How a center of excellence can fuel cloud success

As organizations continue to adopt “Cloud First” and “Cloud Smart” strategies to capitalize on scale, productivity, and agility opportunities, the lessons learned from a variety of commercial and public-sector organizations reveal that capturing the full benefits of cloud computing requires an enterprise-level cloud center of excellence.

Adopting new disciplines in the dual-speed IT world that the cloud fosters requires true transformation. For example, because the entire application portfolio typically must be migrated over time rather than all at once, a central governance function is required to deliver ongoing first-speed needs. Meanwhile, more customers of IT are submitting new project requests that require faster second speed to execute in an agile DevOps fashion.

IT departments and their customers are being inundated with emerging technology and new capabilities amid a growing ecosystem of cloud partners, which is evolving as fast as new cloud capabilities are brought online. And yet, many in the broader IT user community do not know how to achieve the full benefits that the cloud can deliver on demand, including computing, databases, storage, and security.

In this rapidly evolving environment, having an informed view of the latest and greatest cloud-based opportunities should rest on the shoulders of a cloud center of excellence -- a cross-functional team responsible for developing and managing the enterprise cloud strategy, governance, best practices, approaches, methods, and knowledge to transform mission critical functions and business units via the cloud. The center leads cloud migrations, governance and overall adoption.

A cloud center of excellence can develop and rapidly disseminate expertise to correctly execute cloud migrations and help the organization capitalize on the full potential of the cloud. And because the cloud is not the panacea for all situations, the answer is not always clear-cut. Sometimes, the solution is a combination of on-premise software and a private or public cloud. To identify the best approach, the center can develop a robust cloud strategy and build the financial case. A center can also identify the ideal approach to rationalize, refactor, and re-engineer applications and migrate the portfolio with established, accelerated transition plans that are developed based on collective lessons learned.

Cloud centers of excellence offer an array of powerful benefits:

  • Develop the “burning platform” or business imperative, define the broader cloud strategy, and clearly articulate it by highlighting more than a list of technology benefits
  • Provide clarity on the rationale for the workload distribution across traditional, co-location, and cloud set-ups, and clarify the workload categorization for X as-a-service, or “Anything as a Service” (Which apps are suitable for which model?)
  • Enumerate the comprehensive cost-side implications, including transition costs
  • Lock in benefits beyond reducing operating costs, such as faster time to market and legacy optimization
  • Build and disseminate best practices, governance, and frameworks
  • Set up vendors and business case accounting for the cost implications of insourcing or retaining high-price incumbents
  • Identify the challenges and risks with cloud migration and the need for contract transparency
  • Manage the cloud adoption life cycle from the strategy, road map, design, migration, and application modernization to cybersecurity, compliance, and ongoing support

Getting started requires several key moves:

  • Establish single-threaded ownership
  • Clearly define necessary roles
  • Build core team of experts including but not limited to agile scrum leads, developers, network engineers, IT operations, and database administrators
  • Focus initially on: permissions, governance, architecture, security, and cost
  • Partner closely with mission and business function leads

Successful cloud centers of excellence require:

  • Strong executive, senior leadership support for the center as the enterprise central hub and authority for cloud enablement best practices
  • Training the organization on the center’s frameworks and approaches
  • Continually monitoring and keeping abreast of new tools and partners

Reports sponsored by leading cloud computing firms including CloudCheckr have studied the state of public sector cloud adoption with data points from more than 300 participants. Respondents indicate that more than 80 percent of those with a cloud center of excellence say it is effective and 96 percent believe they would benefit from a center with key reported benefits leading to reduce security risks and costs, and improving the ability to be innovative and agile.

As with any center of excellence, the cloud center of excellence should be the central enterprise-level authority with broad and deep expertise. It should work with the office of the CIO (and office of the chief digital officer where it exists) to develop organization-wide rules, policies, automation, templates, best practices, and services for cloud adoption. It should also ensure that applications are ready for migration and identify the best path to migrate. Ultimately, the cloud center of excellence should create, evangelize, and institutionalize best practices and approaches for cloud. It is an indispensable value driver of cloud enablement—accelerating the overall cloud journey.

About the Authors

Jeff Sorenson, retired Army Lieutenant General (CIO/G-6), is President of A.T. Kearney Public Sector and Defense Services, LLC.

Michael Hong is a principal at A.T. Kearney Public Sector and Defense Services LLC, and leads digital transformations efforts across the U.S. government. He can be reached at

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