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The second digital revolution: A cloud of clouds

The digital wave is sweeping through every industry and every organisation. Analysts at Ovum recently predicted a “second digital revolution” whose impact will be felt across every sector . Millions of us routinely use our mobile devices as a remote control for our personal lives. We increasingly expect that mainstream commercial organisations (and public services) will provide us with a real life experience to match that we find online.

On the high street, retailers are responding with innovations such as interactive signage, intelligent fitting rooms and mobile sales points that help create better shopping experiences for customers in store.

But a great digital experience is just as important for employees. Barclays knew this when it introduced free Wi-Fi into 1,600 of its UK branches. Customers love it but so do branch employees. Using iPads, bank staff can respond to customers’ banking enquiries on the spot, or show someone how to use the Barclays app on their own device. It’s a way of working that really appeals to young people entering the workplace. Similarly, since Dixons Carphone launched its Pin Point mobile sales tool for its employees, it has reported a 40 per cent increase in sales conversions and a 30 per cent increase in customer satisfaction scores .

The transition to a more digital business means transitioning to the cloud. Because only by storing your data and applications in the cloud can you deliver a consistent digital experience everywhere. The cloud also makes it easier to scale up and down in line with the peaks and troughs of commercial life, and ‘pay as you go’ reduces the need for capital spending. And cloud services make it easy for local teams to roll out specialist digital innovations for their part of the business.

Too many clouds?

For years, CIOs have struggled to avoid duplicating IT services, or creating silos of data that cannot be shared. A potential downside of a shift to the cloud, especially when you have business units autonomously introducing cloud solutions, is that it might perpetuate that same problem of isolated services and information. The CIO ends up with a patchwork of cloud solutions, over which he or she has little control.

One emerging solution is for the CIO to combine all the organisation’s cloud services into a single cloud — a cloud of clouds — that can be managed and secured centrally. With such a strategy, the CIO has more visibility and control, and is better able to identify risky services, tighten up security and ensure a fair allocation of corporate resources. Users have lots of choice from popular cloud providers like Amazon Web Services, HPE Helion Managed Cloud, SalesForce and others. And using acceleration technology embedded in the network, such as Riverbed’s SteelHead application, will boost the speed and performance of SaaS applications such as Microsoft Office 365.

However, bringing together multiple cloud services into one cloud and delivering them seamlessly and continuously is a big ask, even for the most technologically sophisticated CIOs. Not only do you need a robust global network capable of delivering a consistent performance 24/7, but it also requires some specialist integration knowhow and skills that are in short supply.

A role for an expert integrator

Industry commentator Ovum sees a way forward: “enterprises are increasingly likely to discriminate toward cloud service providers with combined data centre and networking orchestration skills… across hybrid clouds.” In other words, CIOs will look for a partner with a strong global network and integration skills to help them build a ‘cloud of clouds’ to underpin their digital business.

In the future, every business will be a digital business. Strategically-inclined CIOs are already thinking about how to create an infrastructure that will let their organisation make the most of the opportunity. A cloud of clouds strategy can mean the best of both worlds: the freedom and flexibility for the business to innovate with digital solutions of every kind, but with the security and stability that comes from central control and oversight.

Luis Alvarez, CEO BT Global Services