Just a single mistake can send your cloud strategy plummeting to earth. Here’s a rundown of how not to approach the cloud.

The cloud has changed the IT and business worlds forever, and generally for the better. But when misused or abused the cloud can backfire, leading to a serious business setback or, in a worst-case situation, long-term competitive damage.

Ensuing proper cloud use is essential in today’s high-stakes, fast-paced business environment. Learn from the following 10 mistakes, and do your best not to repeat them.

1. Poor planning
Enterprises risk running into trouble if they lack a detailed cloud strategy. “A pragmatic and structured architectural approach when moving to the cloud is critical,” says William Peldzus, senior director and Center of Excellence head with enterprise consulting firm Capgemini Americas.

It’s imperative to think strategically when moving to the cloud, Peldzus says. “Proper architectural designs and preparations will potentially eliminate days, if not weeks and months, of troubleshooting and debugging issues.”

Even small steps will position an organization for cloud success, Peldzus states. Learning from any missteps made along the way, from planning to migration, is also important. “Those who attempt to jump into the cloud and figure it out on the fly will not be successful,” he warns.

2. Misunderstanding migration
Cloud migration is not a once-and-done process. “It’s a continuous journey with complex interrelated issues,” says Karthik Narain, cloud first lead at enterprise advisory firm Accenture.

Many IT leaders mistakenly view cloud migration as a conventional project, complete with bedrock start and finish dates. Yet recent Accenture research found that 32% of enterprises that view their cloud journey as complete are actually leaving value on the table while placing their organizations at risk. “A narrow focus on cost savings can put organizations at a competitive disadvantage compared to those using the cloud more strategically across its many dynamic forms, including public, private, and edge,” Narain says. “In fact, our … research has shown that those [organizations] that viewed the cloud strategically actually reduced cost more than those focused only on efficiency.”

3. Underestimating cloud costs
It’s a common misconception that cloud migration always leads to immediate cost savings. “In reality, cloud migration is expensive, and not having a full and complete picture of all costs can sink a business,” warns Aref Matin, CTO at publishing firm John Wiley & Sons.

Cloud migration often does lead to cost savings, but careful, detailed planning is essential. Still, as the cloud migration progresses, hidden costs will inevitably appear and multiply. “You must ensure at the start of the project that you have a full, holistic cloud budget,” Matin advises.

Cloud costs appear in various forms. Sometimes they’re in plain sight, such as the cost of walking away from an existing data facility. Yet many expenses aren’t so obvious. “For example, the cost of talent, including reskilling, upskilling, and finding the right cloud talent, or for reorganizing your business structure,” Matin says. “All of these expenses should be considered in your planning.”

4. Cloud complacency
Cloud computing’s first era is drawing to a close. Most enterprises already have some form of cloud infrastructure in place, observes Ronen Schwartz, general manager and senior vice president, cloud storage, at hybrid cloud data services and data management firm NetApp.

The cloud is at an inflection point, Schwartz states. Many organizations still retain significant amounts of data, applications, and workloads on premises, even as they continue migrating to the cloud. Yet he believes that many such enterprises are now entering an evolved cloud — hybrid multicloud environments in which cloud services are fully integrated into the organization’s architecture and operations.

“It breaks down silos to simplify management and deliver observability everywhere,” Schwartz says. “The evolved cloud is just like its name suggests — it’s not an end state.”

Once an enterprise enters the evolved cloud, Schwartz recommends pushing forward to avoid stagnation. “If they migrated applications, now they can refactor them for the cloud,” he says. “If they’ve refactored them, they can now optimize for performance or for cost.” In either case, Schwartz advises pushing forward and evolving along with the cloud.

5. Poor data accessibility
A major challenge facing many larger enterprises is leveraging data spread across disparate systems. “Ensuring that data is accessible and secure across multiple environments, on-premises as well as on applications running in the cloud, is an increasing headache,” says Darlene Williams, CIO of software development firm Rocket Software. She notes that a survey of mainframe technology users revealed that 80% believe that mainframe technology remains critical to business operations.

Abandoning data stored on legacy systems can deprive departments of access to potentially valuable insights. Williams warns that enterprises that tip the scale too far toward the cloud, risk forgetting the inherent value of data locked in legacy hardware.

6. Platform sprawl
Whenever possible, IT leaders should consolidate and merge cloud-based services to reduce costs and avoid platform sprawl, says Wayne Carter, vice president of engineering, with cloud database technology provider Couchbase. “For example, rather than using multiple databases, a multimodal database can handle different data types and models from a single, integrated backend and prevent … data sprawl and spending unnecessary funds.”

Carter advises IT leaders to look deep within their organizations to understand how software resources are being used. “They may find there’s software that can have multiple licenses added for more than one team to use across the company,” he notes.

7. Inadequate security
Lax security can turn a promising cloud initiative into an IT nightmare. “Avoiding cloud security-related mistakes requires understanding your cloud environment and ensuring that appropriate guardrails are in place to safeguard your infrastructure against external and internal security threats,” says Emmanuel Nnodim, cloud architect at IT consulting firm SPR.

Failing to guard against against external and internal threats can be lethal, because it jeopardizes the organization’s reputation, weakens customer trust, and can lead to significant financial losses. Nnodim recommends that every stage of cloud planning should include a thorough security assessment.

8. Unbridled enthusiasm
Many enterprises view the cloud as a miracle technology, downplaying the amount of planning and work needed to address real-world design and operational challenges. “When firms encounter these challenges, they struggle to find the skills and experience needed to remediate issues,” says Sunil Moorjani, a director with global technology research and advisory firm ISG.

Moorjani observes that the arrival of multicloud environments, combined with a persistent talent shortage, has made cloud deployment and management even more complex. As a result, many adopters have been disappointed by their “cloud first” results. He reports that nearly 70% of respondents to a recent ISG survey have achieved less than 20% of their primary goals, and many have accounted significant budget overruns and missed deadlines.

Even when viewing cloud adoption in realistic terms, many IT leaders fail to understand that cloud adoption isn’t merely a technical exercise. “Firms must also pay attention to contractual obligations,” Moorjani warns. He notes that multiyear contracts can lock unwary clients into expensive, inflexible consumption models.

9. Rushing migration
Overeager cloud migrators tend to favor a “lift and shift” migration approach, underestimating the long-term costs associated with failing to optimize antiquated applications.

“Enterprises driving to digitize without the proper steps in place will be drained by 10% higher-than-average cloud costs, legacy application delivery times lagging by as much as 400%, high-risk security vulnerabilities, and staggering maintenance and compliance requirements,” warns Marco Roman, head of North American field operations at e-Core, a technology consulting and development services provider. “It’s evidently pennywise and pound foolish to cut these early corners.”

10. Not looking forward
The cloud is continuing to evolve, supporting and improving core business operations in an ever-growing number of ways. Enterprises should always be looking forward, aligning their business strategies to accommodate multicloud, cloud edge computing, and other advancements, advises Matthias Loh, financial services technology lead with enterprise consulting firm EY Americas.

As CIOs ponder which cloud strategies to pursue, they will need to consider how to best future-proof and architect their cloud designs to avoid silos, drive new and profitable growth, and maintain efficiency, security, and transparency. “It’s critical to have a clear and deliberate framework on how to best address the risks and costs associated with the cloud,” Loh adds.