Every time we talk about cloud we frame the conversation with words like utility, elasticity and agility.
And of course we are right. Cloud is the ultimate and inevitable destination that represents the third generation of computing, following on from the mainframe and PC generations that saw us all grow up as ‘digitial citizens, allowing us to interact with each other in a seamless and almost unconconsious fashion. And at affordable rates.
The economic and technological plumbing that cloud provides us has made us make enormous strides in our personal and corporate lives, and every indication is that the upward curve adoption of cloud computing is exponentially increasing during this second decade and beyond. A great success and long may it continue.
Having the right mindset to understand the impact of cloud on you as an individual is an interesting discussion point. For many, cloud is a by product of choosing a way to communicate ( mobile phone ) or to collaborate ( tablet ) or to entertain ( TV / games console ), and the actual conscious realisation that you are interacting with a cloud datacenter somewhere around the world is lost on many. And of course it should be – after all no one is interested where the water you wash with you, or the electricity you cook with, comes from. They are possibly even neutral about how much it costs, because they know that they can do some research and find alternative suppliers, who also use the cloud to deliver the same service but at a lower price. its the oxygen we use to be a modern citizen ( though it is a sobering aspect that so many of the world’s population still does not have internet access – we are a fortunate group of people ) .
Our personal mindset about cloud is totally understandable and our children have adopted a wonderful attitude to how cloud can help them. Just Im sure the same as how we all just assumed that switch on the wall gave us a way to lighten up the room to watch Doctor Who. We didnt worry about the wiring, the fuse board and the substation that made it all happen.
So for the corporate IT organization, cloud has now also become part of this ‘conscious unconsciousness’ as they see that ‘moving to the cloud’ has clear tangible busines benefits. After all, the cloud suppliers much like the electricity suppliers have made the service ubiquitous, and allowed us to make strategic business plans without worrying about the ‘tech’ being the barrier. After all, why worry about IT anymore when Google, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft have done all the hard work for us. Much like the energy companies.
These cloud suppliers have industrialised the procurement of cloud with pricing models and onboarding routines that make the concept of ‘drag and drop your IT’ such a reality for many. After all no one wants to understand all the complexities of cloud when you can purchase compute power measured by the hour with the ability to switch on, ramp up and switch off using your mouse. Its like a light switch, right!
Cloud is the ultimate 21st century technological change agent to drive business transformation, offering unlimited capability and size to let us all build solutions, reach customers and mine information to depths unimaginable a few years ago. Businesses transform business models almost on the fly as they realise that cloud computing offers them new directions to build new services and expose new markets never considered before. And the rub is that for many, cloud allows businesses to realise their investments, which for most is the first time since the days before Y2K. Too often a CFO had questioned what was the real value that they obtained from their huge investments in IT projects. Ask any government about whether they received value for money from IT and the answers will reaffirm the believe by some that ‘does IT really matter’ ( Nicholas Carr – again ). A favourite of mine.
Pause for a moment and consider that way back to the 1960s and 70s the mainframe generation did give an outcome. You bought a mainframe ( expensive ) , you recruited IT staff, they asked you what you wanted, and they delivered you an outcome. Black and white. And boy did you pay for it. If you ever want to read a lovely book about these early days of computing and how they transformed businesses you wouldn’t go far wrong to look up “A Computer Called Leo” – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Computer-Called-LEO-worlds-computer/dp/1841151866 – a story about Lyons Teashops and their use of computing as a business application. And as we all know the advent of the micrprocessor chip, the internet, hard disks and telecommunications took us all out of the computer room, and made IT – COMPLICATED.
We moved into a world where to make IT work it required lots of ‘part numbers’ – hardware components, software licenses, people skills – and depending on the management and control skills of the IT organization depended on how good your outcomes were for the money you invested. Interestingly, though we all ostensibly bought the same stuff some organizations seemed to walk from one computing disaster to another, while others managed to kick on and deliver a good service. And here is the rub. Cloud computing is a platform to deliver IT from. It is not a replacement for the management expertise to take components, and turn them into a service that the organization needs – for a fair price too.
Part numbers abound in the world of IT. We surround ourselves with SKUs and model numbers. We build pricing models that allow us to tag components that drives our industry and cloud is no different – with software as a service using new schemes to charge us for our access and consumption of a cloud service. Vendors offer rebates to oil the wheels and to make sure their products receive favourable treatment from channel partners, and suppliers build a whole sales engine to sell part numbers to meet revenue targets.
But there is a but. And a big but.
People get sucked into the ‘commoditization’ of their IT and the ‘part numbers’ that make up their infrastructure, and lose sight of the fact that they still need to understand what is happening, and how to ensure that they can progressivly build efficient services and responsive support models, without creating ‘new disasters’. You see suppliers fail to grasp that they need more than fancy web sites and posh collateral articulating their cloud shop window, making the assumption that because they are backing off to one of the big cloud companies, their proposition is complete. You equally see clients work with these suppliers without understanding the skills they are going to need to manage the billing relationship, the service relationship and the contractural relationship.
Without a change of mindset in suppliers and clients from the thought that ‘Im OK now all I need to do is procure cloud and it all will fit into place’ to one where they demonstrate deeper maturity and understanding that cloud is just a word masking inherent complexities of skills – commercial, technical and support – then our generation will witness more computing disasters that make their predecessors seem like little blips.
Building a cloud mind-set may mean you have to change the people, or if you are left with the people you have, then it would be worth investing in some ‘coaching’ to ensure their minds are capable of changing to meet the challenges of delivering cloud solutions. Be prepared for some hard miles, and look for people who demonstrate strong skills at visualising and starting conversations in the frame of ‘service outcomes’ and ‘business change’. Worry about those who can only talk billing and part numbers 🙂
I close with the thought that when anyone talks to me about ‘understanding cloud’ I pause and think, and often wonder whether their enquiry is based on their belief that cloud is really just about part numbers and bills, and the money they will save or make, or that they want to hear about the multi-layered approach they are going to need to make their investment a sound one. Give me the latter any day please!!