Business Process in the Cloud

Westcon is going through the a migration from an in-house Exchange environment to a cloud service, provided by Microsoft, as part of their BPOS offering. From time to time we will share our progress, starting with this posting.

No IT shop is perfect.  We share below the trials and tribulations at Westcon to hopefully help you make sure you grow from our experiences.  That’s part of Westcon’s mantra – help our customers succeed through every avenue possible.  And that includes Westcon’s commitment to being on the cutting edge of many of these technologies – we experience it first, in order to help our customers (and their end users) achieve success faster and more profitably.  So, I will open the kimono here a bit about Westcon in the hope that it help you learn from our experiences.

Westcon was originally a Lotus Notes shop, and a few years ago we migrated to Exchange.  At the time, it appeared to make sense to replicate business processes on the Exchange environment in a similar manner to how those business processes functioned under Notes.  This approach had a negligible negative impact on performance since the servers were local.  There were some shared workspaces with inherent workflow with few storage limitations.  People did not notice the negative impact on performance in an Exchange environment when you tried to make Exchange act like Notes. 

I am not going to get into a discussion of Notes over Exchange.  I think Notes was, and is, one of the more misunderstood technologies.  Notes is so much more than messaging.  I am actually old enough to remember a distant past when you didn’t even use Notes for “email”, there were other tools use for messaging. And, Notes is one of the most powerful collaboration/database technologies out there, when used properly.  Exchange too is an excellent technology.  A world class messaging platform.  But, Notes is not Exchange and Exchange is not Notes. 

Why is this important when migrating to the cloud?  Simply put, once the servers are in the cloud, performance of the servers was trumped by bandwidth and latency.  And now, what was an “imperceptible, but somewhat unnatural use of Exchange” became a perceptible problem.  There is nothing wrong with the cloud service, and there is nothing wrong with the platform.  The challenge is identifying the most effective technology to support a particular business process.  So, although Westcon has successfully migrated 85% of its employees to the Exchange environment, there are a handful of shared mailboxes that have performance problems when put in the cloud.  These shared mailboxes should, and will, be migrated to alternative platforms (e.g. Sharepoint) in order to allow the software that supports those business processes to function appropriately and perform acceptably. 

Ironically, Westcon has a parallel project underway that is globally mapping each business process for the firm.  This “touchmap” project will be covered in detail in a later post, but the project has produced significant savings for Westcon globally, and once we pointed the projects attention towards the abovementioned shared mailbox problem, the touchmap team helped us identify the end to end process, implications and solutions, very quickly.

Here’s the point – when migrating to cloud services, it’s not simple.  Even though you may be using the exact same piece of software, except now its “just in a cloud”, the conversion must be considered as you would the introduction of any new piece of technology – no matter how familiar you are with the underlying platform.  Our experiences clearly indicate that any technology introduction or migration is best tested through an impact analysis on business processes.  The migration of the technology to the cloud is the easy part, the more difficult part is the quantifiable assessments of business impact associated with the migration.  Hopefully anyone having read this far realizes the explosion in business advisory and consulting services that must now accompany any cloud services migration. The conversion to the cloud requires a deep understanding of the target company’s business processes.  Many organizations have been able to avoid doing this type of work in the past, since everything was controlled within their own 4 walls.  But now they can’t necessarily mitigate business process disruption through sheer IT brute-force.  Now companies must really OWN their business processes.  They need to understand how their business flows, in detail, in order to successfully achieve all the savings that cloud services dangle in front of their eyes.  Many end users will require help in nailing down those process definitions.

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One response to “Business Process in the Cloud

  1. Great points about process. I’d like to suggest that the migration to the cloud also mandates a much deeper understanding of the physical relationships and behaviors of the various hardware components of the old vs. new architectures than is commonly found in IT shops. I’ve noticed over the years that fewer and fewer people actually have any idea HOW the whole thing works, yet the systems become more and more complex, convoluted, and decentralized. I recently had a very senior technologist explain to me that he was going to get more throughput from his computer by virtualizing a quad core on a dual core processor. (Full disclosure. The author of this comment is a Westcon employee, but responding in an unofficial capacity. The “quad core virtualizer” was thankfully not a Westcon employee.)

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