Thoughts from Darren Bassett, former head of IT Development at the Department for Education
2017 was a great year. We were treated to some of Donald Trump’s finest moments, we had another General Election, Coventry City won at Wembley for the second time ever (lets ignore the subsequent relegation to Division 4), and North Korea made the move not just to Cloud, but through it with a number of ballistic missile launches. And if Kim Jong-Un can do it, then why can’t you? Isn’t your data centre’s red button bigger than his?
For the first half of 2017 in my previous job at the Department for Education a key objective was to get the Department to cloud. The main driver for this was so that a move across Westminster could take place without the need to take up unnecessary space in the building with servers and filers and gas fire suppression systems, but we took the opportunity to go further and to move the entire enterprise.
The first thing to do was to understand the technology infrastructure that we had in 3 data centres. Easier said than done unless you are working somewhere with a rigorous CMDB. I wasn’t. But that was a really important first step and we spent several months in 2016 planning the migration activities, considering methodologies and cleaning up all the guff that was lying around. More than half of what were being managed as “business critical applications” were decommissioned, or archived. This meant we only had to deal with half an estate. Although most of it was complicated and outside of the skillset of a team that had been used to managing applications on premise.
Tip 1: Don’t expect your team to know everything. And tell them it’s good to learn new skills.
Just because you can’t hug a server and see it’s little lights twinkling doesn’t mean it is insecure or doesn’t exist. Having been to the Azure data centre in Dublin, I am pretty confident that nobody reading this will be able to match the levels of physical security they have in place there, unless your anti-tank moat is a bit deeper or wider? Selling a technology vision is often easier to end users than it is to those whose jobs have been to run legacy. But in a marketplace which lacks digital skills, enthuse people to learn. Give them the chance to fail and to get better on the job. Reward them with the exciting tasks and get them to work side-by-side with any additional capability you feel the need to bring in, as they will be the ones running services in the months and years to come.
Tip 2: Speak with other people that have done it, or tried it and failed
This was difficult for us as we were far more leading-edge than we ever wanted to be. But we found that some suppliers were very good at writing proposals about their experience and track record in migrating to cloud and then when the flesh was pressed it wasn’t quite the case. The stakeholder network was vital to me – Microsoft, delivery partners, other government bodies. Each could add something to the conversation, even if it was “this is how not to do it!”
Tip 3: Be brave
We set an ambitious target to exit our data centres by the end of March 2017. This slipped, but if we hadn’t set an aggressive target then would we have done it? If I was doing it again, I would go faster. We spent longer than we needed too looking for the perfect design documentation that would enable us to seamlessly shift that .NET application that was built in 2007. It shouldn’t have been moved – we should have taken the relevant functionality and workflow and built it into Dynamics. But hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Tip 4: Take the opportunity to upgrade and refresh
Following on from the above point, cloud doesn’t just bring with it a reduction in CapEx. It brings mobility and scalability. No longer do staff need to be sat in the same office chair from 9-5, Monday to Friday. Before I went to University I worked at a plating company in Coventry and I clocked in and out every day. When my kids get to working age, I am sure they will consider this about as realistic a scenario as one when you used to plug your computer into a television and if you wanted to play a game then you had to wire it up to a tape player. At which point my 8-year-old will say “what’s a tape player?” and I will give up on that conversation. Would you benefit from an upgrade to the latest Office suite/ Dynamics 365? Often the costs of an upgrade and a data migration are less than a lift and shift or rebuild in a Cloud environment that isn’t totally fit for purpose.
Tip 5: Celebrate success along the way
Your team will work hard to do this. Most of it will be out of hours or at weekend to minimise disruption. They will be tired, get grumpy, so make sure they know how much it is appreciated. Without them you simply won’t succeed.
Tip 6: Expect more change
Once you are in the Cloud then the possibilities are endless. So be prepared to keep going and evolving. The good news is that you have demonstrated you can successfully deliver change and take people with you.
I loved being part of the Modernisation Programme at the Department for Education. We had strong and visionary leadership, it was tough going and it didn’t always go smoothly. But, by the time I had left I had helped create a working culture whereby people were not tied to desks in government buildings, which has the potential to save £millions per annum in rent. It gave staff flexibility to work remotely and access the applications and data they need from a location they wanted to access it from.
And now I have joined a company that is an expert in delivery cloud technology solutions. I am really looking forward to 2018 being another cloud-filled and successful year.