Cloud, All In or All Out?

I recently spoke with a good friend of mine who is a Finance SVP with a publicly traded North American manufacturer.

He was very excited to tell me that his executive team had been strategizing over the past couple of quarters and was getting ready to publicly announce they would be moving all IT services to the cloud and would be 100% complete by Q4 2019. As our conversation progressed, I asked him why they had made this decision and he offered several reasons, some of which were more valid then others. Ultimately, with some prior knowledge of how large, diverse, and (in several significant areas) outdated their technology estate was, I asked what their IT teams thought of this initiative. I’m pretty sure my jaw actually dropped at his reply, “Outside of the CIO’s office, nobody knows yet.”

It’s not just all or nothing

There are a whole host of issues with the direction this executive team was headed, but for this particular blog I want to focus on one particularly poor decision that I see play out over and over with potential clients; they are either All In, or All Out on cloud adoption.

I would argue that the vast majority who take either of those two positions have a fundamental mis-understanding of what “Cloud” is. Since the term “Cloud” has been co-opted by nearly every vendor to mean almost anything, this misunderstanding is not surprising. For the purpose of my blog today, I’ll be referencing the key components of cloud computing: Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS).

At their core, each of these offerings support the delivery of business application features to users. At the end of the day, delivering business application features to their users as effectively and efficiently as possible is, and should be, a primary concern of every executive. Executives hire very smart and talented teams of Architects, Analysts, Product/Program/Project Managers, Engineers and Administrators to accomplish this delivery. As these teams work with their respective vendors to understand the nature of the various applications they must operate, then design, build and configure systems to support them.

To support diverse applications, these teams need diverse tools; and Cloud (IaaS, PaaS & SaaS) is only one. As powerful as the cloud may be, it is not always ideal, or in some cases, even suitable for every situation or application.

All In, or All Out on cloud adoption?

I would argue that the vast majority who take either of those two positions have a fundamental mis-understanding of what “Cloud” is.

Imagine for a moment that you are hiring the best contractor in your area to build you a home. You’ve worked with them to determine the ideal design, select the desired finishes, and come up with a budget and timeline. At what point would you think it was in your best interest to dictate to this contractor, the best in the area, what tools they may or may not use to deliver your finished home? Wouldn’t it be better to let them use the best tool for each individual job that needs to be done? If this is true, why do we as executives think it is in our best interest to sit in board rooms and determine what tools our IT teams may or may not use, without understanding the nature of the applications they need to operate? The simple answer: it is not.

Rather than limiting the tools that their teams can make use of, executives, as the primary visionaries and strategists of the enterprise should develop guidelines for their teams. These guidelines will help them identify appropriate tools and strategies, ultimately helping them align themselves with the overriding executive vision. In our practice, we break these guidelines into two primary sections; Outcome and Bias statements. Outcome statements generally speak to requirements related to availability, reliability, durability and usability of applications, while Bias statements are a list of prioritized preferences for how the application is delivered. This construct provides for executive oversight, while also empowering teams to ultimately understand what is right and do it.

“Outside of the CIO’s office, nobody knows yet.”

There are many enterprises that have gone all in on cloud adoption and many who have avoided it all together. In all my experience, I have yet to encounter an enterprise that has gone All In on the cloud without making significant compromises or undergoing supernatural gymnastics to get everything in (except for businesses that were born in the cloud). Likewise, I have yet to work with a business who has completely opted out of cloud that couldn’t benefit from having some of their systems residing there. “Outside of the CIO’s office, nobody knows yet.” 

As you can imagine, this jaw dropping statement was not the end of our conversation. We discussed the nature of Cloud Services, and he invited me to consult a bit with several of his peers and superiors within the organization. I was able to provide a little of my perspective and insight into the path they were preparing to undertake. The verdict is still out on what their plan for cloud adoption will be, but I have not seen them make a public announcement regarding a plan for a 100% cloud adoption by EOY 2019.

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