Frameworks and culture in Roadmaps to Cloud Success

A book as the source of knowledge in a world of digital communication? Surely not! In fact, not one, but two books served as the inspiration for presentations at the Roadmap to Cloud Success event held in Toronto last week. The third of four sessions in CenturyLink’s Reset on the Panacea of Cloud breakfast series, this event was designed to offer an updated view on cloud adoption and optimization from two very different vantage points – from strategic management and emotional perspectives.

Michael O'Neil, principal analyst, InsightaaS
Michael O'Neil, principal analyst, InsightaaS

The management framework view was presented by InsightaaS principal analyst Michael O’Neil who based much of his talk on chapter three – “Workshopping the Cloud” – of his recently published book, The Death of Core Competency: A management guide to cloud computing and the zero-friction future. O’Neil’s book is premised on the notion that a business’ focus on core competency in the cloud era is a losing proposition as companies that continue to do so will be quickly eclipsed by competitors who are able to apply cloud automation to multiple tasks across all processes within the organization. According to O’Neil, an entirely new enterprise operating model has been enabled by cloud business infrastructure (including SaaS), in which efficiency gains and ease of adoption are accelerated for the whole organization through incremental cloud deployment in different tasks/business units. The trick, of course, is to connect all cloud points across the organization to realize optimal business value from cloud.

To illustrate the exponential potential of this kind of approach, O’Neil turned to another thought piece, a study considered in the MIT Technology Review outlining “Two Types of Social Network Growth in Historical Facebook Data.” According to study authors, Facebook connections grew via a large number of short links between a cluster of close individuals and a small number of longer links between one individual and another in more distant cluster. When penetration of Facebook within any campus began to approach 100 percent, the pattern changed to one of “densification,” through creation of a larger number of longer links between disparate nodes. These patterns may be more easily grasped in O’Neil’s visualization below.

A highly theoretical investigation, O’Neil argued that the study of Facebook social connectivity has parallels with the use of cloud as it transitions from adoption to densification in the new enterprise operating model. So while the organization may initially deploy cloud sporadically in ad hoc task automations within departments (Salesforce.com for the sales team, for example), the true power of cloud is unleashed through a second level of densification that occurs when the actual department is automated and linked through use of a common IaaS platform. In the first stage, ad hoc adoption often means rogue systems that are not connected with the IT department: in the future, he explained, the goal of cloud planning is to build around roadmaps that identify new opportunities based on new automation and increased interconnection. And as with the Facebook example, the more automation (nodes) you have, the more quickly it will grow across the organization, leading to a process of accelerated cloud densification.

Interestingly, O’Neil pointed in this future talk to the practical implications for cloud roll out today. Governance, for example, is a huge topic for businesses that want to take advantage of cloud, but the starting point is continuity – policies for physical in house infrastructure, he explained, must be aligned with cloud and governance there treated as an extension of corporate practice, “not a net new bolt on activity” if cloud is to function as a trusted service. The goal, he argued, is the development of a strategy or “framework” that delivers requirements for compliance, for data management, for vendor management, infrastructure security and IT operations that can support ongoing deployments.

Similarly, though security has been implemented in traditional environments at the end of the development process, in cloud it will need to be embedded into infrastructure by design so that security supports rather than inhibits business objectives. According to O’Neil, the traditional view of IT security as “medieval castle” doesn’t work with cloud as there is “no way to lift the drawbridge”: rather the goal is to have security integrated at the test/dev stage so that as new systems get rolled out they are already hardened. This will allow security to transition from a constraint to an enabler of agility for the company, which can now pursue multiple agendas. Security must be treated “as a process,” where the key to success in agility is understanding the connections between essential issues in the business. As a starting point, O’Neil advised cloud adopters to ask the following questions: What are our objectives? What systems support our key objectives? What is the risk associated with failure of a system? How would failure of that system impact our ability to deliver on key business objectives? What controls do we need to build into IT, legal or governance to monitor and safeguard these systems in order that we deliver on key objectives?

So how critical is this counsel? To underscore its importance, O’Neil ended his presentation with the “boiling frog” slide which outlines InsightaaS forecasting for Canadian cloud spending to 2020. At that time, for every dollar of investment in traditional IT infrastructure, Canadian businesses will spend roughly the same on XaaS – a significant increase in cloud spending which sat at roughly 10 percent of traditional on-premise investment in 2014. Cloud investment in InsightaaS forecasting is expected to experience a snowball effect, leaving behind those companies who do not also invest early enough in required processes. “Companies will move pretty quickly, and will need to move quickly from adoption to densification, building in governance and security,” O’Neil added. “The question is not ‘will it occur?’ but rather how best to derive value from it?”

