The outcomes-based business cloud

InsightaaS: On November 3, InsightaaS Principal Analyst Michael O'Neil is releasing a new book on cloud entitled "The Death of Core Competency: A management guide to the zero-friction future."

The foreword to the book was written by Ash Mathur, VP and Canadian country manager for CenturyLink. It is an excellent intro to the content of the book, but also stands alone as commentary on how cloud will evolve over the next several years. For anyone who is interested, both Ash and Michael will be at the CenturyLink event in Toronto on November 3 to launch the book and discuss these ideas. To register, please click here. Attendees get a free, day-1 copy of the book!

Special to InsightaaS by Ash Mathur 

Ash Mathur, VP and Canadian country manager, CenturyLink
Ash Mathur, VP and Canadian country manager, CenturyLink

When I was first asked to write the foreword for this book, I was somewhat taken aback: what is the right way to introduce a body of work that talks to the ways in which management will be changed by cloud? As a supplier of cloud services to enterprises, I live and breathe cloud conversations every day. What thoughts, I wondered, could I share as insightful perspectives on this issue?

Eventually, I decided to ‘start at the end’, with my view of where CenturyLink and cloud are going, not just as an industry but as a way of enabling business activity: cloud has already become a management priority; in the future, cloud will be a management necessity, and suppliers of cloud services — both internal IT departments and companies like ours — will be in the business of delivering outcomes, not simply IT capacity.

Let’s walk through this in more detail. The starting point today is the visibility that cloud has within the executive suite. Cloud has become more than an IT trend, it’s also a business buzzword and as a result, has taken on a life of its own. But as executives look past the buzz and come to understand that cloud is an important and disruptive trend in IT delivery, they need to pay more attention to figuring out what it means for their companies. So cloud has become both a technology enabler and a management priority, as technologies sometimes do. Whether it’s Big Data today, or the Internet in the early days, these buzzword technologies tend to be viewed as a panacea for helping business outcomes become more cost-effective to deliver. I think that this is how C level executives — CEOs, CFOs, CMOs, etc. — look at cloud today. IT executives have a different perspective — their key questions around cloud are mostly related to how they can leverage the technologies that are out there, and how they can evaluate their current state and define where they need to go from a technology perspective. The next step for IT is develop a roadmap that helps them get there in a natural, evolutionary and low-risk way. In my experience, companies generally cannot jump directly from traditional infrastructure to public cloud. A lot of the compelling functionality that has made cloud a buzzword is delivered by the public cloud. But taking advantage of public cloud, leveraging current investments and evolving the IT consumption model, is the part of the cloud management equation that requires a vision of the future, as well as a plan and roadmap to get there.

A lot of people have been dazzled by the vision of public cloud, but I think that in many businesses management really needs to start by considering information delivery in terms of infrastructure-as-a-service, platform-as-a-service and really, ‘IT-as-a-service’ — that’s where the industry is right now. What is the best way for IT executives to understand where they are today? How can they build a plan around this vision of providing IT as a service — with its quick provisioning, application functionality and charge backs to the appropriate users — so that they can quickly deliver and deploy to what their business needs in a much more cost effective way than they are able to today?

This is a complicated question, made more so by the increasing involvement of non-IT management in cloud planning and deployment decisions. At CenturyLink, we have a large base of customers that are IT departments who buy the standard application development environments which cloud is often used for. We also work with customer executives who are looking to run business units or sometimes their entire businesses on cloud. There are companies in Toronto that have bet on our platform to offer their services to customers across North America and around the world — customers for whom our cloud is the enabling platform. There’s a big difference between the business world today and the world as it was five or ten years ago. Without cloud as a platform, these businesses would have dedicated a great deal of time and investment capital to building out a traditional IT deployment model, but now they can have companies like ours provide the platform to deliver their suite of services: a platform comprised of a rapid development and deployment environment, plus orchestration, automation and accounting — the management functions that IT and business executives both need as they expand business operations which rely on IT infrastructure to deliver services to their customers.

What these IT and business executives don’t want is to have a whole hodgepodge of different kinds of cloud deployments springing up within their business. Think back to how the web was deployed in corporations in its early days, 15 or so years ago. Back then, it was common for a single company to have many different web projects going on at once. Frequently, large companies would have hundreds of different web sites that didn’t talk to each other and didn’t have consistent branding or a common look and feel. In fact, no one was really controlling and managing the content, or how the sites overall were deployed. Every independent business unit spun up their own web presence because it was easy and cheap to do so and because it fell within their budget and met their requirements. However, at an enterprise level, it was impossible to leverage all those investments, and manage their brand and content in a way that was consistent with corporate strategy.

