A common impulse of organizations that have migrated or are migrating to the cloud is to separate their new cloud initiative from their existing data operations. This bifurcation often includes assigning specific individuals and teams to new or existing non-critical IT projects that can leverage the elastic cloud benefits. The cloud project might be a specific marketing campaign or using the cloud to quickly provision test/dev environments. Whatever the project, CIOs must first form a cloud guerilla team to maintain focus. Next, they should determine a pilot project to avoid risking critical environments. Non-critical first-use projects work to eliminate internal resistance to cloud migration, which is prevalent inside large organizations adopting new technologies and processes.
Stand-alone cloud projects, however, come with the risk of evolving yet another siloed IT environment, with each project having its own hardware, operations and team. The outcome of project-based development is a failure to benefit from the efficiency and flexibility cloud computing offers. To solve this problem, and expedite the alignment of the business goals with the cloud adoption goals, will position CIOs as one of the organization’s most valued leaders. Involved individuals and teams will realize the importance of the new scalable IT infrastructure – the cloud – to the bigger picture of the organization’s digital transformation.
According to last year’s Accenture survey of 1,900 IT executives, almost all (95%) of respondents indicated they have a five-year cloud strategy. However, only 38% percent of those responding have managed to align their cloud adoption plans with their business plans. Why? Let’s consider some of the reasons and practices to overcome this challenge:
Short-sighted Cloud Strategy
You can’t simply send the head of IT to a conference and expect your business to transform overnight. Tasking the IT team with moving a production database to the public cloud can be intimidating even for veteran IT professionals. IT leaders and their teams understand the concepts of cloud computing and its benefits in terms of scalability and flexibility. But for large enterprise data centers, it can be a significant challenge to move the entire data organization in order to leverage those incredible benefits.
There isn’t one formula for cloud success. Business transformation is an ongoing process accompanied with long-term milestones and goals. Responsible for running daily routines and executing tasks, IT teams and even IT management are often focused on short-terms goals. This sometimes makes it difficult for them to see, or plan for, the long term. Also, because daily requirements will always trump strategy or vision mapping, it often takes longer than it should to fully place your trust in the cloud.
Cloud Skills Shortage
Public cloud platforms such as Amazon and Azure have changed the way IT is deployed and run. Beginning with the terminology we now use in budget talks or in planning (e.g., discussing “instances,” as opposed to “servers”) and continuing through to new infrastructure tools and capabilities, and concepts of delivery, everything is changing.
According to the Accenture survey cited earlier, 78 percent of executives said their teams lack the cloud skills required to achieve their five-year plans. Organizations of all sizes are still finding it challenging to keep up with the pace of innovation introduced by modern public cloud vendors such as Amazon.
In addition to facing internal resistance, IT executives are challenged with the need to educate their teams, lead a cultural change and make sure everyone involved is aligned with their goals for this transition.
Six Alignment Practices
Cloud computing is less about modernizing your infrastructure and more about enabling the business with enhanced agility. It’s also about supporting executive decision-making with “on the cloud” data-driven guidance. Alignment should start at the business executive level, with an open discussion between the different stakeholders including the line of business leaders (LOBs), IT and financial executives. The coordination between these three parties gets the business goals, resources and technology aligned with one long-term strategy and specific roll-out plan.
Check out the following six cloud practices that will help you align your business with your cloud infrastructure:
- Balanced cloud model: By nature your environment is hybrid, composed of multiple environments and engagements with different providers. Your on-premises IT means more control for core applications requiring predictable demand and consistent, steady utilization, while public cloud provides the flexible capacity and “pay-as-you-go” efficiencies. Ensure that you carefully assess the infrastructure required for each application’s stack.
- Long-term and flexible infrastructure: Promote a modular, scalable, programmable infrastructure for cloud deployments. This approach enables you to flex your deployment choices and providers. In addition, open, interoperable and standards-based solutions ensure that you can cost-effectively evolve your cloud deployments and adapt cloud to future business needs.
- Enable cloud everywhere: Opt for easy deployment of cloud applications, regardless of where they reside, so employees, customers and partners can easily leverage your infrastructure anywhere and anytime.
- Consolidation and no silos: The enemy of cloud adoption is each area having its own computing hardware, software and staffing. Today’s enterprises are moving toward a consolidation of all traditional data centers. In addition, regarding the above-mentioned “cloud silos,” you should continuously be aware of those and create provisioning and governance processes to proactively eliminate them.
- Complete governance: Make sure you have complete transparency when it comes to usage across your multi-cloud environment. Look for trends, anomalies or spikes to avoid shadow IT and cloud sprawl, which can lead to uncontrolled costs and leaks of data and applications out of your premises.
- Cloud usage and financial alignment: Continuing the last points, you need to have a financial analyst on your team that can collaborate with the LOBs and finance professionals to make sure the business model and financial forecast is aligned with the ongoing cloud consumption.
Closing the Skills Gap
Organizations view IT as a business expense and not necessarily as central to decision-making. This needs to change because including IT in cloud decisions will be elemental to aligning your organization with your vision of where your cloud model needs to be. Therefore, as a broker your team needs to move from the backroom to the boardroom. This is an essential step.
Because time to market is always a top priority, and the CIO’s department’s skills are a determining factor in how fast delivery can happen, you should hire a cloud Managed Service Provider (MSP), either for the short-term or the long-term. Either way, you need to be clear on the division of tasks between you, your staff and the MSP. It’s also imperative that there is ongoing transfer of knowledge and details about projects, so your teams can remain in the loop and take back control when needed. Everyone should be using runbooks as a reference.
In addition, training during the first cloud project is a good idea. Cloud providers, as well as their licensed training certification programs, offer online webinars that provide much-needed training for staff. This will help your organization’s teams confidently put their first important projects into the cloud.
So, although the rapid evolution of cloud makes adoption and skills acquisition a challenge, you can take on that challenge with proper planning and support. Plus, third party technology solution vendors can be a key element in closing any gaps. By carefully looking for cloud management and compatible hybrid solutions, you will be able to leverage new software products that facilitate migration and adoption using the same traditional skills your team already has.
Final Note: The CIO as a Change Agent
Even as we take on specific challenges presented by the switch to cloud (such as staffing and budget), in aligning our organization to our cloud model, we can and should be thinking strategically, too. One method that many modern enterprises are adopting is that of “digital congruence” – essentially, creating a win-win situation for all the company’s stakeholders. At the heart of this model is designing “interactions not apps.”
As IT becomes more of a broker of IT services, it can add more value by dynamically combining, integrating and tailoring the delivery of cloud services to best meet company business needs. Taking an active role to manage sourcing flexibility enables IT team to achieve greater levels of agility, transparency and speed of deployment. This acceleration in turn fuels innovation and helps your business achieve its objectives.
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