This post is an excerpt from the free e-book “Bringing the UK Government into the Cloud.” Download the full e-book today or e-mail us at ukps@microsoft.com for more information. 

Having worked with many public sector organisations of different sizes – either directly or through our SME partners – we’ve developed seven key steps to start your journey to the cloud. There are possibly lots of other intermediate steps and even slightly different approaches depending on the level of complexity and scale of what you trying to achieve. However consider these points as you move forward:

#1 - Get Educated

Get yourself educated, get your colleagues educated, get everyone educated, and not just the IT folks.

It's really important the leadership team, procurement, finance, HR and all the key business functions in the business understand the 'art of the possible' with cloud computing.

Research the cloud suppliers, meet them, read the case studies and ask lots of questions. Can the suppliers deliver robust enterprise class IT services? Are they committed to the highest levels of security and privacy? What are their SLAs and price points? What are their terms and conditions?

#2 - Create a Strategic Cloud Manifesto

Review, refine and agree your strategic objectives for the business in the light of what cloud services can offer.

Cloud services can help change the way you do things but that requires change in culture, practices and procedures. Get executive and stakeholder commitment and make sure as many people are bought into new ideas.

Use tools like Yammer to solicit views across the organisation, run webinars, do polls and surveys to see what people think. Exploit the power of the crowd.

"You don't have to put everything into the cloud," reminds Microsoft UK public sector sales lead for Dynamics, Michael Wignall. "A hybrid model is very plausible. So stick processes or systems suitable for the cloud in the cloud, but if you've got a legacy system that it just doesn't make sense to move to the cloud, at least in the short term, keep it on premise and just integrate them."

If you need some support to decide which services to move to the cloud or to help you prepare to make the move, we can help by running a workshop for you. Just speak to your Microsoft services executive or representative.

#3 - Build the Business Case, Build an Inventory

A strong business case can really help propel a project forward. Think about whether cloud services will help reduce costs immediately, or help you avoid having to do a tech refresh with the associated capex in a few years' time. Also don't just limit the scope of the financials to the IT. It may well be that new cloud services will help you save money in other parts of the organisation. One common saving is in the estates budget. Using Office 365 cloud services can enable flexible working which in turn reduces the need for lots of expensive office space, light and heating. A smaller datacentre will also reduce costs.

Conduct an inventory of users’ roles, workloads and applications. Triage those into:

  • Can move to the cloud now,
  • Require remediation and some rework before moving to cloud, or
  • Need to continue running on legacy infrastructure and will require complete replacement in the future.

#4 - Just Try It!

A good way to get a feel for the possibilities of cloud computing is to sign up for a free trial and just start playing. All of Microsoft's cloud services including Azure, Office 365, CRM Online and Intune offer free trials.

These can help you establish proof of concepts. Identify a small group of users or a non-critical workload and try out the service. Get familiar with the functionality of the service and work through the implications of using a cloud service, whether that is how your existing IT infrastructure integrates and interacts with the cloud services, or how your users will respond to the new service. In the case of Microsoft' services, users will experience no major change with the user interface.

One of the quickest and easiest moves to the cloud you can make is signing up to Yammer. There is a paid-for version available, which offers more possibilities for tailoring, gives you administration rights and gives you ownership of all the information on your the network. However initially you can just sign up to the free version and encourage colleagues to join you.

"99% of executives agree that working towards more clarity and collaboration is a good idea but only a small fraction do anything about it," says Yammer's Edmund Ovington. "You have to do it yourself, not go and tell someone to do it. Then it's a steamroller - everyone else follows suit."

In fact using Yammer and unified communications tools like Lync Online can help to facilitate the rest of your journey to the cloud.

If you're an ICT professional, you might want to be a bit more adventurous.

Microsoft UK government industry manager, Richard Shipton, explains, "Most public sector organisations will have some kind of MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) benefit. I'd advise anyone who's technically savvy and willing to experiment just to log in to MSDN, activate your Azure benefit and just try it. Create a VM (virtual machine). Create some storage. Take something you had stored on prem, marked no higher than IL2 and stick it into Azure and see how easy it is."

