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'Cloud control’ will be critical to business success in 2016

2015 was an interesting year in so many ways. HP, one of the largest IT players in history, split itself down the middle into separate consumer and enterprise businesses.

Dell’s decision to acquire EMC for $67 million represented one of the biggest pure-technology mergers of all time. Finally, we celebrated the date when Marty McFly from Back to The Future actually arrived in the future.

Clearly the IT industry has come a long way. For many, continuing to make innovation and success a reality in 2016 will mean improving their control over cloud strategies, as deeper data insights, consolidated cloud systems and limitless test environments provide businesses with the tools to grow faster and sell more.

So how will this be made possible?

IT turns strategic

Rather than being the plumbers of the digital age, IT will move out of the backroom and transition into being both the business’s coach and its analyst. By tuning, customising and integrating applications with ever increasing amounts of orchestration, IT will facilitate sales and competitive differentiation. The businesses which grow most in 2016 will be those which capitalise on IT’s potential to provide the business with new efficiencies and competencies in the cloud.

Orchestrating the cloud

That being the case, the real question for businesses in the coming year will be how well the cloud can be used to achieve real business advantage. IT will no longer be seen as a catalogue of services but as a collection of application environments that are monitored for usage and broken down by departments within the business.

Each application environment will also be cost-optimised in near-real-time to ensure that it’s running on the most appropriate platform to deliver the minimum usable service for the lowest possible cost. In addition, services will be administered according to role-based access policies, to ensure that the right applications are being deployed depending on their cost and geographical placement, the reliance placed on them and the data regulations governing them.

However, the rise of the cloud has also led to many businesses feeling out of control, as they adopt a multi-sourced ‘best of breed’ supplier model. Now, the industry is beginning to turn the corner towards more streamlined ‘primary sourcing frameworks’ which allow for specific additional services to be easily cancelled or attached to a central service set. Businesses are looking for that single trusted advisor who can provide the base package along with sufficient flexibility to accommodate the integration of new capabilities as needs arise.

This means that the nature of contracts in IT is changing: they are becoming more flexible to allow customers to determine how the pieces will fit together as the service evolves. We are seeing scale being replaced with speed, collaboration and risk management. This hands the advantage in many cases to the smaller firms who are better suited to being flexible. IT-as-a-Service will give rise to the need for impartial, external auditing from trusted advisors. It will also empower smart organisations to negotiate better contracts and bring together a multi-cloud environment.

Next-generation PaaS

Once a multi-cloud environment has been achieved, businesses will need to hire code-cutters who can provide the mechanical advantage necessary to leverage it. In the era of Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), businesses of all sizes are starting to see that they should employ coders to create their competitive differentiation and leave the platform and the infrastructure to an external provider.

Instead of needing to design, buy, build, deploy and manage a complex and costly infrastructure before the first bit of code is run, businesses will be able to write, publish and run with the click of a button, spinning up test environments and then removing them just as easily once their role is obsolete. PaaS will provide all of the self-healing scale-up and scale-down businesses need and an infinite number of safe virtual environments to test, experiment, fail, rebuild and succeed. Any business that does not have someone employed with the express purpose of developing, customising or integrating software to gain efficiencies and competitive advantage is going to miss out.

The data scientist’s realm

It’s not just the coders who will become central to the cloud-driven enterprise. As organisations turn more data into deeper insight, the use of data to increase sales, drive customer-centricity and develop new business lines will continue to increase. Organisations are recognising the opportunities presented by rich data and a digital engagement model, and are evolving the way they acquire and retain business. As part of that, the skilled data scientist will now become one of the key players in providing competitive advantage. Leveraging natural language processing, machine learning and a wealth of evolving techniques will allow organisations to develop powerful analytics, visualisation and insight, enabling them to respond to an evolving market in near-real time.

Those who react quickest, using data-driven platforms and Platform-as-a-Service-based applications, will see rapid growth and gain market share with consumer-focused market branding, unlocking unforseen potential.

In 2016, the cloud will enable organisations not just to function efficiently but to strive for wider innovation capabilities , service management and business insight.

Jonathan Bridges, head of cloud at Exponential-e

Image Credit: Chaiyapop Bhumiwat / Shutterstock

Jonathan Bridges is Chief Innovation Officer at Exponential-e, having previously held the position of Head of Cloud. Recently, he spearheaded the launch of Exponential-e’s Cloud Management Platform (CMP).