Monday, January 3, 2011

Reaching IT Nirvana without Losing Touch with Reality

The idea of completely detaching from solid grounds to hover in a new, virtual and somewhat amorphous state is inherently a deterring idea for any human being. Evidently there is something quite morbid about this idea.

Though the state of Nirvana is consciously or unconsciously aspired by many, very few dare to actually reach such a state. Essentially, the promise of Nirvana is to reach the state of being detached and free from the shackles of human suffering. Essentially, the promise of Cloud Computing is to reach a state of being detached and free from the shackles of IT infrastructures – i.e. IT suffering.
One way of reaching IT Nirvana

It is obvious why many fear a transition of such magnitude.

Many enterprises whether still contemplating on moving to the cloud, or even those who already began their journey to the cloud are very much concerned with the many risks and challenges that cloud computing entails:
  • Privacy\Security – Is there any true privacy in the cloud?
  • Availability – Can I trust a cloud infrastructure to be operational all day, every day?
  • Reliability - When disaster occurs, is the cloud vendor resourceful and skilled enough to recuperate?
  • Vendor Lock - Will it be possible to easily switch from one cloud infrastructure to another?
All these risk and challenges that everybody talks about these days have one attribute in common. They are all external risks. They are out of the direct control of the organization or the software vendor. It is a very natural and expected behavior to focus on external risks, especially for managers and leaders who usually exhibit strong internal locus of control. The more one tends to be in control of things, the more hesitant one becomes when things are taken out of one’s control.
CIOs and CTOs fear losing control over their IT infrastructure

When so much external challenges at hand, many overlook one internal challenge, which is regarded as trivial, and that is the transition of the existing application from client\server application to an internet application.
It is quite clear for many how the external risks may lead to project failure and unplanned costs, but as the cloud infrastructure maturity grows, the risks of moving to the cloud lie mostly in the successful transition of the application at hand.

Cloud means Internet and for many Internet means Browser and a whole new UI opportunity for their revamped applications, forgetting the fact that the application users have not changed.

One of the overlooked high risks when moving to the cloud is the risk of hindering the application usability and by that loosing the buy-in of the most important stakeholders - the application end-users.
Usability is achieved not just by adhering to general heuristics and UI design guidelines. Optimal usability is achieved (and most importantly maintained) by Familiarity and Consistency.

In a new application, UI familiarity and consistency is achieved by adhering to the same patterns, mental models, and terminology throughout the application.
In revamped applications, where the motivation for the application revamp is not its user experience, but its architecture) UI familiarity and consistency is achieved by maintaining a similar user experience (UX), so end-users do not get lost in a whole new user interface and do not need to spend days in learning the whereabouts of the new imposed UI.

For most organizations and projects, the cloud infrastructures maturity is strong enough to mitigate the risks of being an external infrastructure. The true risk nowadays lie in the capability of revamped applications to continue serve existing customer base without losing an ounce of end-users productivity.

When venturing into the cloud, do not lose sight of those who will eventually adopt or reject the new cloud-based application, thus deeming the project a success or a failure – your end-users. Your end-users did not choose to go to the cloud, it is the choice of the company. The end-users do not need nor want to sacrifice anything of their productivity for the sake of new infrastructure efficiency.
Detaching business applications from solid grounds (on-premise) and losing touch with reality (end-users) will result not in IT Nirvana but in applications miserable demise.
CIOs and CTOs are at a crossroad, needing not only to choose the right cloud-based infrastructure but also the right RIA technology. The major criteria for that RIA technology is the ability to keep the end-users productive at least as before the transition by providing them a true desktop experience over the internet.
Microsoft, described it beautifully in their recent Cloud-Power video: “I can change how everyone works, without changing how everyone works!”. This sums it all up.

Ofer Spiegel
Ofer Spiegel is the Director of Product Marketing at Magic Software Enterprises.