outlining interdependencies also allows project managers to segment integration projects into standalone phases. Staggering the deployment with a phased approach gives end users a chance to acclimate to system changes while reducing the risk of service outages. And incorporating the program evaluation and review technique (PERT) also allows project managers to leverage different processes for different project segments, Mr. Tsongas says.
“Some teams liked to use an agile approach with sprints and iterations, while others used a more traditional waterfall approach,” he says. “But it didn't matter since the PERT and phased approach took that into account in the overall schedule.”
Taking a flexible, phased approach can also help with project staffing. Because new, unexpected roadblocks can appear at each step of the process, reassessing the team makeup at relevant milestones can help project managers ensure they have the people they need, says Mr. Jovanovic.
“Integration projects are agile in nature. The best way to plan is to have an idea of the next cycle and, in close collaboration with the business, derive the need for resources for next cycle,” he says.
Integration projects are agile in nature. The best way to plan is to have an idea of the next cycle and, in close collaboration with the business, derive the need for resources for next cycle.”
—Radovan Jovanovic, PMP
To ensure the project will ultimately deliver the desired results, Mr. Jasti also recommends rigorous performance and scalability testing. In addition to running simulations based on current organizational needs, he suggests testing the system's ability to accommodate rapid growth. This will help project managers be confident they are implementing a solution that will provide value for years to come.
“If you're looking to ramp up over the next five years, you should test how the system will behave,” he says. “If you're in a design stage and want to see how a proposed cloud system will be affected by 15,000 users, you should test that. It's essential to test how these solutions will scale over time.” PM