Which Apps Should You Move to the Cloud? 5 Guidelines

SaaS and cloud-based applications are richer and more customizable than ever, but not every app delivers good ROI when moved to the cloud. These five pieces of advice will help you think comprehensively about IT strategy and whether an application is suited for the cloud.

By Kevin Fogarty
Wed, August 18, 2010

CIO — To most people — especially in August — 'Ocean Services' probably conjures visions of boogie boards, sun umbrellas and bringing the drinks without getting sand in the glass.

To Matson Navigation CIO Peter Weis, it means logistics, and the need to gather, analyze and coordinate information so his customers can monitor the location, condition and progress of finished goods in one container on one freighter in the South Pacific, more easily than they'd be able to check on a new phone battery being delivered by FedEx (FDX).

It's not the kind of information or access the ocean services business has been accustomed to offering.

"Shipping is a very traditional industry," Weis says. "There a lot of traditional old-school people, and so many moving pieces, solving global problems using IT is much harder than it might be in another industry."

Weis, who took over as CIO of the $1.5 billion Matson Navigation in 2003, says the company is 75 percent of the way through an IT overhaul that focuses on retiring the mainframes, DOS and AS/400 systems the company has depended on for years in favor of a Java-based application-integration platform and a plan to get as many of Matson's business applications as possible from external SaaS providers.

Moving to a heavy reliance on SaaS applications is a key part of the strategy to reduce the company's risk and capital spending on new systems. Matson is unusual not because of its increasing use of software owned and maintained by someone else -- but because it is selecting those services according to a coherent, business-focused strategy and connecting them using an open platform built for the purpose.

"What we're seeing is companies jumping into SaaS or cloud projects without an overarching strategy," according to Kamesh Pemmaraju, director of cloud research at consultancy Sand Hill Group. "There are a lot of departmental initiatives and they do get some quick returns on that, but it's very local in nature and there's no coordination on how to obtain global benefits to get real value out of the cloud."

Defining goals is an obvious step, but not one every company realizes it needs to take, according to Michael West, vice president and distinguished analyst for Saugatuck Technology.

Below are a few more necessary steps to take before deciding to move from a traditional app to a Web-based one.

1. Decide Why You Want SaaS

Weis was hired in 2003 to revamp Matson's IT infrastructure, so part of his mandate was to design an infrastructure and draw up a strategy to coordinate the company's use of SaaS and internal applications.

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