New CIO got one year to move everything to the cloud -- here's how he did it

When Laurence Hart came on board in January as CIO for AIIM, a professional organization with 42 employees and 100,000 members, he was given a clear mission: Close the company data center and move the entire operation to the cloud.

Hart was given just a year to achieve this goal, no easy feat even for a small organization like his. Since then, the timeline has been extended because they were able to keep some office space beyond the initial timeframe, but the goal remains the same. He just has a bit more time to play with now than he did before.

AIIM is a professional association, which has been around for more than 70 years, and bills itself as the global community for information professionals. Some employees are based near Washington, DC, some are in the UK office that oversees the European operation, and others are spread out across various locations. Local employees come into the office one day a week, but half the staff is remote, providing some interesting challenges for him.

Among the systems he needed to move were email (which was spread out across two systems with one in the UK and one in DC), the financial system, the association management system (which he calls the organization's life blood), web content management system, web hosting, file shares, and content management. 

While he has already moved some services to the cloud, he says, the breathing room will allow him to make a less rushed decision about how to move the remaining systems including the financial package. "I can leave [some systems] in place longer and make a strategic instead of a tactical short term move," he said.

The move to the cloud might not be quite as shocking as it would be at some companies because many folks were used to working remotely, but not everyone was happy with the changes he was making. "[Almost] everyone was open and for the most part has been receptive to the changes we've made, but there were people who were set in their ways and worried if they could do the same things." He said his strategy with the doubters was to find the more vocal ones and work with them to alleviate their concerns before they voiced their concerns publicly. He believes this strategy turned these people into advocates of the change by working directly with them. They could then work with folks who might be suffering in silence, he explained.

One of the early changes involved email. The office used Outlook and Hart's IT department ran the Exchange servers. He moved the whole kit and kaboodle to Office 365 because it was a simple migration from his server to the Microsoft cloud operation. What's more, it allowed users to still use the Outlook fat client on their computers, even while having access to email in the cloud -- and he didn't have to worry about maintaining the server any more.

Over time he has moved other operations, including the key association management system, which he moved from local software Aptify to the cloud-based Avectra. For storage, he's using Amazon Web Services, and he said if he had been forced to close his data center by January as originally planned, he would have moved the financial system to the Amazon cloud to buy him time, while still meeting the mandate of closing the data center.

He said in terms of overall costs, he is seeing savings in some areas, while others cost more. But he no longer has to worry about keeping the servers running, so that's a huge stress relief and means no more calls in the middle of the night because the email server is down in the UK. He also says another benefit is more time for his staff to work on special projects they never had time for before.

He said more than anything the transition has changed the focus of IT to put it much more in line with the business mission. He is now able to focus on members and the services AIIM offers them instead of trying to figure out the new 10-server solution. It's all about helping the business units get the most out of the data in the system, rather than simply keeping the systems running.

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