Three quarters of UK businesses are now officially "in the cloud" in one form or another. The universal, horizontal benefits of agility and utility are undeniable and compelling, but businesses still need to be able to translate these into competitive advantage.
Getting the most from your cloud investment can be a challenge. The fact is that not all clouds are created equal, and depending on your drivers, required outcomes and preferences, some will be a far better fit than others.
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The current cloud market is fragmented and rapidly evolving, featuring niche startups, traditional infrastructure providers, telcos and a technicolour array of different propositions and services, making it hard to be (and stay) well informed. It's sometimes difficult to know where to go and how to map your changing requirements to individual provider capabilities.
Capabilities vs requirements
There is a clear mismatch between what UK businesses need and what they actually get from their providers. Recent research commissioned by Adapt revealed that 75 per cent of respondents do not feel that their cloud provider really understands their business, with one in four of them not expecting this provider to be meeting their business needs within the next 12 months.
The survey discovered that cloud is currently used to support a wide range of requirements. 60 per cent of businesses use it to manage diverse workloads from test and development to business-critical applications, with specific compliance and governance requirements and varying infrastructure demands. With this diversity comes natural specialism - it's about fitness for purpose and the most efficient, appropriate solutions for the objectives you need to achieve.
What all businesses agree on is the need to drive maximum return from their existing investments and develop a future strategy that is both relevant and the right fit. So can one provider do it all? Tellingly, some 62 per cent of businesses are already multi-sourcing and 53 per cent of respondents had learnt from experience that a single provider could not meet all their needs.
Provider specialisms can help businesses achieve more, faster. However, managing a range of providers requires considerable time and effort on the part of in-house teams, forcing investment at both a service management and supplier management level, and potentially missing out on economies of scale. The individual providers meanwhile inevitably have an incomplete view of the customer, so organisations are not aligned to support their overall long-term growth strategy.
Brokers, aggregators and integrators
Against this backdrop, the idea of working with a single overall provider that manages these various relationships can be highly appealing. Cloud brokers or aggregators match organisations with providers that can service their needs at a particular point in time, or on a certain cost model. However, because the broker/aggregator has a tactical rather than strategic role, its ability to develop long-term relationships that evolve with customer demand is low.
The other option is the cloud integrator. Integrators are the advisory conduit between the business and what the complete provider landscape can deliver. Unlike brokers and aggregators, who simply bundle multi-provider services together to be consumed through one contract, integrators take the long-term partnership view. An integrator will compare providers and clouds through the eyes of your business, and evaluate the potential for specific commercial, operational, technical and compliance gain. Cloud integrators are not created overnight – it takes years of real-world experience and significant investment in platforms, people and processes to really deliver results.
The fundamental difference is that the integrator takes accountability and responsibility for end-to-end service management, bringing together provider, legacy, customer-owned and public hyperscaler solutions to achieve a set of goals or outcomes. This single pane, comprehensive view reduces complexity, and delivers more meaningful insight and intelligence back to businesses.
The integrator approach empowers organisations to maximise their return on investment, and really capitalise on the breadth of choice and options available. This means they can maintain a permanently optimised blend of services, solutions and providers that represent the best fit for delivering business outcomes for today and tomorrow. This is a marked difference from the traditional outsourcing concept, under which customers tend to be locked into three or five-year cycles, with little scope for change along the way.
Crucially, it also releases in-house IT teams from managing those relationships, freeing them to focus on getting new products to market more rapidly and delivering real-world benefits back to the wider business.
According to the research, almost half (48 per cent) of UK businesses expect to make big changes to their cloud platforms in the next 12 months. If you are one of them, take the time to consider your options carefully. Keeping your teams focused on creating business value and outsourcing the effort, worry and uncertainty associated with choosing, migrating to and managing multiple cloud environments might just be the right move for you.
Kevin Linsell is the head of service development at Adapt