We’ll now explore how mounting complexity and a lack of multi-cloud services management maturity must be solved in order to have businesses grow and thrive as digital enterprises.
Tim Crawford, CIO Strategic Advisor at AVOA in Los Angeles joins us to report on how companies are managing an increasingly complex transition to sustainable hybrid IT. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: Tim, there’s a lot of evidence that businesses are adopting cloud models at a rapid pace. But there is also lingering concern about how to best determine the right mix of cloud, what kinds of cloud, and how to mitigate the risks and manage change over time.
As someone who regularly advises chief information officers (CIOs), who or which group is surfacing that is tasked with managing this cloud adoption and its complexity within these businesses? Who will be managing this dynamic complexity?
Crawford: For the short-term, I would say everyone. It’s not as simple as it has been in the past where we look to the IT organization as the end-all, be-all for all things technology. As we begin talking about different consumption models -- and cloud is a relatively new consumption model for technology -- it changes the dynamics of it. It’s the combination of changing that consumption model -- but then there’s another factor that comes into this. There is also the consumerization of technology, right? We are “democratizing” technology to the point where everyone can use it, and therefore everyone does use it, and they begin to get more comfortable with technology.
It’s not as it used to be, where we would say, “Okay, I'm not sure how to turn on a computer.” Now, businesses may be more familiar outside of the IT organization with certain technologies. Bringing that full-circle, the answer is that we have to look beyond just IT. Cloud is something that is consumed by IT organizations. It’s consumed by different lines of business, too. It’s consumed even by end-consumers of the products and services. I would say it’s all of the above.
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Gardner: The good news is that more and more people are able to -- on their own – innovate, to acquire cloud services, and they can factor those into how they obtain business objectives. But do you expect that we will get to the point where that becomes disjointed? Will the goodness of innovation become something that spins out of control, or becomes a negative over time?
Crawford: To some degree, we’ve already hit that inflection-point where technology is being used in inappropriate ways. A great example of this -- and it’s something that just kind of raises the hair on the back of my neck -- is when I hear that boards of directors of publicly traded companies are giving mandates to their organization to “Go cloud.”
The board should be very business-focused and instead they're dictating specific technology -- whether it’s the right technology or not. That’s really what this comes down to.
What’s the right use of cloud – in all forms, public, private, software as a service (SaaS). What’s the right combination to use for any given application?
Another example is folks that try and go all-in on cloud but aren’t necessarily thinking about what’s the right use of cloud – in all forms, public, private, software as a service (SaaS). What’s the right combination to use for any given application? It’s not a one-size-fits-all answer.
We in the enterprise IT space haven't really done enough work to truly understand how best to leverage these new sets of tools. We need to both wrap our head around it but also get in the right frame of mind and thought process around how to take advantage of them in the best way possible.
Another example that I've worked through from an economic standpoint is if you were to do the math, which I have done a number of times with clients -- you do the math to figure out what’s the comparative between the IT you're doing on-premises in your corporate data center with any given application -- versus doing it in a public cloud.
If you do the math, taking an application from a corporate data center and moving it to public cloud will cost you four times as much money. Four times as much money to go to cloud! Yet we hear the cloud is a lot cheaper. Why is that?
When you begin to tease apart the pieces, the bottom line is that we get that four-times-as-much number because we’re using the same traditional mindset where we think about cloud as a solution, the delivery mechanism, and a tool. The reality is it’s a different delivery mechanism, and it’s a different kind of tool.
When used appropriately, in some cases, yes, it can be less expensive. The challenge is you have to get yourself out of your traditional thinking and think differently about the how and why of leveraging cloud. And when you do that, then things begin to fall into place and make a lot more sense both organizationally -- from a process standpoint, and from a delivery standpoint -- and also economically.
Gardner: That “appropriate use of cloud” is the key. Of course, that could be a moving target. What’s appropriate today might not be appropriate in a month or a quarter. But before we delve into more … Tim, tell us about your organization. What’s a typical day in the life for Tim Crawford like?
It’s not tech for tech’s sake, rather it’s best to say, “How do we use technology for business advantage?”
Crawford: I love that question. AVOA stands for that position in which we sit between business and technology. If you think about the intersection of business and technology, of using technology for business advantage, that’s the space we spend our time thinking about. We think about how organizations across a myriad of different industries can leverage technology in a meaningful way. It’s not tech for tech’s sake, and I want to be really clear about that. But rather it’s best to say, “How do we use technology for business advantage?”
