It's arguable when the cloud took off as a trend in business. Some point to Salesforce, which started offering its customer relationship management platform as a service in the late 1990s. Others argue the push for cloud dominance started in 2006, when Amazon started offering its infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) to enterprises.

What isn't arguable is what's happened since. Now, it is almost impossible to remember when the cloud did not exist, or at least exist as a work platform.

We’ve reached a stage in the evolution of cloud computing where a large number of organizations, having banished their fears about placing data in the cloud, are now embracing not just cloud computing, but a cloud-first or cloud-native strategy for the workplace.

The Rise of Unified Cloud Platforms

Gartner analysts believe that 85% of organizations will have adopted a cloud-first model by 2025 and that they will not be able to deliver, or even properly articulate their digital strategies without the use of cloud-native architectures and technologies.  

They argue new workloads deployed in a cloud-native environment will be pervasive and not just popular, and that anything non-cloud will be considered legacy. By 2025, 95% of new digital workloads will be deployed on cloud-native platforms. As the operating model changes, the organization will turn to a product-orientated operating model where the entire value stream of business and IT will have to be aligned by products.

Wider user adoption and ROI will always be important, said John Milburn, CEO at Emeryville, Calif.-based Clear Skye, an identity access management software company, business leaders will shift focus to breaking down organizational silos to reduce friction and increase employee productivity as cloud-first solutions proliferate.

The right cloud-native platform removes departmental silos that have built up for the last 20 years, he said, and align all systems under one platform. For example, hiring and onboarding a new employee requires coordinated efforts between HR, IT, finance and operations. Each business function requires different tools and automating the process has historically been a difficult and manual undertaking. Cloud-native platforms enable a level of automation and alignment, reducing the risk of mistakes and increasing the speed in which tasks are completed.

“This is why we’re starting to see solutions like ServiceNow and Workday become platforms of choice for the digital workplace," Milburn said. "While many solutions are still focused on infrastructure, the future is for cloud-native solutions that prioritize business automation."

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Flexibility and Speed Driving Change

Automation is not the only thing driving the shift to cloud-native platforms. The need for flexibility and speed powered by custom security are also driving cloud-first strategies, said Rahul Bhageeradhan, global director of digital architecture, Wilmington, Del. based Kissflow, a digital workplace software firm.

The result is that many previously skeptical enterprises are adopting the cloud, led by the banking and financial services industry in their quest for faster and superior customer service. This faster, agile service can only be created if the prevailing development architecture allows the business to move forward at a rapid pace. No-code and low-code platforms are disrupting the traditional way applications are developed, tested and deployed.

The IT department is feeling the heat. The dynamic nature of processes demands continuous optimization and turns out to be a bottleneck for business, especially if IT cannot deliver applications on time. Low-code and no-code platforms make this more scalable, providing multiple environments for a business and DevOps team to test, build, deploy and modify applications collaboratively. Cloud tools are easily available and accessible to anyone in marketing, sales, design or finance to use in solving a business problem.

"This fundamental shift to a problem-solving approach should be the guiding principle for cloud-native strategy going forward,” Bhageeradhan said.

Related Article: What's Behind the Explosion of Low-Code and No-Code Applications

Learning Opportunities

Embrace Cloud-Native Strategies

So what do you need to do if you want to bring cloud-native strategies to your digital workplace? The first key element to any cloud-native strategy is to embrace change, said Will Milewski, senior vice president for cloud infrastructure and operations at Westlake, Ohio-based content services provider Hyland.

Hesitancy, especially with mission-critical applications that affect the business and require substantial time to execute, is to be expected. However, with more exposure to how applications are evolving and opportunities to collaborate with vendors to reduce business impact, migration and deployment, concerns are being demystified rapidly, he said.

Once an organization has embraced the process and begun down the cloud road, Milewski recommended that enterprises be active participants in migration strategy and execution. That process includes details like identifying integrations to internal tools dependent upon prior apps or systems and security-related considerations, such as SSL certifications and domain-specific keys.

There are dozens of items to go through to ensure a smooth migration and as little disruption as possible once a migration is complete. If a cloud partner doesn’t know all the end points and third-party integrations impacted by the migration, for example, the result will be a significant amount of post-migration effort.

“By embracing the migration process and being an active participant therein, enterprises will realize the benefits of that migration," Milewski said, adding the benefits include faster, more cost-effective and easier solution deployments, guaranteed disaster recovery, and empowered remote workforces.

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What IT Needs to Do

A key objective of application modernization is to shift to cloud-native development where applications are built directly in the cloud or on a Platform as a Service (PaaS) platform rather than on-premises physical infrastructures, said Kaushik De, vice president of custom software development and cloud CoE lead with New York City-based Capgemini Americas.

The shift to cloud-native development can help organizations realize significant gains in agility and quality. In this respect, there are a number of things that enterprise IT leaders should do:

  1. Identify Priorities: CIOs need to evaluate which of their existing applications will benefit most from being rewritten as cloud native, and which business initiatives and strategic priorities justify the investment of creating net-new cloud-native applications. Cloud native brings the greatest benefits when building new applications or services that drive competitive differentiation and top-line revenue growth. These will often be web, mobile, IoT or big-data apps.
  2. Start Small: A realistic starting point is a single program involving one small team in a contained area. This allows the value of these new methods to be proven in a relatively low-risk manner. Members selected for this project should be change agents and future leaders to drive these early programs. Skills learned from these pilot projects can then be fed into further initiatives on a more ambitious scale. This delivers a gradual, sustainable increase in the in-house skills base.
  3. Adapt the IT Operating Model: Business agility and stability are primary goals. The DevOps model is the essential enabler of cloud-native development as it is both a cultural shift and a technology movement. One of the cultural changes that DevOps brings includes the removal of barriers between organizational units to enable collaborative discussions within teams.
  4. Be Pragmatic: Complete portability may not always be practical or justifiable in cost terms, but containerization and the use of open source offer the flexibility to build applications in a hybrid model where they exist seamlessly in different environments.

By taking a thoughtful, comprehensive approach to cloud transformation, organizations can achieve velocity and flexibility that is simply impossible in monolithic systems.