Like the web then, cloud today can be cheap and easy to procure. But can an enterprise harness value across all of the deployments or serve all of the needs across different functional users in that way? Marketing people and service delivery people and IT developers and executives want to spin up new offerings. How can businesses both provide governance and enable creativity, fulfilling functional requirements while managing and scaling deployments in a consistent and secure manner? Enterprises need to exercise effective management — by themselves or ideally, in conjunction with companies like CenturyLink — to ensure that they deliver the services that are essential to successful IT-dependent initiatives: things like change management, user adoptions, training for their own staff and potentially for customers as well, if the business connects to clients through online services. There are also support service issues to be defined and managed. Frankly, the expectations for cloud services are very high: users and even IT executives expect these services to be available on demand 24/7. When they go down for minutes or hours, the impact to the overall business can be severe, as infrastructure is a critical part of delivering business applications and services internally and to external customers.

I think at some level, the services that businesses and users expect are the same across traditional and cloud environments, but how work is delivered in the cloud world is evolving. That’s one area where cloud services are not generic. Companies need to really be thoughtful about how they select suppliers and cloud platforms to support their cloud deployments to make sure that their expectations and needs are met for known requirements today, and to ensure that they have a robust, high function, manageable cloud platform that can enable future service delivery.

This is where we start to transition from the present to the future. Today, especially in mid-sized and large enterprises that have an existing IT department and infrastructure, we see a great deal of thought dedicated to starting down the cloud roadmap: typical questions are "How does the enterprise leverage IT-as-a-service or infrastructure-as-a-service, what workloads does it put in the cloud, how should it migrate to more cloud usage over time in a manner that’s secure and ensures privacy?" If we fast-forward a bit, we see an entirely new set of challenges emerging. The industry is evolving towards a future that includes multiple clouds, in which each service provider will have a point of view and a set of services, and where customers will pick and choose who they want to work with and how they will access additional services from other clouds that are not part of the core service from their provider’s ecosystem.

Eventually cloud will evolve into very much a federated model — a suite of services that people subscribe to or have access to, with central authorization and authentication enabling users to move across these different cloud services. It will be pretty seamless from a user point of view, beyond the fact that these will need to pick and choose what information and services they need to get access to. Under the covers, it could be fairly complex in terms of how technically all of these services connect to each other — for example, how authentication and authorization is delivered to enable access to the right information for the right people at the right time. But that’s definitely where the business cloud is heading.

In this future world, the differences between local and global cloud suppliers will become even more distinct. Local suppliers will continue to be able to address requirements for data privacy and data residency. Global companies will have several advantages: they will be able to deploy client systems across Canada, the US, Europe or worldwide, wherever the client deems appropriate to serve their global customers taking into account latency, performance etc. More importantly, global cloud providers will typically have the capability and scale needed to support investment in the resources that drive constant innovation to evolve the cloud platform for the benefit of customers — ideally considering the needs of all stakeholders: application development, IT executives and the end user of cloud services. These capabilities are and should be important as customers consider their choice of cloud providers. When cloud customers launch a new service today, they are making a bet on the future — and they don’t want to have to switch platforms and suppliers every year. The platform and supplier they choose needs to have the potential to serve their requirements for the next x number of years. The platform has to have all the resiliency, availability, security, global deployment, capability and product innovation that users may not even be focused on today, but will need through those years.

I expect that as this future unfolds, CenturyLink will evolve with our customers’ needs. We’ll spend more time consulting on how we can enable business outcomes in a secure, scalable, robust and cost effective way, and less time focusing on technology and its features/functions. At all levels of our organization, we will focus on the processes our clients want to improve, the products and services they want to deploy, the customers they want to reach, the outcomes  they want to achieve, the financial metrics that are going to be important to them — on tying cloud capabilities back to all of those desired business outcomes. Today, we tend to do a lot of cloud demos: people love what we show them and say "I want some of that!" Going forward, I expect that our customers will see ‘IT is a service’ — and they’ll source cloud to achieve their business outcomes.

There’s no question anywhere that within businesses of today — at the executive level, in the IT department, or in any of the business units — cloud will be much more prevalent in the future. I think it’s equally likely that the role that IT managers and executives play in deploying cloud as an IT platform will be different: cloud will be seen as a way of enabling the business, with IT provisioning resources but business management determining how best to access and use these resources. When we reach that point, cloud will be focused on empowering business users, and the conversations and the set of services we provide will move past technology, to cloud services as a means of enabling and achieving business outcomes.

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