Cloud is mainstream. We’ve stopped making jokes about silver linings. We’ve overcome the security worries that held back adoption. And there’s no longer much need to explain the benefits to organisations facing huge demands for computational power.
As common as rain stopping play at Wimbledon, or bad light at Lords’, cloud is a feature of modern business. Its absence from a corporate’s IT agenda is as notable as a shortage of the real-life equivalent at the summer’s major sporting events.
Competence and compliance
That’s not to say it’s all plain sailing from here. Even though the conversations are being had and the advantages are understood, there are still common roadblocks to implementation. And the major brake on progressing cloud strategies at the pace that CIOs often want is a lack of internal capability and knowledge of how to implement and manage it.
First of all, the cloud space has become an incredibly crowded and noisy marketplace. It’s increasingly difficult – not to mention time-consuming – to keep pace with and understand what is on offer.
Then, there are compliance issues like data sovereignty and residency. The EU and the US take quite different approaches to data protection and privacy, for example. So businesses adopting cloud services have to understand the rules in play in their own country, those that apply in the country where they deliver their cloud-based services – and those where their data centres are located.
From there it’s a short journey to questions around the data that is stored on internal devices, the impact of and on any existing BYOD (bring your own device) policies, and how information should be transferred to and accessed in the cloud.
Share and share alike
There are plenty of ways to build up these internal skills. But one of the quickest and most effective is to work with the wider community to learn what other similar organisations are up to. If this sounds like an outlandish idea, consider this: cloud may have started life as a competitive differentiator – but it’s now much closer to business as usual, and there’s nothing to be lost from sharing information on commodity services.
Also consider other industries where sharing knowledge, best practice and strategy is producing dividends. We see it in the legal sector, where CIOs have a very close-knit community. They share use cases and references and many look at what their peers have done, subsequently using this knowledge to drive their own cloud-service adoption forward.
Look at banking, where new regulations require data to be shared to benefit customers, and industry analysts are recommending CIOs develop a broad ecosystem of partners and developers to build and share new products and services. If the worlds of law and finance can get into a ‘share and share alike’ mindset, any industry can.
Rules for RFIs
Inevitably, many CIOs also work with a third-party provider to get all the necessary skills and support for their journey to cloud implementation.
As service providers, one of the things Exponential-e is privy to is the content of RFIs or RFPs for cloud services – and one of the notable and frequent features is a lack of clarity about what is required. The essential metrics are often missing.
The rules of successful procurement apply for cloud services as much as for anything else. It’s about establishing an agreed baseline from which work can proceed. For cloud this means inventories of existing infrastructure; the services that are to be included and excluded, and plans for demarcation; a clear view of the business landscape; details of the IT group’s strategy for supporting business goals; and what is expected of the partner provider.
With these details and metrics it is possible to define an optimal proposal from a technical, a service and a commercial perspective. Despite the way the industry talks about ‘the cloud’ as a single entity, there are in fact many different ways of delivering cloud services – and not all of them will suit a given organisation’s requirements. So getting the initial scope right is critical if eventual cloud service is to meet original business needs.
Applications and agility
Successful cloud deployment is also about getting the more granular details right too – particularly when it comes to understanding how the organisation intends to use cloud services.
Applications can generally be triaged into three categories: committed, predictable and variable. CIOs need to look at their own application environment and work out which applications fall into which category. For example, development and test machines are usually variable, while line-of-business applications such as e-mail, CRM, and billing are predictable and stable.
Exploring the business at this level of detail, will deliver the most cost effective commercial model for cloud – and the model that best delivers business agility.
This last point is important. The driver behind cloud deployment is often the need for technological agility in the face of growing demand for analytics, data management or the growing computational heft of enterprise solutions.
But what cloud will really give organisations is business agility – the ability to respond rapidly to internal and external market dynamics. Incumbent organisations are now competing with the digitally native, and success in even the near future will involve transforming all applications and services into ‘cloud native’ equivalents.
This is what disruptive services like Netflix, AirBnB and Uber already have: systems that are coded to take advantage of platform-as-a-service (PaaS) deployments – a minority form of cloud service when compared to Software as a Service (SaaS) or Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), but one that is growing much faster.
The growth of PaaS represents the kinds of changes CIOs can expect in the next 12-18 months. Growing numbers of IT chiefs will have to work out how bespoke applications can be restructured for a PaaS solution. As a first step, they could do much worse than find third-party service partners who can enable the agility they need, with contractual flexibility to match.