Cloud-based Services: Easier to manage or not?
Has the almost ubiquitous adoption of Cloud-based services made it easier to manage your organisation’s IT?
Having been a supplier of IT solutions and services for over 30 years, we’ve seen pretty much every trend develop and have been fortunate enough to have stuck around to see how, after the bell-wave of adoption, the new found ways of working have really impacted an organisation’s IT operation.
Whilst there have been many technological advances over those 30+ years, until the “Cloud-era” dawned we don’t think that any of those advances fundamentally changed the way in which an organisation managed their IT. Sure, there were many new technologies to get to grips with and as workers became more mobile we had all sorts of interesting challenges around connectivity and security to solve…but essentially an organisation’s business applications were their own, installed somewhere on their network. Pre-Cloud the organisation’s data assets were also always under their own control, again located safely somewhere on their own network. And if external data centres were used to host equipment and services there was point-to-point secure connectivity that made those sites part of the corporate WAN and so once again everything was under the organisation’s control.
Now, with the advent of Cloud, almost everything is available “as a service” and the portfolio of offerings is growing by the day. It’s no longer the case that you’re at the bleeding edge if you use Cloud in some form…it’s now the case that you’re a Luddite if you don’t.
Today many of us use the same application stack, on the same infrastructure platform, utilising the same database architecture on the same storage as our competitors…and we don’t even know from which data centre our service is currently operating from. Data is everywhere and services can be accessed globally across the internet. We may use these systems as point solutions in isolation, or we may have integrated them using an integration-as-a-service toolset. We most likely also continue to use some systems hosted locally on our network as well and these also need integration with the Cloud-based systems. And to top it all our users now expect 24x7x365 support, from any location, across multiple devices…many of which probably don’t belong to the enterprise.
Cloud services means a massive disruption and disaggregation of the traditional models. Now I know that’s not news to anyone anymore…but now we’re a few years on from the dawn of the era we’re able to assess what that really means from an end-to-end service delivery and IT operations perspective.
At Transputec we’re so good at our jobs (and modest with it!) that it’s the norm for our customers stay with us for many years and so we have the benefit of observing how well they’ve coped (or not) with the Cloud challenge over time. We’re also continuously getting involved with new opportunities and so our exposure to the Good, the Bad and the Ugly is always developing. Having many clients and experiences across many sectors gives us a great insight into how things could be done…what works and what doesn’t…and how an organisation can successfully shift from the traditional model to the new world without dropping the ball.
What we all know for sure is that the “problem” is not going away. This is because the Cloud model finally presents the world of opportunity that senior business executives have craved for from IT for so long – software that provides point solutions to specific business challenges that don’t take an age to implement, that immediately start delivering benefits, that are also relatively cheap and, even better than cheap, you can pay for as you consume and scale with ease…and when you’re done with it or have found something better, you can just turn it off without major headaches.
Every time a new business challenge arises, or a system needs replacing, or infrastructure needs refreshing, nowadays the immediate response by C-level execs is to ask “can we get this from the Cloud?” This is a natural and absolutely valid response given all of the potential advantages that Cloud models provide – but it may not always be the right thing to do for a variety of different reasons, and in most organisations it falls to IT to explain what these may be.
We have seen many businesses that have already started bypassing their IT department and are procuring SaaS directly (these tend to fall into the Bad and the Ugly categories by the way) as they believe that’s the quickest route to success and IT are increasingly being seen as the bad-guy…limiting the ability of the business to take advantage of this fabulous array of tools that have suddenly become immediately available to them which seem to solve their business problems. After all, if we’re not using it our competitors will be and we’ll fall behind…right?
Many of the IT departments we see are now so busy chasing their tails keeping up with the complexity introduced by the new ways of working that they now struggle to find the time to add value helping the business make the best decisions…which in turn leads the Business to bypass them even more, going directly to market and procuring their own solutions and so perpetuating the problem.
If the IT function asks the Business to slow down a bit to give them chance to perform a proper evaluation of the options and to consider integration and management issues then it’s perceived by the Business as IT getting in the way and questions start to be raised about why the Business needs such a big IT department that slows it down now that most things can be delivered as a service…after all, what value are they adding?
The real reason the IT team has become so busy is because is because their workload has risen dramatically. Before the Cloud they had a bunch of services that they ran from infrastructure that they managed. They understood how it was all configured and integrated, and if something went wrong they were able to trace the root cause and fix the problem. When new services were ready for introduction they knew what would be impacted and how to bring that service into operation with minimum risk of disruption.
Now there are services running that they’re not even aware of, that the Business has directly commissioned, but that the IT team is still expected to support somehow. There are integration challenges which are more complex by many factors given that services and data exist in multiple locations at the same time.
On top of this, the size of the team has probably been reduced as Cloud services have been adopted – after all, these new Cloud-based solutions are delivered “as a service” and so why do we need to keep all our own IT staff?
We have seen many businesses with problems like these, and it’s a rapid downward spiral unless the problem is recognised and dealt with quickly. We have also seen many businesses who’ve avoided this trap. So what have the successful ones done?
Firstly those that are successful have recognised that things need to change. They understand that models have got more complex and that, whilst there are many benefits to consuming Cloud services, it is essential that the Business is supported by a strong technical team that understands the Cloud marketplace and the technical challenges to help bring the C-level vision into reality.
To enable the change in the capabilities needed to provide the new level of business-focussed support required many organisations have outsourced elements (or the whole) of their IT operation to third parties who benefit from the economy of scale and can therefore usually provide those same services at a lower cost, releasing the budget and/ or staff needed.
This enables the existing IT function to shift its focus away from day-to-day operations towards supporting the demand from the Business – helping find and evaluate Cloud-based services and to work out how these could be bought into service safely and with maximum effect.
This works even better if the 3rd party that the organisation has outsourced to has capabilities beyond general IT support. If that organisation (like us) has skills in systems development and systems integration, as well as knowledge of the Cloud marketplace, it accelerates the transformation as the new model between IT and the Business can lean on the supplier whilst it finds its feet.
In addition to changing the relationship between and services provided by IT to the Business, there needs to be an agreement that the Business will not directly procure Cloud-based services without engaging with IT and following the agreed processes. This stops things appearing on the horizon that no-one knew about and that don’t fit into the overall strategy or portfolio of services which is supportable.
By making these changes we’ve seen businesses embrace and benefit from the Cloud-based services world. If you want to know more or are struggling with this challenge yourself, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0208 584 1400.