David Shacochis, VP, cloud platform, CenturyLInk Technology Solutions
David Shacochis, VP, cloud platform, CenturyLInk Technology Solutions

From the heady heights of strategic frameworks, in his presentation David Shacochis, CenturyLink VP of cloud platforms and host/contributor to the “Hybrid IT Files” on the thinkGig blog, also considered “The Three Ways Cloud Makes IT More Agile and Efficient,” but with focus on the human or cultural perspective. Shacochis used a book as springboard for his observations on cloud as well – in this case, The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win, a third book by Gene Kim, co-authored by Kevin Behr and George Spafford and published in 2013. This popular novel is a fictionalized account of Bill’s travails, as the IT manager for automotive firm Parts Unlimited attempts to put an IT initiative designed to save the company – the Phoenix Project – back on track. New in the position of IT manager, Bill is guided in his efforts by a company board member who outlines “The Three Ways,” management principles that have more to do with solving the problems IT faces through streamline of organizational workflows, interdepartmental communication and IT/business collaboration than they do with technology and techniques. For Shacochis, who is interested in the “drama and emotion around cloud,” the Phoenix Project served as a perfect vehicle for highlighting the importance of people processes in technology implementation.

Shacochis began the meat of his presentation with a now ubiquitous quote from Silicon Valley tech guru Marc Andreessen. Now, even more than in 2011 when Andreessen first quipped in a WSJ article “Software is eating the world,” businesses are built on software that powers the full array of an organization’s systems. The goal of Shacochis’s talk was to highlight the interdependence of business objectives and IT systems in software defined businesses – and how cloud may fit into this schema.

The first ‘way’ is business and IT alignment, which begins with understanding work flows within the organization. Another technique is managing IT work across departments, a proposition that Shacochis argued is much more difficult than prioritizing or even engaging in new work. In this circumstance, he advised carving up the company’s cloud, or subdividing resources into separate clouds for departments, as best practice: subaccounts can help to align cloud with specific business needs. One of the most difficult challenges for any IT organization is “unplanned work”; however, Shacochis argued that its disruptive impact can also be mitigated through sub-segmentation – for example, through a “Distributed TechOps group” that would still allow the company to see what resources were available within accounts. Not only does this segmentation help to ensure efficient application of cloud resources to business tasks, it also introduces accountability at the business level for IT resources. According to Shacochis, a cloud platform can make costing data that is needed for budgeting tools open and available.

In these kinds of projects, culture plays a critical role – as a key input to understanding workflows, and ultimately data flows, within the organization – but also to ensuring success of cloud adoption. Shacochis advised implementers to take ownership over the cloud platform, to put their brand on it – “Motor Cloud” for Parts Unlimited – and establish quick productivity wins to encourage buy in.

A second ‘way’ of working is to “automate with simplicity.” To achieve this, Shacochis believes it is possible to overcome issues with scarce (human) resources by using feedback to identify bottlenecks in different systems and then introduce cloud “autoscale.” Key to this process is policy, and ultimately a policy engine that simplifies scale of additional resources. As examples, he pointed to workflow automation, where work is standardized so that it can be automatically implemented by other people – through a workforce blueprint, for example, that automates best practices to orchestrate workflow. Another example would be patching automation where common operations are performed across groups of services. According to Shacochis, when security code is treated as a piece of the original cloud build, roll out of a scripted operations update will speed workflow, transforming the security officer from a bottleneck to a business enabler.

“Empowering the innovators” was Shacochis’ third cloud ‘way’, a methodology that entails creation of the technology resources needed to take the risk out of development processes. “How is it possible to innovate, experiment and learn?” he asked, implementing in different vendor environments. “How do you scale rollout of the perfect project – take a successful project, but distribute it twenty times?” For Shacochis, the answer lies in cloud, which mitigates risk by allowing the company pay only for what resources are used.

While technical in nature, ultimately, Shacochis’ ‘three ways’ – like their Phoenix inspiration – are aimed at addressing what are essentially competitive business issues – the need to get to improve operational performance, to get to market more quickly, and the need to innovate more quickly. If a first step is recognizing that everyone is becoming a software company, the second step involves differentiating between solutions that are available in the market to enable the company to innovate internally, (PaaS models have really taken off, he noted) and innovation that currently exists in the marketplace that can be exploited to increase cycle time – such as CenturyLink’s extensive cloud offerings and Knowledge Base educational support.

For a (shorter) video view of Shacochis’ presentation, see below.

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