We spend a lot of time with large enterprises across the globe working through some of these challenges. It could be as simple as changing traditional mindsets to transformational, or it could be talking about tactical objectives. Most times, though, it’s strategic in nature. We spend quite a bit of time thinking about how to solve these big problems and to change the way that companies function, how they operate.
A day in a life of me could range from, if I'm lucky, being able to stay in my office and be on the phone with clients, working with folks and thinking through some of these big problems. But I do spend a lot of time on the road, on an airplane, getting out in the field, meeting with clients, understanding what people really are contending with.
I spent well over 20 years of my career before I began doing this within the IT organization, inside leading IT organizations. It’s incredibly important for me to stay relevant by being out with these folks and understanding what they're challenged by -- and then, of course, helping them through their challenges.
Any given day is something new and I love that diversity. I love hearing different ideas. I love hearing new ideas. I love people who challenge the way I think.
It’s an opportunity for me personally to learn and to grow, and I wish more of us would do that. So it does vary quite a bit, but I'm grateful that the opportunities that I've had to work with have been just fabulous, and the same goes for the people.
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Gardner: I've always enjoyed my conversations with you, Tim, because you always do challenge me to think a little bit differently -- and I find that very valuable.
Okay, let’s get back to this idea of “appropriate use of cloud.” I wonder if we should also expand that to be “appropriate use of IT and cloud.” So including that notion of hybrid IT, which includes cloud and hybrid cloud and even multi-cloud. And let’s not forget about the legacy IT services.
How do we know if we’re appropriately using cloud in the context of hybrid IT? Are there measurements? Is there a methodology that’s been established yet? Or are we still in the opening innings of how to even measure and gain visibility into how we consume and use cloud in the context of all IT -- to therefore know if we’re doing it appropriately?
The monkey-bread model
Crawford: The first thing we have to do is take a step back to provide the context of that visibility -- or a compass, as I usually refer to these things. You need to provide a compass to help understand where we need to go.
If we look back for a minute, and look at how IT operates -- traditionally, we did everything. We had our own data center, we built all the applications, we ran our own servers, our own storage, we had the network – we did it all. We did it all, because we had to. We, in IT, didn’t really have a reasonable alternative to running our own email systems, our own file storage systems. Those days have changed.
Fast-forward to today. Now, you have to pick apart the pieces and ask, “What is strategic?” When I say, “strategic,” it doesn’t mean critically important. Electrical power is an example. Is that strategic to your business? No. Is it important? Heck, yeah, because without it, we don’t run. But it’s not something where we’re going out and building power plants next to our office buildings just so we can have power, right? We rely on others to do it because there are mature infrastructures, mature solutions for that. The same is true with IT. We have now crossed the point where there are mature solutions at an enterprise level that we can capitalize on, or that we can leverage.
Part of the methodology I use is the monkey bread example. If you're not familiar with monkey bread, it’s kind of a crazy thing where you have these balls of dough. When you bake it, the balls of dough congeal together and meld. What you're essentially doing is using that as representative of, or an analogue to, your IT portfolio of services and applications. You have to pick apart the pieces of those balls of dough and figure out, “Okay. Well, these systems that support email, those could go off to Google or Microsoft 365. And these applications, well, they could go off to this SaaS-based offering. And these other applications, well, they could go off to this platform.”
And then, what you're left with is this really squishy -- but much smaller -- footprint that you have to contend with. That problem in the center is much more specific -- and arguably that’s what differentiates your company from your competition.
Whether you run email [on-premises] or in a cloud, that’s not differentiating to a business. It’s incredibly important, but not differentiating. When you get to that gooey center, that’s the core piece, that’s where you put your resources in, that’s what you focus on.
This example helps you work through determining what’s critical, and -- more importantly -- what’s strategic and differentiating to my business, and what is not. And when you start to pick apart these pieces, it actually is incredibly liberating. At first, it’s a little scary, but once you get the hang of it, you realize how liberating it is. It brings focus to the things that are most critical for your business.
Identify opportunities where cloud makes sense – and where it doesn’t. It definitely is one of the most significant opportunities for most IT organizations today.
That’s what we have to do more of. When we do that, we identify opportunities where cloud makes sense -- and where it doesn’t. Cloud is not the end-all, be-all for everything. It definitely is one of the most significant opportunities for most IT organizations today.
So it’s important: Understand what is appropriate, how you leverage the right solutions for the right application or service.
Gardner: IT in many organizations is still responsible for everything around technology. And that now includes higher-level strategic undertakings of how all this technology and the businesses come together. It includes how we help our businesses transform to be more agile in new and competitive environments.
