– Paul Lidsky, President & CEO, Datalink, says:
A lot has already been written about cloud computing. This includes early success stories (Salesforce.com, e-mail, HR in the cloud among them), common pros and cons of the cloud, and examples of the many “as-a-service” cloud computing flavors du jour (like SaaS, IaaS, and PaaS).
This is all for good reason. A view of one of the most popular cloud models, software-as-a-service (SaaS), reveals SaaS spending already poised to grow from $14.5 billion in 2012 to a predicted $22.1 billion by 2015, according to Gartner 2012 estimates.
Such findings dovetail with our own experience working with enterprise and mid-size organizations to ensure a smooth transition to the cloud. Many continue to explore, experiment and talk about cloud computing in all of its iterations, whether that be public cloud services, the development of private clouds (those operating on a company’s own IT infrastructure from behind the IT firewall), or the move toward an ultimate, hybrid cloud scenario that mixes elements of private and public clouds.
When it comes to talking about the cloud, however, we’ve noticed a growing gap in cloud thinking. Specifically, cloud perceptions, concerns and conclusions tend to be quite different when voiced by a company’s executive management team versus its IT team.
To ensure a company’s cloud efforts don’t get summarily derailed, we have found it pays to explore this gap in cloud thinking and look for ways to help close the gap.
Executives and Business Unit Leaders See the Promise of Quick Reward
In the wake of such great success stories, it’s hard for most executives to turn a blind eye to the potential of cloud for their own organizations. They certainly don’t want to get left behind the competition who may be able to gain a faster edge by executing this transformational IT model.
After all, leading cloud providers are quick to offer successful use cases with rapid ROI. They are also quick to provide ready answers to many of an executive’s or business unit leader’s most pressing challenges. What’s more, they seem to be able to offer a cloud service that’s available now, for what appears to be a reasonable, variable per-use cost. When service rollouts can occur in 8 minutes (Amazon, anyone?) versus their own IT organization’s often protracted 8-week cycles, it’s hard for executives not to take notice and want to act quickly. Their motivation is around increasing the speed with which deployments occur and reducing the cost to do so.
Some business unit leaders, tasked with ever-growing initiatives, have been known to take a flyer on cloud services— without consulting IT in the process—in a bid to reap fast business results. Often going under their company’s internal IT radar armed with a credit card and an expense account, many have already embarked on public cloud service projects. This effectively creates its own “BlackOps” or “Shadow IT” functions in the process and potentially leaves the door open to a number of challenges when it comes to compliance and risk management.
In fact, a research survey on the role of the CIO commissioned by Brocade in 2012, showed over one-third of respondents confirming that cloud services had already been deployed by business units without IT involvement.
In this case, does the end justify the means? Many business unit leaders seem to think so, choosing instead to ask for forgiveness later.
IT’s Dilemma: Reigning in the Cloud’s Wild, Wild West and the Potential of Data Run Amok
From an IT team’s perspective, there’s a good dose of cloud fatigue already setting in. Sure, many have read a lot of the stories. They’ve also heard the hype from vendors trying to get their company’s business. Many are also interested in incorporating what makes the cloud so powerful into their own internal IT delivery models: The ability to be agile, to respond quickly, to scale easily for new business needs, and the ability to offer services that are easy to quantify from a cost perspective. Many even think there’s much to be learned from the emerging cloud model, including the ability to automate business processes in a way that makes them very agile for today’s new digital, virtualized economy.
But, in reality, many IT teams are also so short-staffed and embroiled in maintaining their company’s day-to-day IT operations (i.e., just trying to keep the lights on!), that they don’t always have the time they’d like (and need) to devote to strategic cloud thinking.
Such IT teams are also the default gatekeepers of their company’s sensitive and confidential IP and customer data assets. They see the moves of business unit leaders and others not versed in IT as risky. They’ve been trained to look carefully at the risk/benefits of any new projects. They’ve also been trained to consider issues that ensure their company’s data and applications remain highly secure, compliant and protected against loss or disaster. And, their best practices include evaluating and anticipating potential repercussions that could come from future upgrades or changes to existing business or technology processes. When it comes to embarking on cloud services, they want to apply this background and best practices to any third-party cloud service and ensure it’s been evaluated for:
- Proper access/security protocols to limit access
- Adherence to corporate and government compliance rules
- Proper backup/recovery procedures to protect company data
- Effectiveness of the vendor’s service level agreement (SLA), including a predefined Exit Plan if the cloud vendor’s business fails or the company wants to move to another cloud vendor.
Unfortunately, many IT teams want to explore cloud but may find themselves too busy to transition to the ultimate role they want to play in the new world of cloud: That of aiding the company in the brokering and engagement of IT cloud services (whether those services ultimately come from an external third-party or from their own internal infrastructures).
How to Close the Gap Between Business Leaders and Internal IT
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to closing this gap in thinking between business leaders and IT teams. But, we’ve found the following general guidelines can help:
- Focus First on What Both Parties Want: Meeting the needs of the business quickly and effectively. More specifically, focus on the desirable aspects cloud computing brings to the table: Agility, cost savings, fast deployment, fast resolution to a current challenge, fast ROI. Explore ways to take the best of cloud and incorporate that into your on-going IT operations.
- Focus on the “I” in IT first, and the “T” later. This means working together first to define top-of-mind needs and processes. Then, look at the various service delivery models (including public and/or private/internal cloud services) to meet these needs and processes.
- Use IT Employee Strengths. Don’t leapfrog over IT’s very real ability to plan IT projects for ultimate success. The business can benefit from IT employees versed in offering business use case analyses, common methodologies for risk/reward and TCO assessments of prospective cloud service offerings.
- Get Help and Advice from Expert Advisors. Look to consulting organizations and impartial cloud experts to help bridge this gap. Here, prudent investment in internal IT can also pay off, as loyal IT employees learn more about how to effectively evaluate and broker cloud services for the enterprise, and how best to transition their current internal IT model into one that’s more agile.
- Virtualize the Data Center. IT has likely started to lay the foundation for a transition to cloud by virtualizing storage, networks, and/or servers. Now is the time to fully virtualize the data center to realize near-term benefits and position your organization for a migration to cloud when the time is right.
- Design Short Cloud Test Periods with the Best, Low-Hanging Fruit. Here, as well, advisors can help identify the most compelling use cases for cloud services that offer the best chance of success with the smallest risk of failure. Development and testing can be one area where we’ve seen a company reap large returns in very short order.
- Meet in the Middle: Begin cultivating and rewarding a corporate culture of innovation and rapid change across all departments—from executives to IT employees monitoring daily backups.
Cloud represents one of the most transformational IT movements that organizations will face. Successfully migrating to cloud—whether public, private, or hybrid—involves an evolution of processes, technologies, and people. And, it requires extensive collaboration between business leaders and IT. Done well, organizations stand to gain competitive advantage and propel their business forward.
Paul Lidsky is President and CEO of Datalink, a publicly-held data center solutions and services provider. Paul meets extensively with leaders of mid- and large-size enterprises regarding data center optimization best practices.