So You Are Still Afraid Of The ERP Cloud?

Scott Iverson, Director Information Services, The J.R. Watkins Co.
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Scott Iverson, Director Information Services, The J.R. Watkins Co.

On August 2nd 2015, our mid-size Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) Company completed an upgrade from an on premise ERP solution to a cloud-based suite of products. In three short months, we were able to decommission an eight year old technology and go-live with the latest in a vertical specific system to help drive us to a better future. We put to bed the traditional ERP system and hardware and gave birth to a new set of tools that will change how we conduct business today. We just became business solution providers, leaving behind the past of being archaic back room IT geeks. The IT transformation is on. 

It was not without pause that I recommended we make this move.  I had to worry about people who have spent years managing this architecture from unplanned hardware failures to system patches. This was part of their daily routine. It was a bullet point on their job description.  

We also had performance to worry about. How would going from an on premise system to one off-site affect the daily activities that go into managing a manufacturing and distribution business? We need this system to help us plan and execute. We need it every day and it needs to be as reliable as it was when it was sitting in our basement datacenter. 

And let’s not forget about security and disaster recovery. How can I guarantee we’re safely transacting business and not allowing outside predators access to our systems? Many people involved with enterprises today are all a little too naïve about how safe our current on premise systems are today. 

Let’s start with the IT transformation I mentioned earlier.  Ask yourself, as an IT professional at company X, are you doing much of anything measurable that is improving the bottom line? That is a question I deal with every day.  If your desire is to continue to sit in that back room keeping the lights blinking on the hardware, I suggest you might not be the right person to lead IT for your organization. Hardware maintenance is not to be taken lightly but traditional IT like that in the walls of a manufacturer are becoming few and far between.  Companies are finding out that it’s much more desirable to have an IT team that can help drive revenue and margin improvements versus being a cost-center you cannot live without.  

Today’s IT professionals need to be integrated within all business areas. We are part of multi-functional teams working on process improvement to help drive that bottom line.  We are the bridge between functional expertise and technological know-how. 

A great system that cannot sustain good performance is a killer. You know that feeling when a relative or friend asks you to look at their computer because it just seems too slow? You’re the “computer geek”, you can fix it. It’s painful, right? Well, multiply that by every user you have in your business.  

We had custom application integrations on-site that would now need to venture out in the wild blue yonder to gain access to data that once sat one rack over. We did not know how this move would affect these applications but it’s something you must put some thought into. I knew in my heart that with enough time and testing, we would get past this possible issue.  

In my estimation, this part of the move was the most demanding and took up the most of our time as a whole. In-house custom systems were built with shortcuts and those shortcuts were certainly noticed when we completed our first test migration.  They were not killers but they did take many weeks of performance modifications and testing to improve upon. 

My recommendations for adopting the cloud:  

Completely understand how your integrations communicate with your potential cloud system and how moving it off-site might affect performance. You will likely be making some major changes on how often you go to the well for new data.  

Please, make sure you test out your integrated systems before you make the change. More than likely, if they are in-house applications built by your team, you’ll find many performance improvements you could make today even if you did not move to the cloud. Performance will be your biggest obstacle if you are integrating any systems. 

Lastly, let’s discuss security and disaster recovery. The last thing you want is to recommend moving to the cloud only to have a security breach occur because of it. It’s a scary and very daunting thought to have your trade secrets be out in the ether. They have to be safer in that basement datacenter, right? But are they really? 

Let me make it simple for you. Do you have a team of people that are dedicated to the security of your systems?  And when I say dedicated, I mean, that is all they do. Are they properly trained and do they undergo continuing education? Do you have the capital to continuously invest in the latest and greatest security technology? Is your ERP disaster recovery plan fool proof and executable?  If you answered yes to all of these questions, well then, congratulations are in order. You are very much in the minority.  

If you answered no to any of them, then I would say you are no safer in that basement than you are in the cloud. Today’s hacker does not care if you are a $5M or $50B company. If there is a way in, they are looking to exploit it.  Are you ready?  

If you answered no to the Disaster Recovery (DR) question, your business operations are at risk right now. DR is such an underestimated task. The tough thing is most companies do not know they have a problem until it’s too late.  

I know, our cloud partner places security and disaster recovery at the top of all of their responsibilities. They know that their very livelihoods depend on being able to provide their customers to 24/7/365 access without any compromises.  

They have large teams of experts that monitor and react to the ever-changing hacker world out there. Each cloud provider is different and you must do your due diligence and put some serious thought into how safe you really are versus how safe you think you are. Be honest with yourself in this stage, it can hurt if you are not. 

I’ve only touched on a small list of questions you and your company need to ask yourself before you move to the cloud.  Most of items I have written about are the scare tactics that your adversaries will use to prevent such a move.  It may be your old-school IT manager or it could be the CEO of the company. Whoever it is, these questions need to be answered along with many others but these questions should not be the reasons you do not make that big step to moving your systems to the cloud.

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