Finding the Right Cloud Cadence

cloud

In almost every customer conversation now, the topic of moving to the cloud comes up. From those discussions, I’d say that roughly 45% have plans to move the majority – if not all – of their work loads to the cloud, 25 to 30% are determined to remain on prem, and the remainder are building out hybrid strategies or are still investigating the impacts. There’s nothing scientific about these numbers – just my own take on what I am seeing from the industry.

I’m over in the UK this week for customer meetings and an AIIM.org activity, talking about cloud and social collaboration strategies in addition to our SharePoint conversations. A customer meeting this morning was typical: they’re using SharePoint 2010 today, and have no plans to move to the latest version in the immediate future, as they have a number of large customizations and have made huge investments in the platform. They are, however, also trialing Office365 and beginning to use the platform as an extranet platform for working with large customers, and have also begun looking at how Yammer might fit into the internal and external plans.

I understand the need for Microsoft employees to get behind company marketing and strategy and push hard on the cloud model, but get a little frustrated when talking to some who clearly do not understand the difference between what is marketing and what is reality for my customers. It’s not that I don’t understand the cloud-delivery model, or the ability for any OEM or ISV to innovate more quickly and reduce some of the upgrade/migration headaches through this model. Cloud-delivery means I always have the latest/greatest version, and that I don’t have to worry about the infrastructure and overhead. I get it. My customers, for the most part, also get it. But delivery is just one facet of the issue.

In a recent article by Mary Jo Foley entitled Microsoft’s Update Challenge: Not Too Fast, Not Too Slow, she talks about the need for Microsoft to strike a balance between the hard push, and responding to customer feedback. Overall, Microsoft has always said that they will listen to feedback from the market and adjust their plans accordingly. That only makes sense – they’re in business to make money, and you don’t make money by angering all of your customers. It really is a balancing act of progressing your vision of the future with what the market will sustain. Foley points to Windows 8.1 as a sign that they are listening, with updates including the return of the Start button. But there’s also been a softening of the cloud-first messaging, somewhat, with Foley commenting that “the Office team is advising customers who aren’t ready for quarterly or monthly updates to stick to on-premises and private cloud configurations.” The fact that anyone inside Microsoft would make this statement shows they are adjusting to market feedback.

Honestly, I find myself both berating and defending Microsoft’s current strategy and messaging, sometimes in the same paragraph. To be fair, its often because of an individual I run into or a sales-focused tactical step rather than the long-term strategy. Here is how I explain it to people: 

Microsoft is re-directing the ship.
It’s not like they’re turning on a dime here, folks. They’ve only been talking about being “all in” on the cloud for years, and we’re now seeing that strategy in very real terms. Adjusting to this new model is going to be difficult no matter how they approach it (as I wrote about here), with some customers complaining that things are moving too fast at the same time that others complain Microsoft is not moving fast enough. It’s a huge undertaking, no matter how you look at it.

Companies are trying to squeeze every last drop of ROI from what they have in place today.
There is nothing wrong with getting value out of what you have in place today, and while I am a big fan of the latest versions of SharePoint and Office365, my advice is to make the upgrade/migration decision based on what is right for your business, not the timeline of an OEM or vendor.

The rapid development, cloud-deployment model is a fit for productivity solutions today, but enterprise platforms will take longer to adapt.
The level of fanaticism around the cloud and social collaboration are high. Productivity solutions like email, social collaboration, and even customer relationship management fit much more easily into this model, but the reality is that many of the expensive, complex enterprise applications we have built and continue to support cannot easily port to the cloud model. Having said that, I have to ask the question: do you really need all of that? Software is undoubtedly moving toward an agile, cloud-based delivery model, but the biggest, messiest, most expensive systems in your wheelhouse will take time to get there, and, honestly, it could be a decade or more before some of them get there, if at all.

The product teams were always very up front about not knowing how, exactly, the online-first strategy would play out.
This was my experience, at least. I remember presenting to a full house at the Boston SPUG with several Microsoft employees attending, where I commented that even Microsoft was unsure of the impacts of their “online first” strategy, with all of them nodding in agreement.

Microsoft is adjusting their message as they learn.
I think this is evident in Foley’s article mentioned above, as well as in the softening of language from many of the field personnel I interact with regularly. Microsoft has stated that they’re moving to a much more agile and iterative release cycle, so its only logical that they’d be just as agile and iterative with their messaging and they continually learn and recalibrate.

Personally, my take on all of this is that movement toward the cloud is inevitable, but I also recognize that there are systems and work loads that will NEVER move to the cloud. I remember in the early 1990’s while working at EDS when there was talk about moving all systems out of COBOL, especially with the impending doom of Y2k, and yet 20 years later, there are still people who specialize in COBOL programming, and make a very healthy living maintaining some of these old systems.

Ok, I just compared SharePoint on prem with COBOL. Not what I was shooting for…

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Servers and Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and CMO of revealit.io, a blockchain-based video technology company.