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Organizations of all sizes within every industry are a buzz about “The Cloud.” Questions such as how can this bring more value to our company, can we save money, do we have the necessary talent and skills, and how will this affect our current applications are all critical factors, but many organizations may not be able to easily answer them. The difficulty or inability to address these concerns with confidence may point to larger and possibly missing need—comprehensive enterprise architecture. Enterprise architecture (EA) has many interpretations, but its best implementation is when organizations establish an EA practice that helps shape (or demystify) the business strategy and bridges the strategy-to-execution gap to drive positive business outcomes.
"A proper enterprise architecture practice can help bring clarity to the nebulous world of the cloud and help answer the critical questions to determine which areas make sense to pursue"
Cloud technologies have a large role to play in the digital transformations that many firms are currently undertaking, but companies need to identify which cloud-based solutions can help deliver maximum impact in their digital journey. Enterprise architects can help executives and technologists evaluate the ever-evolving cloud landscape. One of the first aspects of this is to understand which components of the cloud an organization should pursue. Let us consider the three major categories of cloud technology: software-as-a-service (SaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS), and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS).
Software-as-a-service (SaaS) allows organizations to use software free from having to install it on end users’ workstations. W hile t his c an p rovide a v ery r apid p ath to begin getting value out of these applications, it also carries s ome u ndesired i mplications. F irst, t he e ase of provisioning access to these solutions could bring about increased per user costs that can quickly become higher than initially planned. Wearing a governance hat, enterprise architects can help their company identify personas—types of users across the enterprise—and determine which personas would require access to the SaaS application. Knowing the current and future user counts in the applicable personas allows an organization to better evaluate and negotiate pricing with a long-term outlook w hen o nboarding a S aaS a pplication. S econd, the proliferation of SaaS applications can also generate additional data silos and business process fragmentation. With an intense focus on a company’s operating model, enterprise architects can ensure that they select SaaS products that support the necessary level of data and process integration.
Platform-as-a-service (PaaS) provides a full stack of user interfaces, data, and services to develop cloud-native solutions. How widely the PaaS solution is used is an important concern and, much like SaaS, PaaS requires architects to consider possible integration scenarios. If the plan is for only one business unit or operational segment to use the platform, enterprise architects should look around the organization to see if aspects of the platform could possibly benefit other parts of the organization. Regardless of the platform’s scope, enterprise architects must evaluate their current application and services landscape and look for opportunities to consolidate and retire applications where the platform could enable a better user experience. With PaaS offerings like Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 and Salesforce’sForce.com, enterprise architects may discover areas to combine and embed analytics, business process, customer data, and numerous third party services on a common foundation. To maximize the opportunities with PaaS, enterprise architects must help ensure that the company’s software development talent has the skills to build upon and extend the platform.
Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) affords organizations vast computing and storage power while avoiding the capital expenditure otherwise required to run their own data centers or operate their own servers. The benefits of IaaS become increasingly clear when one considers the need to scale their infrastructure vertically or horizontally. The elastic scaling opportunities of IaaS may not be reachable without changes to an organization’s application architecture. Whereas PaaS offerings require investment in software developer skill sets, IaaS carries a similar burden for organizations’ IT operations associates in addition to its developers. Many companies have looked at the cloud with hopes to lower costs, but simply lifting on premises infrastructure into the cloud will not necessarily bring about a reduced cost footprint. It is important for enterprise architects to possess financial acumen and help their company evaluate the overall financial picture involved with IaaS and cloud technologies in general.
As you can see, these three classifications of cloud technologies cover a very broad spectrum. Additionally, many niche “as-a-service” offerings such as database-as-a-service and security-as-a-service further fill this growing space. Like any technology decision, enterprise architects and technology leaders must start with the business strategy and outcomes. Once business and technology stakeholders understand and agree with the vision and direction, enterprise architects can help map out the capabilities needed to achieve the organization’s goals. With this capability-based planning, organizations are able to have a more productive discussion and evaluation of the cloud. Enterprise architects should understand the organization’s cloud appetite and address the associated security, financial, and talent implications when they propose cloud investment options. A proper enterprise architecture practice can help bring clarity to the nebulous world of the cloud and help answer the critical questions to determine which areas make sense to pursue.