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It is the 1980’s and 90’s and the heyday of IT outsourcing. IBM, EDS and others were pushing “Your Mess for Less”. Essentially, your outsourcing vendor would take over your data centers, staff and applications and provide them to you at a reduced cost. There were a number of techniques used to accomplish this – better economies of scale in operations and purchasing, labor arbitrage through offshoring, etc.

The key feature was that your information technology was no more responsive or flexible than when you ran it. It was just cheaper. The rationale was for management to focus on what the core business needed, not the back office stuff that anybody could do.

When cloud computing emerged about ten years ago a similar thing first occurred. There was a lot of discussion around how cost effective it was. What were its ROI and TCO? A lot of thought went into the ‘Lift and Shift” approach of moving your applications from your physical data centers into a new virtual one.

If you stop and think about it that is really the same approach as “Your Mess for Less”. Just pick up what you have and move it to a cheaper environment. It also reflects the perspective that your IT is a commodity back office function supporting the business where costs need to minimized. This was pretty sensible since 80% of most IT shops expenditures are devoted to just keeping the legacy applications up and running.

Fast forward to today. The world has flipped. IT has moved to the front office. It is now a differentiator and drives the battle for competitive advantage. Any executive who does not appreciate that the value of the goods or services they produce is being increasingly driven by the information it embodies is frankly looking at the end of their career. Think that is too harsh? See: “The digital economy will steamroller your business if you don’t adapt”.

Here’s the good news. The cloud can get you there pretty easily but you need to take advantage of its other characteristics besides cost effectiveness. Your applications need to be cloud native or cloud aware. You do not need to be a rocket scientist to understand what this means. Simply put, in order to take advantage of the other features of the cloud – scalability, failure protection, flexibility, speed to deploy, etc. your applications need to be designed with the capability and characteristics of the cloud in mind. These are different from the enterprise data center of the past.

Over the last 50 years there has been an evolution in how software has been constructed due to the increasing power and capabilities of the machines they run on. It seems to change about once a decade. We are now in the fifth generation of that evolution – using cloud.

Let’s take a look at the implications. We can break the challenges down to two different buckets – your current applications and your new ones. The current applications you elect to move to the cloud will require some retooling. How much depends on the application itself and what cloud platform you choose. (For example, if you are a Microsoft shop, they have made it as easy as possible to move to their Azure cloud.)

Which current applications do you choose to move? You need to take a look at where you stand by performing an application portfolio analysis or review. Overall, you want to consider what applications running today should be left alone versus those you should move to increase your competitiveness, market share and profitability. There are tools available that can facilitate this analysis of what needs to be changed to make your old application cloud native and they even produce estimates of how much work that might require.

For new applications – and almost all new applications are being written for cloud – the task is easier because you can start with a clean sheet and develop them to optimize their performance in the cloud right from the start.

Here is the key. In either case, this requires you engage developers who can grasp and implement the new way of thinking about applications in the cloud. The folks who do this are increasingly scarce. Whether you build or buy them, make sure you have these next generation developers on board, or under contract from the right kind of partner.

Speed, agility, cost effectiveness resulting in increased market share and profitability, that’s the ticket. But, you only get it if you go native – cloud native.

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