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Friday, October 22, 2010

Cloud : Vision & Tactful Deployment

I was moderating an informal discussion amongst decision makers on how much resources to allocate to cloud computing efforts inside their respective enterprises. Someone wanted to know if there is a benchmark available as to how much individual enterprises spend on cloud efforts to stay ahead of the curve. I murmured that this may not be so relevant as a factor for taking decisions inside their respective enterprise but at best can act as an aide – either to reinforce that we are doing what everyone else is doing – little or more as the case may be, but can’t become a guiding mantra. Remember best practice vs next practice dilemma. Cloud actually provides an opportunity to create transformational change inside IT and enterprise. I told myself that the key remains evolving a vision for cloud inside every enterprise.

Cloud is a truly disruptive use of technology and many of the traditional principles such as vision, strategy and trusted execution partners are highly relevant in assessing and managing cloud adoption progress inside enterprises.What I see all around is the fact that, many enterprises are not developing a full vision for their cloud computing efforts. I see that in a number of cases, cloud efforts are pilot efforts, departmental efforts, proof of concepts etc. Seldom does one get to see a full blown real time cloud efforts inside enterprises. Why these half steps – while testing the water is per se not bad, winners need to learn to swim –fast and in an easy manner. Enter cloud computing vision – connected dots, big picture ….

Since it is the early days of the cloud, it is understandable that people take baby steps on an experimental basis as a start point , but the rate of adoption of the technology is getting faster and faster. This is irrespective of the nature of the cloud – private, hybrid, public – all are seeing faster rates of adoption and enterprises are sooner than later going to be confronted with the question – how fast are we moving on their cloud initiatives.

The early initiatives of virtualzation hold an ominous parallel here. When server virtualization fever began to grip enterprises, we saw that everyone wanted to rush into that, so much so that many parallel initiatives were happening inside enterprises - so much so no one owned these at a central level and mostly many purused them as independent efforts – the result, enterprises began to face the rising prospect of VM sprawl. This created opportunities for vendors to sell new services around managing VM sprawl. The point here is – without an overaching vision, efforts which look successful in the short term but may create a formdable set of problems to manage – medium to long term!

Simple questions like who manages the process inside to manage these deployments – whats the overall security compliance etc.. In many organizations, individual efforts begin to bubble up at a central level only when security, risk , compliance efforts get pushed from the CFO/CIO organizations, That’s when most of the so called local efforts come together to show a gargantuan picture of the number of moving parts so to say that need to be shephered together..

When enterprises focus on shepherding and untangling the messy knots – already time has passed to examine the business value such efforts could bring in. The shift to cloud does not bestow long lasting benefits by just doing all over - rather I argue , it is going to come out of having a lasting vision, with a well detailed out program plan and aided by flawless execution. A strategy that speaks for itself and a concerted plan of action communicated well enough inside enterprises would go a long way in realizing benefits out of cloud efforts.

Cloud computing is all about driving holistic change in IT, but comes with the flexibility to start locally – this is a double edged sword – you can move fast locally thinking that bottoms up could work but harldly true based on real life experiences. What helps is having an overarching vision and tactically executing smaller programs locally in alignment with the overall vision.Such vision/strategy ought to illustrate how cloud facilitates pursuit and accomplishment of a set of goals articulated at the enterprise level. The plan should espouse the plan of adoption and address issues like compliance, security, governance, change management, partnership plans, auditing, provisioning , chargeback, exit strategies etc. Departmental efforts can draw from this plan the appropriate linkages and drive towards achieving the stated goals through their efforts. Think about this : such effors would help drive business value by bringing alignment across all internal initiatives, bringing cohesion across all efforts and help achieve larger goals such as capex to opex centric spending models, compliance, security etc. Such efforts would truly provide the basis of creating a platform centric IT infrastructure for enterprises to enable IT leverage for lot more benefits.

For cloud initiatives to be successful, enterprises need to focus on the larger end goal and have a game plan to achieve them in a truly centrally driven but localy executed model of execution. Success in large enterprise initiatives are always predicated upon their vision and execution – cloud adoption fits into this model very well. Is the partner system ready for this? The answer is Yes. The benefits of what is available today to service providers in the Cloud ecosystem provides more than ever the promise that they can focus on the business goals of the organizations they seek to support.

Typically larger enterprises need to focus on an array of things centrally to make progress on cloud adoption. Enterprises need to worry about new scale, different levels of security, reliability to support the new order of things. This means putting in place a new model of information and infrastructure governance, deployment, training, support - needless to say all these need to be reframed inside the enterprise. The IT environments need to be upgraded to provide for very high transaction workloads, security infrastructure needs to be retuned and app experiences need to be completely rehauled to provide a consumer feel for look and usage.

We have been waiting for the moment when transformative disruptions of this nature and scale happen. Learning organizations always had a charter to capture the latent knowledge that reside within people, process and systems, Existing technologies and methods could provide a lending hand to capture that vision in a limited way. People across the ranks inside organization can now participate in such transformation efforts quite easily and this could become the bedrock of new forms of collaboration leading to innovation and productivity improvements. Ironically this is mostly facilitated by advances in technology and communications and those responsible for technology management need to be ready to make this transformation possible inside their enterprises.

As I wrote elsewhere earlier, too often, inside enterprises, IT today is seen as the dampener towards embracing change at a mega-scale. IT organizations have an urgent need to transform themselves to keep pace with the change and become more relevant and stay aligned with business to leverage the opportunities that revolve around improving productivity, improving the efficiencies of operation, making organizations more innovative etc.. This also becomes a major force towards attracting talent. The clarion call here is for the enterprises to adopt to this change and create a new basis of competing – to distinguish from competition and create a leading distance from others through good plans, design and practice.

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