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Accenture’s chief software engineer shared a 4-step checklist for companies just starting their journey to the cloud — like which projects to pick and how to measure success

  • Companies are often eager to tout the advanced, artificial-intelligence-based applications they are using —but many organizations are just now starting on their digital-transformation journey. 
  • Often the first step is crafting a cloud strategy. The process can be daunting, but Accenture's Adam Burden suggests companies start with a project that doesn't pose a high-level of risk. 
  • Once organizations begin the transition to the cloud, Burden argues it's important they measure impact with metrics beyond economic gains. 
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Most executives at some point or another have probably asked themselves: "Should I migrate my business to the cloud?"

Companies love to tout the machine-learning and artificial-intelligence-based applications they are implementing, but in many cases organizations are just starting on their digital transformation journey. Often, the first step is deciding on a cloud strategy.

"Every business is a digital business. And frankly, every digital business is in the cloud," Adam Burden, the chief software engineer at consulting firm Accenture, told Business Insider. As Accenture's clients are transforming, "they're finding the cloud is really an essential ingredient of making that transition." 

Increasingly, firms are opting for a hybrid model, where some of their information is stored on a public cloud — like Amazon Web Services — while other data is held privately in on-premise clouds. But it can be a difficult decision to make and one that can have sizeable business impacts in the years to come.

Most, however, just need to get started, according to Burden. At Accenture, he oversees over 35,000 software engineers across the globe. Burden shared the four tips the company provides clients who are starting their cloud journey.

Don't over analyze. Just get started.

Spending too much time debating issues like which information to transfer first can put companies in "analysis paralysis," according to Burden.

"It's actually important just to get started," he said. "Don't over analyze."

The hesitancy to move is a common problem as companies consider how to pursue a digital upgrade. Often, organizations think they don't have the budget to migrate to the cloud or stored data for artificial-intelligence-based applications. 

There is some justification for those concerns. While competition in the cloud industry between Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and others have driven down costs, executives are still surprised at the price. But that's not always the case for tech upgrades. A subscription to Watson Studio, IBM's data science platform, for example, costs only $5,000 a month. 

Find 'no regret' moves to begin with, then move to bigger projects.

Alongside the hesitancy to get started, companies often have difficulty figuring out exactly which information to move to the cloud initially, says Burden.

Organizations shouldn't seek to move all their data at once. Instead, Burden suggests picking what he refers to as a "no regret" move, or one that comes with relatively low risk. "It can be a great proving ground for identifying whether there's some compatibility problems with your systems as you can as you begin to move them," he said.

Two areas that typically works for all organization is the customer relationship management or human resources systems. There's a litany of cloud-based platforms like Workday and Salesforce that can replace the on-premise applications and begin to offer the next-generation capabilities the tech promises.

Taking a hard look at those products and "comparing them to some of their on-premise capabilities, that can be a really important place to start as well and can actually release some early benefits," Burden said.

Take the opportunity to review your application portfolio

On average, most companies have 800 applications across the enterprise, whether that be tools to help manage customer service complaints or platforms for accounting and billing, according to Burden. That number can rise as high as 15,000.

The transfer to the cloud presents a good opportunity for organizations to review their application portfolio to determine duplication or whether some products are no longer in use.

"They have a lot of redundancy in their portfolio. Often they also have a lot of applications that they keep around for regulatory purposes or just for reporting purposes. Even though they're largely deprecated, they could actually retire them if they had a place to actually move them," Burden said.

It's not always feasible, however. Some businesses, for example, need to quickly move out of data centers because a lease is ending or storage is running out and don't have time to conduct the analysis.

And even doing the review doesn't mean companies will be able to remove all their applications that are no longer widely used. "Sometimes it can be more expensive to retire them than to keep them running," says Burden.

Measure what matters, not just the economic results

Executives and board members always want to see a financial return from investments like the shift to cloud, but companies should look to other metrics aside from economic impact, Burden argued.

Among the "softer benefits" he says organizations should consider is the time that cloud can save. In the past, it could take business units months to procure a data server to advance a project. Now, with the cloud, it takes "a matter of seconds," he said.

"It's not a hard dollar benefit like some of the others, but it's a real benefit," says Burden.

The move to cloud is an important foundational piece for companies who are eager to pursue more advanced, AI or machine-learning-based applications. The tips from Burden can serve as a roadmap for those executives that are beginning to craft their own cloud strategy.