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The Raw Reality of Data Analytics and Cloud Migration with Brad Foster

On a recent episode of the Data Movers Podcast, our very own Brad Foster sat down with JSA CEO Jaymie Scotto Cutaia and a top B2B influencer in the tech, telecom, and data center space, Evan Kirstel. On the podcast, Foster, Partner of Cloud Advisory at Maven Wave, offers a unique raw perspective into the reality of digital transformation, cloud migration, machine learning, AI, and the most successful use cases for big data.

The Raw Reality of Data Analytics and Cloud Migration with Brad Foster

Kicking off the podcast, Foster, Scotto Cutaia, and Kistel begin by discussing some of the newest developments of the pandemic – infection rates dropping, amusement parks reopening, and life beginning to look somewhat like it did before COVID hit. It was an excellent time for Foster to reflect on some of the great work that has been done between Maven Wave and our clients in the cloud space over the last 15 months, and also some of the challenges that he saw organizations face on the road to digital.

Maven Wave was able to help companies make the shift to digital to respond to pandemic-time needs at a remarkably fast rate. For Foster, the top examples of this include:

Telehealth: Through our partnership with Google, Maven Wave helped implement a groundbreaking integration between Google Meet and the Epic electronic health record (EHR) system for Cambridge Health Alliance. This included virtual conferencing for easier physician / patient or caregiver communication.

State Departments: Maven Wave enabled Virtual Career Center solutions for the states of Rhode Island and Wisconsin, to connect residents with job opportunities through coaching, listing, virtual career fairs, and more. Our team also helped a State Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) facility move entirely virtual, enabling residents to renew their licenses online instead of waiting in those long lines – which was long overdue, pandemic aside.

Checking In On AI and Machine Learning

With all this talk about businesses accelerating the shift to digital, how do AI and machine learning fit in? According to Foster, AI and machine learning have been “hyped-up” over the last few years, so much so that people thought it would save the world with a “super easy, push a button, and go” solution.  And while there are plenty of legitimate use cases for AI that are helping businesses today, what many fail to realize is that the success of AI depends on the quality of your data.

“Consider someone who is running a manufacturing plant – maybe the line goes down twice a year for two completely different reasons. Many thought that AI could be used in this type of scenario to predict when the line would go down next. What they didn’t realize was that if the event doesn’t occur that frequently, then it’s very hard to predict something. So people just weren’t educated enough about how AI can be applicable and what organizations need to do to make it successful.”

Foster believes that since the height of the AI trend, the world has come back down to reality and businesses are now more pragmatically understanding what’s needed to make it useful.

“We are now seeing success in areas of prediction in forecasting, in downtime, and more. We’ve seen a theme park operator who is able to predict ride downtime, we’ve seen large package distribution companies that are forecasting demand in their network and from all of their different facilities. Consider the models of Amazon 1-2 day delivery – these enterprises really want to know when things are arriving and they have useful ways in which they can apply [AI]. So we’re really starting to see how data is starting to help companies move the needle.”

Real success comes with enabling enterprises to control their AI. Our team helps our clients to understand their cloud platforms, how to stand up these sandboxes easily, put sensitive data there, and control them, ultimately helping to scale their organization. As Foster put it, “we like to take the training wheels off so that these organizations can start scaling for more use cases within their organization.”

The Cloud Journey

Now let’s take it back to the state of our world today. For healthcare organizations, the shift to telehealth went from 1% utilization to 30% utilization in a very short amount of time. For financial services, we’re seeing much of the same. For some companies that are still lagging in making the shift to the cloud, Foster offers his advice.

“There are certain people who like to lead the charge, and some who like to wait and see. But the majority of the time, it’s the first movers who capture the market and set the tone. For those companies that are still struggling or are skeptical about moving to the cloud, it’s not much about the education of convincing them anymore, it’s now more about the how.”

Many organizations, often the ones with 30+-year-old legacy on-prem environments, end up in gridlock of getting started with cloud migration, and it can undoubtedly become overwhelming. Removing this friction begins with two major factors.