#5 - Set Strong Cloud Foundations

"Getting a pilot of Office 365 or Azure up and running is something customers can do with no real technical knowledge and no real support from Microsoft," says Microsoft bid manager, Paul Tarttelin. "Taking on a pilot tenancy is very simple to do. We use the word tenancy because in a way you're renting - it's very much a buy-as-you-use service. You can set up mailboxes see what Lync and SharePoint do, etc. It's very easy."

However, he warns, "There's a big difference between doing that and deciding you want to put all your organisation's email and intranet onto Office 365. That's a much bigger leap. We help customers do this with our Cloud Vantage Managed Deployment service."

We also offer a service called Managed Lifecycle Engagement, which helps customers remodel their operational processes to make them compatible with using the cloud. Both services are listed in the G-Cloud v4 CloudStore.

Alternatively you can opt to work with one of the many Microsoft partners who are offering their services through the CloudStore.

#6 - Identify Early Wins

In order to get buy in always try and identify early wins, 'low hanging fruit' and set up lighthouse projects. These early projects usually have benefits which can be easily realised in short timescale.

They give confidence to practitioners and users alike, will help with further education as to the art of the possible, help with change management, and also help to refine the business case for larger projects.

Always pick projects that have easy targets and objectives and can be managed with just a small set of resources to begin with.

Be ready to make lots of quick course corrections, be adaptable to unforeseen issues and keep everyone informed.

How long it will take to move systems and processes to the cloud depends on the services you're using and the complexities involved.

Something like introducing Yammer for collaboration can take just a few days, and a few weeks to build up momentum. Developing and launching a bespoke app is likely to take considerably longer, however if you're planning to host it in the public cloud you can effectively miss out the load testing phase.

"You need to test the app initially to make sure it has been written appropriately to scale. But once it's live, if you get into peak situations, the system can just get more resources," reassures Microsoft UK head of solution development for the public sector, Carlos Gomes. "With an in-house solution you would have to source and configure a new server with enough capacity to cope with the peak levels of demand you anticipate - that might take weeks. Cloud computing takes those delays and costs out of the equation. Off you go and it scales."

#7 - Implement, Configure, Iterate and Feedback

The Government Digital Service design manual offers some helpful advice on the stages you should go through when planning and implementing digital services:

Discovery - Research the needs of your service's users and explore any technological or policy-related constraints.

Alpha - Create prototype solutions to meet your users' needs, and test them with a small group of users and gather feedback.

Beta - Develop a fully working version designed to scale to meet demand and release a test version to the general public.

Live - Launch the 'final version', but remember that you should continue to improve the service in response to new needs and demands.

See the manual here.

Also always try to remember to buy services you can configure, rather than customise

"If you're using ready-made cloud services, you need to forego a certain amount of custom tailoring and bespoke design," recommends Paul Tarttelin.

"You can build a completely tailored, customised CRM system using Dynamics CRM Online, but we strongly advise that customers keep it simple and make use of the service as it's provided. This is one of the key principles of a successful cloud adoption strategy.

"When it comes to something like the evergreen service, every line of bespoke code has to be checked to make sure it works in the newly upgraded version. You're much better off keeping it simple and signing up to service as it is."

So customisation, such as changing the system to accommodate specific complex workflows, can cause problems. However configuration using the options available in the tool will enable you to tailor it to a certain extent without causing any problems with upgrades.

Instead of looking for ways to change tools so they accommodate your existing internal processes, it's worth considering whether moving to the cloud could provide an opportunity to simplify and streamline your processes.

Always continue with a process of continuous improvement through iteration and agile process development, rather than 'big bang'. And always gain feedback from users of new cloud based solutions. Whereas changes could have taken many months, cloud solutions can typically be reconfigured and changed very quickly on the basis of constructive feedback. Develop ways in which you can capture feedback, analyse the trends and focus on the changes that will have the biggest impact for the most users.