99 problems but the cloud ain’t one: The shifting focus from infrastructure to service

The growth of different cloud models places more emphasis on customisability and connection to business goals.

The question posed to cloud service providers is not what CPUs their infrastructure is built on; it’s what it can do for their clients’ businesses and how it better supports and enables their critical applications. The growth of hybrid, multi and managed cloud models places more emphasis on customisability and connection to business goals – and with it, the service surrounding cloud infrastructures and the relationship with providers becomes critical.

Extension of your business 

As service providers, cloud companies often strive to become invisible: a miraculous helper that makes sure clients’ IT provision, storage, disaster recovery and whatever else, runs smoothly, with barely a murmur on a day-to-day basis.

That’s fine: and it’s an aspiration to aim for, to become an integral, seamless, everyday part of your clients’ business operations. The danger here is falling into the trap of the old IT department where the wider business only ever even thinks about the service provided when something goes wrong. 

This should all be so much better: in every dimension.

Businesses will improve in measurable ways if their cloud provider is more invested in and better understands the business. Cloud companies can add a lot of value in all sorts of ways, and believe it or not, the best of them will be thinking about how existing provision and workflows might be extended and further optimised, even while everything is running smoothly.

When cloud companies have the opportunity to listen to clients, they get to understand their requirements and their aims better. They begin to understand their business objectives, over and above the bare bones of the service contract. They start to become partners, rather than just that utility that they only think about when something goes wrong. To deliver a great customer experience, providers have to know more about the business they’re serving. But it’s a long road before they can get to that point.

Reliability and communication at the core

Reliability is, of course, the backbone of what engenders trust. Providing reliability is a largely unspoken imperative, but providers will never be able to create trust, or move towards a partnership if levels of reliability are less than sterling. 

It’s not plain sailing and keeping the lights switched on can be hard work. Even in the best of worlds, things will go wrong. It’s technology: it happens. That said, if you deal with those issues properly, nearly every client understands that it’s one of those things that form the complex texture of reality. What’s important is that the providers’ reliability extends to the way we deal with incidents, too. This means that when there is an incident that creates an interruption to a business’ service, it’s actually an opportunity to increase trust. 

The manner in which a provider manages to recover from incidents is what will be remembered. If it’s effective, professional and involves full and open communication for the incident’s duration, clients will be reassured. For cloud providers – and even more so for managed service providers – it’s not about trying to hide behind problems created by third parties. It must be about taking ownership; getting the job done and offering an understanding of the business impact throughout. 

Clearly documented procedures, followed to the letter and with an ongoing thread of transparent updates will be the key to gaining trust.

Similarly, providers must keep to their promises. If a change in their system was promised by a certain time, then it needs to be completed to that time. If a project was agreed with a due date, then that’s exactly what needs to happen. Once again, it’s something that clients will remember and provides the context for any future conversation.

That sense that a provider is reliable and trustworthy creates the conditions required for a meaningful dialogue about how the provider can help further.

Understanding the business

The best underlying practices for cloud companies, and other IT providers, are based on the ITIL industry standard guidelines. These aim to align all IT procedures with the objectives of the client’s business as a whole. They’re regarded as best-practise, but to be able to implement them requires a close relationship and an in-depth understanding of the processes, flow and risks faced by client businesses. Sadly, this is not the relationship organisations have with typical Managed service providers. 

To deliver the best service requires providers to dig deep into their clients’ work.

Try to open that dialogue through whatever channel works best for each individual business. This could be a quick weekly check-in; an email when something relevant crops up and a call to dig deeper on a recent change request or incident. Keep regular, open touch points when nothing is going wrong – but don’t try to set the agenda for those conversations and certainly don’t be salesy. Their purpose is to help understand the clients’ businesses better.

That understanding then sets the stage for future interactions. If your client is a retailer, for example, you may well discover they do more business in December than the other 11 months combined. You’ll then know that there’s one month of the year when any outage, for whatever cause, will not be acceptable. Let them know you understand that and the client experience improves that bit more.

From large enterprises to the smallest of companies, a better understanding of client’s business will almost always lead to better service. Knowing their stress-points; the busy times of the week; the applications that are the most mission-critical to their work. Alongside that, honest, open communication is key. Making clear who is responsible for what, is particularly pertinent: when businesses and service providers are entirely clear about those delineations, then it bodes for a much more successful relationship going forward.

A great experience is key to transitioning from provider to partner. As cloud environments become more tailored and more complex, the services and support in managing them becomes critical to becoming the partners that meet clients’ business needs. 

Gary Smallman, Director of Operations, Navisite Europe
Image Credit: TZIDO SUN / Shutterstock

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gary Smallman is the Director of Operations at Navisite Europe. Gary is responsible for the delivery of the end-to-end service model to Navisite's growing client base.