Building Your Cloud Strategy from Your Data Strategy

Recently, I’ve been using this “Journey to Cloud” blog to look at specific challenges that I or my team have seen in organizations implementing cloud solutions. But for this post, I’d like to step back to the macro view to discuss strategy.

Tech journalist John Gallant and I have just finished a guide to data strategy, aimed at the CIO Called The Data Strategy Playbook, it combines what I’ve learned in my career with the knowledge John gained over decades with IDG publications such as, Network World and many others. On top of that, we talked to a number of CIOs—Informatica’s Graeme Thompson, obviously, as well as the CIOs of Monsanto, Levi Strauss, and Eastman Chemical, plus a number of analysts and authors in the IT leadership space.

The result is a strategy guide that works not only for the overall enterprise, but can also be applied to crafting the strategy required to implement the cloud portion of IT’s greater data strategy.

Data strategy is business strategy

It goes without saying that if you don’t have an overall data strategy, start with that. The Data Strategy Playbook will be a big help. But once your enterprise has formulated its overall approach to data-driven transformation, it’s a similar exercise to figure out how your cloud initiatives fit in.

Usually the challenge in creating a data strategy, whether to drive the entire business, or for the cloud portion of the enterprise data strategy, is to get away from being too IT-focused. Data strategy is about how your data will enable more intelligent insights and innovations, and help you achieve business goals.

Too often, cloud planning gets bogged down in, “Here’s our data management platform; this is how we move data from A to B.” You’ll definitely have to figure that out, but only after you’ve addressed the strategic issue: “How do we identify the data that’s critical to our business, and use it to better manage the business—improving operations efficiency, profitability, and innovation?” Your cloud plan should always reflect desired business outcomes, because everything comes back to business outcomes. That’s easier to remember if you’ve got a well-honed data strategy already. If not, that should be a top priority before you build out the cloud infrastructure to serve that strategy.

Steady progress

Once you have a full data strategy and understand how your cloud infrastructure needs to serve it, of course you’re not going to be able to roll it out all at once. Too much cost, too much risk, and I’ve never seen a C suite or board of directors that was willing to go all-in, all at once, on something as vague as “cloud infrastructure.”

As with all greater IT initiatives, you’ve got to start small. Focus on meaningful projects that can deliver on a significant business objective, and that can become foundations for later steps. One project, one objective, at a time leads, eventually, to the full architecture. But you’ve got to have the outcome in mind, or else your series of nice little wins won’t add up to anything bigger.

The nuts and bolts

Over several posts last year, I discussed the move from high, strategic vision to concrete roadmap. Those posts fueled our interest in creating this playbook, and certainly provided some of the thinking we used.

The playbook combines insights from multiple CIOs and industry experts, including several long Q&A segments, with specifics on formulating a data strategy, down to the level of which key business leaders to meet with—and how to conduct the meeting.

You can download the playbook at Take a look, and let me know in the comments what you think of it.