So is IT itself going to rise to this challenge, of not doing everything, but instead becoming more of that strategic broker between in IT functions and business outcomes? Or will those decisions get ceded over to another group? Maybe enterprise architects, business architects, business process management (BPM) analysts? Do you think it’s important for IT to both stay in and elevate to the bigger game?
Changing IT roles and responsibilities
Crawford: It’s a great question. For every organization, the answer is going to be different. IT needs to take on a very different role and sensibility. IT needs to look different than how it looks today. Instead of being a technology-centric organization, IT really needs to be a business organization that leverages technology.
The CIO of today and moving forward is not the tech-centric CIO. There are traditional CIOs and transformational CIOs. The transformational CIO is the business leader first who happens to have responsibility for technology. IT, as a whole, needs to follow the same vein.
For example, if you were to go into a traditional IT organization today and ask them what’s the nature of their business, ask them to tell you what they do as an administrator, as a developer, to help you understand how that’s going to impact the company and the business -- unfortunately, most of them would have a really hard time doing that.
The IT organization of the future, will articulate clearly the work they’re doing and how that impacts their customers and their business, and how making different changes and tweaks will impact their business. They will have an intimate knowledge of how their business functions much more than how the technology functions. That’s a very different mindset, that’s the place we have to get to for IT on the whole. IT can’t just be this technology organization that sits in a room, separate from the rest of the company. It has to be integral, absolutely integral to the business.
Gardner: If we recognize that cloud is here to stay -- but that the consumption of it needs to be appropriate, and if we’re at some sort of inflection point, we’re also at the risk of consuming cloud inappropriately. If IT and leadership within IT are elevating themselves, and upping their game to be that strategic player, isn’t IT then in the best position to be managing cloud, hybrid cloud and hybrid IT? What tools and what mechanisms will they need in order to make that possible?
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Crawford: Theoretically, the answer is that they really need to get to that level. We’re not there, on the whole, yet. Many organizations are not prepared to adopt cloud. I don’t want to be a naysayer of IT, but I think in terms of where IT needs to go on the whole, on the sum, we need to move into that position where we can manage the different types of delivery mechanisms -- whether it’s public cloud, SaaS, private cloud, appropriate data centers -- those are all just different levers we can pull depending on the business type.
Businesses change, customers change, demand changes and revenue comes from different places. IT needs to be able to shift gears just as fast and in anticipation of where the company goes.
As you mentioned earlier, businesses change, customers change, demand changes, and revenue comes from different places. In IT, we need to be able to shift gears just as fast and be prepared to shift those gears in anticipation of where the company goes. That’s a very different mindset. It’s a very different way of thinking, but it also means we have to think of clever ways to bring these tools together so that we’re well-prepared to leverage things like cloud.
The challenge is many folks are still in that classic mindset, which unfortunately holds back companies from being able to take advantage of some of these new technologies and methodologies. But getting there is key.
Gardner: Some boards of directors, as you mentioned, are saying, “Go cloud,” or be cloud-first. People are taking them at that, and so we are facing a sort of cloud sprawl. People are doing micro services and as developers spinning up cloud instances and object storage instances. Sometimes they’ll keep those running into production; sometimes they’ll shut them down. We have line of business (LOB) managers going out and acquiring services like SaaS applications, running them for a while, perhaps making them a part of their standard operating procedures. But, in many organizations, one hand doesn’t really know what the other is doing.
Are we at the inflection point now where it’s simply a matter of measurement? Would we stifle innovation if we required people to at least mention what it is that they’re doing with their credit cards or petty cash when it comes to IT and cloud services? How important is it to understand what’s going on in your organization so that you can begin a journey toward better management of this overall hybrid IT?
Why, oh why, oh why, cloud?
Crawford: It depends on how you approach it. If you’re doing it from an IT command-and-control perspective, where you want to control everything in cloud -- full stop, that’s failure right out of the gate. But if you’re doing it from a position of -- I’m trying to use it as an opportunity to understand why are these folks leveraging cloud, and why are they not coming to IT, and how can I as CIO be better positioned to be able to support them, then great! Go forth and conquer.
The reality is that different parts of the organization are consuming cloud-based services today. I think there’s an opportunity to bring those together where appropriate. But at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself a very important question. It’s a very simple question, but you have to ask it, and it has to do with each of the different ways that you might leverage cloud. Even when you go beyond cloud and talk about just traditional corporate data assets -- especially as you start thinking about Internet of things (IoT) and start thinking about edge computing -- you know that public cloud becomes problematic for some of those things.
