Running your business at the speed of cloud

In this age of cloud/mobile/social, employees and customers alike expect the speed and convenience of Web apps to complete tasks and access information quickly.

They want IT to deliver helpful services and tools in short order, and the freedom to experiment with new technologies and reject them if they don’t work well. Frequent, skies-the-limit innovation is the theme.

Yet some companies just aren’t able to move to new technologies and ways of working as fast as others, due to regulatory, security, budgeting, or customer-specific concerns. Large banks, utilities and healthcare companies, for instance, aren’t going “all in” to the cloud.

A company’s culture may not be ready for the 100 per cent cloud model, either. The fact is, most enterprises are still running primarily on-premise environments or hybrid environments combining public cloud and internally managed or private managed services.

Two common scenarios show the constraints IT departments face in being more responsive to their business counterparts:

  1. Traditional/legacy: In this primarily on-premise environment, managed through the company’s own internal data centers and/or through data center outsourcing, companies may struggle to manage existing costs and deploy new services quickly within constrained budgets. Adding to cost is the reality of outdated tools, meaning there is minimal automation for tasks like configuration, provisioning and monitoring. It’s often difficult to have an application-centric view of deployment with silos of systems and teams, so IT is more reactive than proactive. Even with a highly virtualised environment, it still may take too long to launch new applications or to scale with sudden demand of a marketing campaign or product launch.
  2. Hybrid IT: More progressive companies that seek to become a software-driven business may not be able to or desire to transition to a 100% public cloud environment anytime soon. They run some systems internally or with a data center partner, and some in the cloud. This environment brings significant flexibility to a large enterprise with many different applications, product lines and customer segments, yet there is a price to pay. Hybrid IT environments bring complexity in terms of dual architectures, networks, teams and processes for managing IT. It can be difficult to collaborate across these environments much less manage applications between on-premise and cloud-based providers. This can drive costs and also create slowdowns in fixing issues or launching new business tools and applications.

Now what?

Running a traditional on-premise or hybrid infrastructure is still common in today’s world, yet these environments can hinder time-to-market and competitiveness. Critically, some IT departments are missing the boat, placing their companies in jeopardy from being disrupted by upstarts because they can’t move fast enough.

Consider the impact that young Internet-based companies such as Uber, Airbnb, Lending Club and Rent the Runway have had on their respective industries. Being viewed as a “laggard” that is disconnected with business priorities can hurt IT departments in hiring, since this latest generation of college graduates are tech savvy. Millennials think in terms of software and gadgets and services, more so than marketing plans.

The following tactics are ones that CIOs should consider today to operate at the speed of cloud:

  • Time to market: No matter your industry, the business is demanding faster service, results and the delivery of revenue-creating tools from IT. Everything the IT department does should be focused around speed, efficiency and business alignment. This requires agile thinking.
  • Own the strategy: Shadow IT is here to stay, with business managers making more independent decisions about technology. While this is generally a positive change, it doesn’t mean that IT should step into the shadows. Whether they know it or not, business managers need direction and leadership from the CIO and his or her team. CIOs will need to strive for the right balance in being collaborative and supportive yet still offer the appropriate guidance and governance for technology-driven projects.
  • Software-based everything: Software-defined infrastructure is no longer a trend but a strategy for survival and agility. Replacing aging legacy technology as well as skill sets that no longer contribute to rapid innovation is imperative to compete.
  • Listen to the CEO. The CEO is watching as competitors launch big data programs and customer facing mobile apps—and wants the same. Take note of the CEO’s priorities, manage expectations to ensure success.
  • Millennials are important: Don’t underestimate the impact of this group of information workers of this generation. Their technological smarts and social consciousness are having a powerful impact on business strategy and org charts.
  • Monitor and measure constantly: Monitor how the infrastructure is performing for your apps, not overall. Data center infrastructure only exists to ensure the success of applications. The environment may look great overall, but the app will suffer and your app consumer will not be satisfied.

Regardless of your company’s size, whether you market to businesses or consumers, and what type of infrastructure is in place, IT must deliver agility so that business units can be proactive with customers and respond quickly to marketplace changes.

IT departments must consider the constraints they have, whether budgetary, cultural or regulatory, and adapt their environments and staff to the speed of business.

Steve McDonald is VP of Product at StrataCloud.