Executive Buy-In: On any cloud journey, leadership needs to set the tone of the change on both the business and IT level to establish organization-wide buy-in for a digital shift.

“Some of our enterprises, such as financial services or asset management companies, when they are talking to new clients, that client is now looking at technology they are using. No longer is it only about how much money your fund is going to make its investors, but now it’s about what technology you have underneath. Investors will want to know, ‘What AI do you have? Are you running on the mainframe still?’ Tech is becoming an important component of their plan and it has to be leadership driven.”

Cloud Migration to Cloud Journey: The second critical component in eliminating friction is the understanding that cloud migration is not going to happen overnight. A cloud migration is a multi-year journey, and most organizations ultimately need to operate in a hybrid state, with many components remaining on-prem for quite a while. Our goal is to create a custom road map for organizations with some simpler wins to achieve along the way, helping customers create a pragmatic journey that’s sure to secure wins along the way.

Challenges Along the Way

Our job is to help educate our clients on the realities of cloud migration, and some of the more challenging and time-consuming aspects. Certainly, we have options to help our clients achieve those quick wins, but for us, the journey is key.

For Foster, there are two main things to consider in order to ensure an efficient, effective, risk-averse migration.

The Operational Aspect of Migration: Making sure you have the right – and right-sized – operations team is critical.

“If you currently have 1,000 people running your data center operation, taking tickets, monitoring activities, and keeping firewalls up to date, and then you try to transition to a five-person cloud services team, that is a recipe for disaster. All of a sudden, this team would have massive demand, teams would create applications and data links, and then what would be left is a cloud services team that is overwhelmed and executives who are feeling nervous. At that point, your operation would have to be halted, and more time would have to be invested more in the foundations to make sure your data isn’t leaked and people aren’t coding things in a manner that’s creating risks.

Our goal isn’t for enterprises to spend two years building the perfect, bulletproof foundation before they can finally let their organization start using cloud. But according to Foster, “letting the wild west happen,” or taking on more risk than can be reigned back in, is not the solution either. Making sure you have that under control and establishing the right balance is key. 

Acknowledge What Can’t Go To The Cloud: As Foster puts it, “If it were that easy, people would have been completely on the cloud 10 years ago.” It’s true, not all legacy business operations should be migrated to the cloud. But having that acknowledgement in place and beginning the process of migrating what can be moved to the cloud is critical.

Why is it critical? There are certainly major pressures building for organizations with on-prem environments. With workforce retirement and vendors raising prices, the need to get off the mainframe is high. In the end, it’s how organizations manage their workloads and the journey to the cloud that matters more than establishing a quick modernization journey.

Information to Insight

Another term that we have heard frequently over the last few years is “big data.” But is this just another buzzword uttered by companies that have bit off more than they could chew?

“The companies that are doing big data well and are really seeing success have moved towards an agile method of delivering insights to their organization. When we say agile and product-driven, what it really means is that the business owner ‘owns’ the outcome – that they have something they want to achieve or improve upon, and data helps them achieve that objective.” 

When we consider the real outcomes of an organization, everything from the day-to-day deployment to the day-to-day reports are important. 

“Sometimes we lose the battle in the last 18 inches, the distance from our noses to the screen. How is the person going to be alerted when there is a negative projection? Is the dashboard they’re using helpful?”

According to Foster, the key is to focus on the end value through that entire process. We’ve seen companies build behemoth data platforms over multiple years to create data warehouses, only to find out these reports were created with very little business collaboration, after spending millions of dollars and countless time building these data streams. This is why a product-centric, agile approach to big data brings true value to the organization. Over time, after implementing 10 useful data streams, you’ll have actually created a data warehouse with 10 data sets in it that people can use repeatedly.

Want to hear more from Foster’s interview with JSA CEO Jaymie Scotto Cutaia and B2B influencer Evan Kirstel? Check out the full JSA Data Movers podcast episode here. And if your organization needs help getting a new cloud migration or data project off the ground, contact us to connect with our experts.

June 4th, 2021

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