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A ‘War Games’ Approach to Cloud Migration

Five top female data and analytics executives discuss how to channel the “accelerant” of COVID-19 to achieve successful cloud migration while avoiding the risks that come with data modernization projects

COVID-19 has been an accelerant for cloud data migration in more than one sense of the word, according to the five data-focused executives who join us for this Business of Data panel discussion.

JoAnn Stonier, Chief Data Officer at Mastercard, says: “If you don’t have a methodology for which aspects of your business – which tools, which products, which solutions – you’re going to move first, second and third, I think [COVID-19] could also be an accelerant into kind of a mess.”

“If you didn’t have a really good project plan and approach and [didn’t] make sure that you were testing along the way, you’d wind up in a lot of trouble”

JoAnn Stonier, CDO, Mastercard

As someone who has helped to lead cloud migrations at several organizations, Bitly CDO and Bitly IQ General Manager Dr Amy Gershkoff Bolles agrees cloud migration projects can be challenging.

However, she believes the greater flexibility cloud environments offer enterprises from a computing perspective, coupled with their ability to enable advanced analytics at scale, mean these projects are worth the risk.

“More and more folks are obviously migrating to the cloud, now that there’s been such significant advancements in that area,” she says. “I think that’s a trend that’s going to accelerate this year.”

The events of 2020 highlighted why businesses that want to operate on a global scale must migrate data and systems to the cloud. But for those that attempt to rush this transformation without the right foundations, strategy and expertise in place, the results may be explosive.

Approaching Cloud Migration Like a Military Leader

For Dr Bolles, the secret to leading a successful cloud transformation is to adopt a ‘war games’ approach. Executives should game out not just the steps that need to happen in the migration, but everything that could possibly go wrong at each step of the process.

“One of the biggest challenges organizations face in these types of migrations is, you can get partway through and have a number of things go wrong," she says. "Then, you’re scrambling.”

Maritza Curry, Head of Data at BNP Paribas-owned bank RCS, agrees: “Just like everything else in data and analytics, you can’t go on a cloud journey without having it supported by a clear data strategy and a clear data governance framework.”

“The other piece of advice I’d offer for folks who are beginning that journey is to bring in experts who’ve done this before,” Dr Bolles adds. “That really helped, in terms of making sure that we knew where potholes were.”

While all five executives are agreed that the future of enterprise data and analytics is in the cloud, the risks that come with these migrations mean they have been keen to take their time to get things right. This is especially true for highly regulated sectors such as financial services or companies that hold sensitive personal information.

“It is the path of the future,” Stonier concludes. “We’re taking our time, given the type of data we hold, and making sure we’re working through all of our security issues globally.”

Managing Security and Costs in the Cloud

Managing data security and the cost of processing large volumes of data in the cloud are two challenges that have slowed enterprise migrations to the cloud in the past. But today, companies with the right strategy and expertise in place can overcome these hurdles.

“Security of the cloud partners is actually comparable in the market now to having it on-prem,” notes Dr Besa Bauta, CDO at human services agency MercyFirst. “A lot of the tools that are available with on-cloud solutions now, [for] analytics and other types of things, make it much easier for us to move operations and, overall, reduce costs.”

“[Despite] the attention on the security of the technology in the cloud, the biggest security threat for most organizations always remains humans”

Dr Amy Gershkoff Bolles, CDO, Bitly

Dr Bolles agrees that all the major cloud providers have come a long way with respect to providing strong, enterprise-grade security for even the most sensitive industries.

“Securing the data is not only about the technology,” she cautions. “It’s also about ensuring that your employees are trained in all the best practices, to ensure that they’re doing their part as well.”

“I would also like highlight the importance of managing the cost in the cloud,” adds Minna Kärhä, Finnair’s Data and Analytics Lead. “The cloud provides this really scalable environment to process the data, and that’s the benefit of it. But then, the downside can be that you suddenly create huge volumes of costs instead.”

“It’s really about being aware and cautious about what you do in the cloud,” Kärhä concludes. “And [ensuring] that the costs are in line with the business value provided.”

Key Takeaways

  • Adopt a 'war games' approach to cloud migration. Establish contingency plans for everything that might go wrong ahead of time.
  • Processes are as important as strategy. Data leaders must ensure they have the right security and governance processes to ensure data is managed properly in the cloud.
  • Prepare for the 'digital tipping point'. Cloud infrastructure is a key enabler for the global business transformation the pandemic catalyzed in 2020.