The important question you have to ask yourself is, “Why?” A very simple question, but it can have a really complicated answer. Why are you using public cloud? Why are you using three different forms of public cloud? Why are you using private cloud and public cloud together?
Once you begin to ask yourself those questions, and you keep asking yourself that question … it’s like that old adage. Ask yourself why three times and you kind of get to the core as the true reason why. You’ll bring greater clarity as to the reasons, and typically the business reasons, of why you’re actually going down that path. When you start to understand that, it brings clarity to what decisions are smart decisions -- and what decisions maybe you might want to think about doing differently.
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Gardner: Of course, you may begin doing something with cloud for a very good reason. It could be a business reason, a technology reason. You’ll recognize it, you gain value from it -- but then over time you have to step back with maturity and ask, “Am I consuming this in such a way that I’m getting it at the best price-point?” You mentioned a little earlier that sometimes going to public cloud could be four times as expensive.
So even though you may have an organization where you want to foster innovation, you want people to spread their wings, try out proofs of concept, be agile and democratic in terms of their ability to use myriad IT services, at what point do you say, “Okay, we’re doing the business, but we’re not running it like a good business should be run.” How are the economic factors driven into cloud decision-making after you’ve done it for a period of time?
Cloud’s good, but is it good for business?
Crawford: That’s a tough question. You have to look at the services that you’re leveraging and how that ties into business outcomes. If you tie it back to a business outcome, it will provide greater clarity on the sourcing decisions you should make.
For example, if you’re spending $5 to make $6 in a specialty industry, that’s probably not a wise move. But if you’re spending $5 to make $500, okay, that’s a pretty good move, right? There is a trade-off that you have to understand from an economic standpoint. But you have to understand what the true cost is and whether there’s sufficient value. I don’t mean technological value, I mean business value, which is measured in dollars.
If you begin to understand the business value of the actions you take -- how you leverage public cloud versus private cloud versus your corporate data center assets -- and you match that against the strategic decisions of what is differentiating versus what’s not, then you get clarity around these decisions. You can properly leverage different resources and gain them at the price points that make sense. If that gets above a certain amount, well, you know that’s not necessarily the right decision to make.
Economics plays a very significant role -- but let’s not kid ourselves. IT organizations haven’t exactly been the best at economics in the past. We need to be moving forward. And so it’s just one more thing on that overflowing plate that we call demand and requirements for IT, but we have to be prepared for that.
Gardner: There might be one other big item on that plate. We can allow people to pursue business outcomes using any technology that they can get their hands on -- perhaps at any price – and we can then mature that process over time by looking at price, by finding the best options.
But the other item that we need to consider at all times is risk. Sometimes we need to consider whether getting too far into a model like a public cloud, for example, that we can’t get back out of, is part of that risk. Maybe we have to consider that being completely dependent on external cloud networks across a global supply chain, for example, has inherent cyber security risks. Isn’t it up to IT also to help organizations factor some of these risks -- along with compliance, regulation, data sovereignty issues? It’s a big barrel of monkeys.
Before we sign off, as we’re almost out of time, please address for me, Tim, the idea of IT being a risk factor mitigator for a business.
Safety in numbers
Crawford: You bring up a great point, Dana. Risk -- whether it is risk from a cyber security standpoint or it could be data sovereignty issues, as well as regulatory compliance -- the reality is that nobody across the organization truly understands all of these pieces together.
It really is a team effort to bring it all together -- where you have the privacy folks, the information security folks, and the compliance folks -- that can become a united team.
It really is a team effort to bring it all together -- where you have the privacy folks, the information security folks, and the compliance folks -- that can become a united team. I don’t think IT is the only component of that. I really think this is a team sport. In any organization that I’ve worked with, across the industry it’s a team sport. It’s not just one group.
It’s complicated, and frankly, it’s getting more complicated every single day. When you have these huge breaches that sit on the front page of The Wall Street Journal and other publications, it’s really hard to get clarity around risk when you’re always trying to fight against the fear factor. So that’s another balancing act that these groups are going to have to contend with moving forward. You can’t ignore it. You absolutely shouldn’t. You should get proactive about it, but it is complicated and it is a team sport.
Gardner: Some take-aways for me today are that IT needs to raise its game. Yet again, they need to get more strategic, to develop some of the tools that they’ll need to address issues of sprawl, complexity, cost, and simply gaining visibility into what everyone in the organization is – or isn’t -- doing appropriately with hybrid cloud and hybrid IT.
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