AWS looks to help clients give legacy systems the boot

For a guy that works at an IT infrastructure provider, Stephen Orban, head of enterprise strategy at Amazon Web Services (AWS), spends an awful lot of time talking to executives about running the business.

About half his time to be precise. The former CIO of Dow Jones has been working with AWS for more than two and a half years now and he says he’s regularly talking to client CIOs and executives about changing people, processes, and technology so they can adapt to the cloud. Not just for the new projects, but for those mission critical applications that many insist on keeping on premises.

“Most of our customers will tell us cloud is the obvious choice for any net new business development they’re getting into,” he says in an interview at the Gartner CIO Summit in Toronto on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the IT department is still spending 85 per cent of its time keeping the metaphorical lights on. As those new business development projects add up, the organization becomes more complex and it’s harder to make the bandwidth to keep up with the needs of the business. So AWS is looking to solve that problem too, with its professional services team forming a centre of excellence around migration from legacy on-premises systems to the AWS cloud.

“There’s never been a better time to work in IT,” Orban says. “Because you have a platform to use to figure out how to store and compute. All that time and attention can go towards what you’re going to do for the business.”

AWS offers a Cloud Adoption Framework to customers looking to move on from legacy systems.

AWS is taking a more holistic approach and developing a migration acceleration program that pulls together all the parts of the business and helps provide on way to migrate a portfolio to the cloud – whether it’s in part or in full. It’s developed a “landing zone” target that defines what a modern operating model looks like, not only from the infrastructure and technology perspective, but from an operational and people perspective too.

It begins with a readiness assessment, challenging clients to think through their business case and to form a team that will attend to the cloud migration. It examines the security governance that’s in place and eventually moves on to articulating an ROI that will result from the project.

“We have a common ROI theme we see around workforce productivity,” he says. “We have a model an organization can use to see where their IT people spend time today and how they can be more efficient.”

The migration methodology leans on Amazon’s own internal best practices. For example, one exercise has customers write a press release announcing to the world that they’ve launched the new business initiative, before they even start building anything. That helps provide focus for a proof of concept to get up and running quickly.

Orban points to one client AWS worked with recently, a large telecom provider in North America. Moving through this process, they identified that 2,000 IT workers could be 50 per cent more productive if they were trained for the cloud and then migrated their applications to work there. That’s people power that can be applied to the next new business effort.

Part of cloud adoption is making clear to the IT team that technology isn’t being adopted for technology’s sake. AWS involves multiple stakeholders inside of its clients to work towards the outcome really needed by the business. That can range from boosting website performance to a corporate business continuity plan for global disaster resiliency.

The CIO plays a key role in this, Orban says, in getting the rest of the executive team to buy into the transformation. They need to stay focused and be committed to reaching the outcome.

Canadian expansion

Migrating to AWS in Canada may have become more recently appealing to at least some organizations with data residency compliance requirements. AWS just opened up its local Canadian region with Montreal data centres in December 2016.

“Our customers have told us they want our help in migrating their legacies so we’ve been making some substantial investments,” Orban says. “Migration is not an exclusive focus for us, but it is a meaningful focus.”

Amazon will say only that it has tens of thousands of customers in Canada. But Orban says discussions are happening with large financial services companies about how to train staff, organize people, and embark on a large scale migration to the cloud.

“I believe that’s representative of the larger customer base here,” he says.

AWS also recently added a Direct Connect location to Toronto, and is looking to scale up its office in the city with new hires.



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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Brian Jackson
Brian Jackson
Former editorial director of IT World Canada. Current research director at Info-Tech

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