Cloud Is Business, Not Technology

Cloud – That great catch-all to solve all IT problems in the future.  Or so many IT companies & departments would have you believe.  But is that really the case?  Of course, it can address some imminent challenges that companies face, such as replacing aging hardware infrastructure or placing a ‘cost-per-user’ model onto your email requirements for cost manageability, but these decisions in isolation do not make for strategy.

And neither does an IT strategy in isolation of business strategy really address the business challenges, or real benefits, that cloud can produce.  I fully appreciate that any IT strategy will seriously look at the financial return on investment (ROI) and total cost of ownership (TCO) models as part of the expected diligence, but really this is only part of the story.

The question is, then, why does this disjointed approach happen so frequently?  The answer lies in the fact that business generally sees cloud as a technology.  As IT.  That means it is for the IT department to decipher and work out how best to make use of this ‘technology’ with commercial governance applied by the Finance department.  The reality is, though, very different.  Every department has a stake in this.  And every department should care.

There is a great deal of processes that traditional businesses have spent a large amount of time refining and getting into line around IT procurement practice and the business processes surrounding the provision, design, build, run and support of IT systems.  All of this has taken time and, in many cases, takes time to implement when decisions are made.  This has, historically, been a source of frustration for business departments who wish to been seen as agile and responsive. This often leads to blame being apportioned to the IT department as they are seen as inhibitors to the progress of initiatives which require technology in their solutions.

This is very often unfair as business has a tendency to abdicate responsibility for technology-based decisions to the IT departments as they do not see this as their challenge.  They, rightly, want to measure business success but with a large disconnect in the business requirements and pressure on the IT department to deliver quickly, this often leads to discord and has many projects seen as failing before they have even gotten off the ground.

So, cloud is often relegated to tactical projects as outlined above, a ’toe in the water’ if you will.  Email is a pretty easy decision if you are looking to upgrade anyway.  And what does this give you?  A new place to put your inboxes, probably with a shiny, new interface and the chance to administer easily and remotely.  Plus that forecastable and budget-ready ‘cost-per-user’ the Finance department likes.  Is this success?  Possibly.  Measurable?  The financial impact is, but when has a new email system really delivered business benefit?

We are also starting to see some of the more progressive departments, like marketing, look into how they might support the business more effectively.  Cloud gives them the chance to build presence and campaigns around new-to-market products really quickly and tear them down again just as quickly.  They can respond to the success, or failure, of each campaign by providing more capacity, or less, to each foray.  Great agility and fantastic for cost management.

I am not suggesting that every department should start architecting their own infrastructure requirements or knowing their hybrids and their Cloud Foundries, but to be able to align the needs of their departments with the technology they use should be front-and-centre to any discussion around cloud.  This is only really possible if you have a business strategy aligned to an IT strategy for the various aspects of cloud provision.  This is not a new concept, this has been the case since before cloud was cloud… It’s just the parameters like execution speed and payment mediums have changed.  And it doesn’t stop there.

How about the existing business processes for purchasing?  How do you currently buy software licenses for new employees?  Can you use existing licenses on the cloud? How about re-purposing licenses of those who left? How do you keep track of your cloud infrastructure and manage costs?  Who is responsible for deployment? Can you move your app and data between clouds? Is cloud right for this requirement? How is the new cloud world affecting those decisions and who is tasked with monitoring this?

I believe the real point here is, and to paraphrase Apple, nothing has changed except everything.  Many of the same, traditional thinking must still be applied so that governance is in line with the business expectation.  But this needs to be aligned to the speed and agility that are the real benefits to cloud.  It is no good having a technology available and waiting to deliver you flexible, affordable performance if you still cannot get sign-off on what the security model needs to be, know who owns the data, or do not have a support strategy in place.

To really get ahead, getting these things agreed and converging upfront will allow companies to make quicker decisions.  Keeping the cloud discussion in IT will only ever allow for tactical decisions to be made and the cycle of assessment will be the same every time.  This is time-consuming to all and will generally have minimal ROI, compared to having a clear business & IT strategy prior to commencement.

Imagine being the head of a field engineer team, your main challenge being information updates when your team is out in the field.  The existing proprietary devices used are clunky, heavy and unreliable.  All your team already has company mobile phones, so your organisation replaces the devices with an app onto the phone that interacts with the camera on the phone so updates are easy.  If lost or broken, the phones are less expensive to replace than the old devices.  They can be wiped easily and the application remotely uploaded to the new phone quickly and without intervention.  The same for updates, meaning the app is always running at the latest version, so support time is less.

As manager of the team, you do not care that it is, or isn’t, cloud.  You care about any impact to your team’s ability to do their job, those old devices were heavy and unreliable and the team let you know about it.  Many times, data uploads had to be done back in the office because the devices worked better when plugged in.  This added hours to your team’s work times.  Now, they can upload on-site, from home wi-fi or back in the office.

The process around how this solution has arrived stemmed from your business requirements being applied to the business & IT strategy around technology solution provision.  The process of technology selection was easy for the IT department given the known security implications of the solution against the cloud service provider’s offering. Build and support was ably supported by a third-party team and your procurement department was able to purchase the necessary components as per the specifications under existing agreements.

You will have noted (once you have put aside the simplicity of this example!) that many of these steps are what you would follow anyway when working through a business challenge that requires a technology solution.  The major differences now stem from the amount of options available to anyone looking to deliver that solution.  This applies added pressure to your already stretched departments.  Doing this ‘in-flight’ only adds to the time it takes to get things done and time is a commodity that we do not have enough of.

It also means you will no doubt repeat this process for the next project that arises and the next.  Surely, it makes sense to know what your approach is beforehand.  Use your time solving the business issue, executing and delivering the solution should be business as usual.

At I.T. Alliance, we have seen this many times before.  It is why we are equally comfortable approaching cloud from a technology or business perspective.  We spend a great deal of time with business leaders discussing why this convergence between IT and business is so important.  With the pace of change increasing every day, many agree that getting an executable strategy in place that encompasses new delivery and provision mediums is critical.  Where are you on that path?