Choosing Your Long-term Cloud Strategy
A few weeks ago I visited the global headquarters of a large multi-national company to discuss cloud strategy with the CIO. I arrived 30 minutes early and took a tour of the area where the marketing team showcased their award winning brands. I was impressed by the digital marketing strategy and the way they were clearly leveraging the world of social, mobile analytics and cloud. So I mentioned to our account manager, who was accompanying me on the tour, that I would compliment the CIO on this when I saw her. “Oh I wouldn't if I were you,” he replied. “This was all done without the IT department’s involvement. They are working on our legacy ERP implementation, not this new stuff.”
On the one hand, this is impressive as it illustrates what can be done by lines of business with today’s new cloud capabilities. But on the other hand it also shows the widening gulf between the role of the CIO and the business when it comes to digital transformation. Marketing department cloud projects are fine but at some point security and compliance concerns have to be addressed across the whole company. In addition, CIOs do need to be involved so they can protect their company’s data and utilize the in house IT infrastructure to maximum effect in a hybrid cloud model.
What CIOs need is the flexibility to deploy resources and applications on an “as a service” basis built around the right hybrid cloud strategy that co-exists with their legacy application investments. So what’s the best solution? It’s not just a case of looking for the “best” cloud. Instead, they should first develop a cloud sourcing strategy specifically for their organization; one that offers the best user experience and allows the company to be responsive to market conditions.
In an era where IT budgets are becoming decentralized and CIOs are faced with the growing shortage of skilled IT workers, it can feel like a daunting task to create a cloud sourcing strategy. Even so, it’s critical to business success because it means making the best use of your resources today while allowing the flexibility and agility to quickly adapt to the changes of tomorrow. In the face of evolving cloud technologies and consumption models for services and applications, being ahead of your peers in terms of strategic cloud adoption can be the difference between leading your industry and participating in it.
For your cloud strategy, consider a three phased approach: first get grounded in understanding how your company is using cloud today and needs to use it in the future, then leverage that knowledge to better understand what you want to achieve through the cloud, and finally make sure your choices are setting you up for the future. Doing so will put you on the path to cloud success.
1. Understand Your Current Infrastructure
As the saying goes, you have to know where you’re coming from in order to know where you're going. And understanding what cloud services are in place at the company is the first step when defining your cloud strategy. Most companies that conduct an investigation into their company’s cloud consumption find at least 10 times more unsanctioned or “Shadow IT” applications than they estimated. In addition, only a small fraction of the data stored in those applications is encrypted and secure.
Discovering which cloud services the organization adopted without IT’s input is an excellent opportunity to start conversations with your business peers about their needs. It’s a good time to understand why they didn’t involve IT when they adopted new services and applications. An open discussion not only helps the CIO understand any issues to be addressed within IT (such as “Is IT not deploying apps and services quickly enough?” or “Are there too many restrictions when adopting new cloud-based services?”) but also offers an opportunity to discuss the potential security risks certain cloud services can introduce into the infrastructure, the financial implications when cloud spend is not managed centrally, and the potential for data to be lost should a provider abruptly cease to be in business.
Having this open and collaborative discourse will help you become a partner to the business, a broker of capabilities, and an innovation resource for your peers. Developing relationships with line-of-business decision-makers should be a personal goal for every CIO, encouraging them to turn to IT, not outside vendors, to deliver technical capabilities. The end result is business agility with limited security risks.
2. Maximize Your Choices When Designing the Right Cloud Sourcing Strategy
To optimize cloud effectiveness, CIOs should focus on a sourcing strategy that delivers the flexibility to meet business needs and the agility to quickly adapt to an evolving business landscape. In doing so, they are faced with the classic decision of “Build vs. Buy.” The key to creating the best solution is understanding that there is freedom to choose “Build or Buy” as well as “Build and Buy.” This flexibility enables a CIO to truly harness the cloud’s potential.
For example, a hybrid-ready private cloud can be a highly effective “Build and Buy” choice, provided the hybrid cloud solution is able to extend the benefits of the private cloud (i.e. management, security, pool of in-house skill sets) to the public cloud resources. With such a solution, a hybrid-ready private cloud offers CIOs control of their environment and the flexibility to utilize public cloud resources as necessary.
The most innovative as-a-service (aaS) options offer CIOs a way to complement their existing resources without additional capital expenditures while freeing up staff time to focus on strategy business initiatives. CIOs should be able to choose from an extensive aaS catalog with global reach.
A successful cloud sourcing strategy will help the IT team address the holistic needs of the business by choosing the right mix of private, hybrid, and public cloud services that will foster innovation, enhance business agility, minimize risks, and improve cost efficiencies.
3. Plan for the Future
Cloud implementations must address immediate needs but a successful cloud strategy must be flexible enough to respond to rapidly changing business conditions.
By 2020, there will be more than 50 billion devices and objects connected through the Internet of Things and the Internet of Everything (IoE). With this and similar trends in mind, CIOs must anticipate how this will impact their business in terms of cost, security, customer expectations, speed of execution, and the ability to quickly adapt. A successful cloud strategy should not lead to an architectural and, subsequently, a business “dead end” where choices are severely limited (whether by lack of open-standards or by vendor constraints), control is sacrificed, and positive business impacts are minimized. Instead, the strategy should establish a foundation to keep pace with evolving technology trends and business requirements.
As valued partners of business units, CIOs can align business and IT objectives by driving a thoughtfully crafted cloud strategy.
With cloud, CIOs are faced with the unique business opportunity to navigate the evolving IT and business landscapes to help the business innovate, differentiate and succeed. With concerns about management, visibility, and control, cloud can present a challenging environment, but that makes the commitment to building the right cloud strategy over transactional decisions even more critical. With a deliberate approach to gaining new insights into the infrastructure and the business, maximizing the choices when it comes to matching the right cloud solutions to the right business needs, and establishing the right foundation for the future, CIOs can lead their organizations toward new capabilities, new customers and new experiences, with all of the control and choices they desire.
By Nick Earle