Last week I was presenting at a small CIO gathering, discussing cloud computing and the fact it required the IT department to transform. One of the CIOs asked me what I meant by cloud and I replied with my usual definition, describing the four key characteristics, standardization, virtualization, automation and self-provisioning. His answer: “I have that and its business as usual”.
Was I wrong in my assumption, or was something missed in the translation. Actually this CIO has a private cloud and is quite happy about it. He delivers IaaS to his users (mainly IT because who else actually uses IaaS). I also discovered his IT department structure was still very silo oriented and that he was struggling in transforming it.
IT has been focused on technologies and many IT departments have structured themselves around such technologies. So, you have the window server guys, the Linux team, the storage specialists, the network fokes etc. Each of them is focused on his or her specific technology. The global vision is established by the enterprise architects. IaaS is actually the perpetuation of this approach.
Sure you had the responsibility of a series of physical servers, now they are virtual. Sure it took you 6 weeks to provision a new server, now it takes 5 minutes. But fundamentally nothing has changed. Provisioning has become easier and can be initiated directly by the user (who-ever that user is), rather than you receiving a call from the service desk, but we are still speaking about provisioning a server, some storage etc.
Now, how many business users are actually requesting infrastructure? Storage is probably what they are asking for most as they look for a place to exchange large documents, presentations, spreadsheets etc. But they like DropBox and others because it allows them to share the files easily. Object storage alone does not provide that intuitive approach.
And that’s where the difference is. Business users are looking at intuitive ways to access information technologies to make their life easier. Whether it is exchanging files, collaborating, storing documents etc. It’s the ease of use that counts.
And when IT does not provide them that, they use “shadow-IT”, IT services provided by others. As a result IT is out of control and security, risk management and compliance become difficult to track.
David Linthicum proposes to fire the Enterprise Architect and the VP or director of IT operations. This may look like a rather drastic move. Beyond the specific roles he highlights is the concept that, if people are not ready to change, it may be time for them to move.
Let’s now look at how we could transform IT to get beyond that IaaS deadlock. How do we move away from an infrastructure to a service focus? And when I speak about a service, I do NOT mean a virtual machine, I mean a service to be used by a business user in support of his/her day to day work.
How should IT evolve?
But how should IT evolve? Let me highlight three fundamental changes in thinking:
- Think service. What is the user looking for and how can I deliver him what he requires. Forget about the potential barriers of the current organization, those will be knocked down. Just think about how to deliver to the user what he is looking for, and deliver it to him fast.
- Think end-to-end. To deliver the service, a number of things will have to be aligned, most probably across organizational boundaries. What is required end-to-end? Take a particular look at the “white spaces” the border areas between the organizational responsibilities. That’s were things typically fall down.
- Understand you do not need to deliver everything yourself. I would actually go one step further and say, source everything you can externally and only develop what you cannot find on the market. Now, here again you will have to look at things end-to-end. You will have to understand how to manage your supplier, which services can be sourced externally and which should be kept in house. You should look at how to integrate those disparate services so they have access to the appropriate data.
All of that may look cumbersome and risky. It’s the only way for you to deliver your customers what they are looking for in the timeframe requested.
Start by building a service catalog (an app store if you prefer) and provide the business user with one user experience through which he/she can source and use all services. The business user does not need to know where a service is sourced. All he wants is to be able to provision and use the service and have this capability at his fingertips.
What should you do?
The organization should really be focused around four key functions. Those are:
- A governance function. Through dialogue with the business, understand what services have to be provided and by when. What is the business expecting from IT? What do they want IT to focus on? That is the discussion that needs to take place between both parties. Once a service is defined, the criticality of that service, and its associated information, needs to be assessed jointly. That will result in a decision whether this service must be kept in-house or not. And here the transformation of IT is most visible. By default the service should be sourced externally, and it is only when there is a damned good reason to keep things internally that should be done.
- If the service is sourced externally, a team will focus on setting up the relationship with the external service provider, negotiate contractual arrangements, pricing, SLA etc. This is a procurement function that can learn a lot from general procurement. There is some technology involved in the sense that the integration of the service within the service catalog needs to take place. That’s why the function is part of IT.
- A small development team should be available to develop some of the integrations and the services that must be kept in-house.
- An operation team is responsible for the cloud platform. This includes the environment giving the business user the integrated user experience and the private cloud in which the core services are run. The objective of this team is to keep the infrastructure operational 24*7, 365 days a year.
Now, companies do not switch from their current environment, called traditional or legacy, to cloud. That will probably take years, so IT departments will have mixed organizations for the time being, part focused on the traditional environment, part focused on cloud. I would however advocate to make the traditional environment functions accessible via the portal/service catalog. This can be done by web service enabling those applications.
The hidden advantage is that, once the applications are web service enabled, you can transform/migrate them without affecting the end-user.
Take a minute to listen to how ING transformed its IT to take full benefits of cloud.
Considering IaaS as cloud allows IT departments to claim they deliver cloud services without transforming their way of operation. It does not address the needs of the users and leaves companies open for shadow-IT. That’s probably not a good thing in the long run. So, what-ever we call things, it’s critical for the CIO to understand he needs to adapt his organization and enable the enterprise to become more responsive and agile. Ultimately that’s what count, don’t you think so?