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Deep dive into challenges SA’s C-suite execs are facing when moving to cloud

By Karl Reed, Chief Solutions Officer at Pivotal Data

Johannesburg, 28 Jul 2022
Read time 8min 10sec
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Karl Reed, Chief Solutions Officer at Pivotal Data.
Karl Reed, Chief Solutions Officer at Pivotal Data.

The burden of digital transformation often falls to the CTOs and CIOs of an organisation. They must balance and juggle several challenges to achieve rapid transformation, while maintaining (and increasing) productivity, considering organisational goals and values, as well as ensuring the customer has an uninterrupted, consistently excellent experience. Moving to cloud is top of mind right now when it comes to digital transformation. But what are the challenges that are top of mind for CTOs and CIOs? How can we overcome those challenges to create a frictionless migration to the cloud? We chatted to CTOs and CIOs from some of South Africa’s largest corporations, and here’s what we found:

Achieving business strategy is top of mind

C-suite execs live and breathe the business strategy and culture that they’ve dedicated immense amounts of effort and time to curating. These are their driving decision-making factors. As such, they are focused on the business strategy, not a cloud strategy. Migration to the cloud requires its own strategy, but is effectively a means to an end in achieving the business strategy. 

C-suite execs are following a business strategy that informs how they go about their technology strategy and moves them towards meeting their goal. These principles (which have organisational buy-in), enable them to act decisively and with speed.

Karl Reed, Chief Solutions Officer at Pivotal Data, found this insight particularly relatable. He emphatically agrees with the notion that business strategy informs technology strategy, not the other way round. “Every customer’s end-goal looks different. That’s why you have to start with the goal in mind and work backwards, assessing each client’s set of circumstances to inform the roadmap. You simply can’t start with suggesting a product, you need to find the solution to meet the goal(s),” explains Reed.

Features and functionality are based on preference

The above-mentioned business strategy often informs the features and functionality that a business will seek out.

For example, a C-suite exec from the banking industry pointed out that strategic use of data is fundamental to their operations. This includes personalisation across all channels, voice biometrics and greeting the customer by their nickname. Their banking experience is defined by these key features and functionality.

While features and functionality are preference-based, there are three factors that ring true for most C-suite execs, namely scalability, cost reduction and speed of implementation.

Reed states: “Maturity models are key to assessing where you are on your journey. It’s also really helpful to get onto the same page when you have a framework. Together, you can see where you are ahead and where you are behind when it comes to your industry and competitors. This is often the basis of making an informed decision of where you want to go and what your next steps are. Once the solution is decided on, factors such as cost reduction are often a by-product.”

Skills and support are integral to the journey

Integrating new cloud-based technologies with legacy infrastructure is a prominent challenge of a practical nature. AWS, MS Azure and Oracle are the main cloud services that these businesses mentioned as preferred technology.

While many providers see a hybrid model as the simplistic answer to this, C-suite execs cited that having the skills to support the transforming technology model is the crux of the challenge.

“When you are on the cloud migration journey, it is imperative to take ownership of your solution. Make sure your partner is providing you with the training and education you need to continuously improve and be the custodian of your solution,” says Reed.

Timing is of the essence

Many C-suite execs expressed that when moving to the cloud, timing is of the essence. It is a matter of balancing business impact and the introduction of new changes.

Moving to the cloud is what most C-suite execs are striving to do, but for them it’s not as easy as just saying, ‘let’s migrate and switch it on’. That’s why they’re building in parallel and slowly, methodically, moving systems over from on-premises to a full cloud operation.

Their customer’s need is centred on the experience that they provide; seamless, frictionless CX. Internally, the business wants pace, speed of execution and a massive drive in growth. However, there is a simultaneous need for cost efficiency – which, for many C-suites execs, feels contradictory and difficult to achieve.

One C-suite exec noted that timing has been a balancing act for them because while cloud does provide pace, speed, growth and cost efficiency, the cost efficiency will only be realised with time. Ultimately moving their investment from capex to opex. Until then, there is a duplication of two technologies.

Reed explains: “A sound migration methodology includes an education phase, where you become comfortable with the good, the bad and the ugly of the journey. It’s not necessarily a speedy process, but it does ensure you feel in control and aware.”

The COVID-19 factor expedited many migration strategies

Many businesses found themselves having to adapt to the remote working model at unprecedented rates. The security and operational challenges this posed were also unprecedented. As such, the need to adapt new technologies at speed arose.

A C-suite exec from the healthcare sector noted that healthcare is in the infancy stages of digital transformation, and while they have received many proposals for transformation during their career, the onset of COVID-19 was a pressuring factor in the speed of adoption.

This has been the general consensus from the execs, with another exec, who works in a multinational company, noting that they have seen significant progress in the SA division.

Reeds agrees: “COVID-19 sped up the adoption to cloud dramatically. Businesses that had previously not considered cloud, now needed to move to cloud, quickly. The speed of adoption came with its own set of challenges and we saw many of those businesses needing to finesse their solutions after the dust settled – us too!”

Balancing multiple stakeholders is tricky business

Historically, IT would work closely with finance to implement technology changes. Essentially, IT would research and manage the implementation, while finance would approve and pay for the implementation. But there has been a change in this. Now, we are seeing a more hybrid approach to decision-making, with multiple facets of the business needing to have a voice in decision-making and many more stakeholders to consider.

One such example of the new stakeholder to be considered is the ‘internal client’ – your employees. In order to attract the limited technology talent, a business must provide an experience whereby the employee can tap into an environment of innovation.

Another example of these stakeholders is regulators. Many C-suite execs find themselves asking the question: “How do we go about innovating quickly and making sure we are regulator friendly?”

Making sure that regulators are comfortable and that the business is compliant can slow down the transformation journey; however, many C-suite execs expressed emphatically that while there is the need to innovate, there is also the important need to ensure the business is sustainable, governed correctly and that guard rails are in place.

Reed advises: “A successful migration is all about internal buy-in and, in some cases, over-communication is the right style of communication. If you can ensure all stakeholders are educated to the point of being comfortable with the solution, you will likely have buy-in, important for the correct partnerships and trust to be built.”

Cost is approached strategically

One particular C-suite exec pointed out that the cost factor is a particularly tough factor because technology that was fit for purpose 20 years ago is no longer optimal.

While the demand for growth and cost efficiencies outweighs the cost factor, it does not mitigate it.

Most C-suite execs approached the cost factor strategically, ensuring their long-term rewards would be tangible and measurable.

As part of the strategic approach to cost, one C-suite exec asserted that they are strategically product agnostic, pointing out that businesses that are too in love with a particular service may be held back from delivering on client needs.

Another C-suite exec addressed the build versus buy conundrum, expressing that this is also a strategic decision based on business strategy. As a business, they consider whether the technology is a commodity or a differentiator. Ultimately, they build technologies that differentiate them and buy or rent, and then assemble technologies that are a commodity.

According to Reed: “Upgrading to a cloud solution is never going to see an immediate cost saving (versus on-premises); cost savings come from other areas/elements of what cloud has to offer, such as efficiencies, infrastructure, versatility, features/functions only available via cloud and, of course, having a future-proofed environment that only cloud can offer, as it will always be kept updated.”

Editorial contacts
Pivotal Ingrid Green ingrid.green@pivotalgroup.co.za
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