Why are we even asking this question now? Hasn’t cloud been well and truly defined in the scope of transformation? So what more is there to say?
Plenty, if you only think of cloud as the destination and not part of the modernisation and transformation journey.
A recent article spoke of an organisation that moved numerous systems to a major public cloud because it considered that the move would modernise its workforce. Taken at face value, this entirely misses the point of cloud, what it can do for a business, and the real benefits and challenges of cloud as part of a move to digitally transform. Modernising an enterprise is not simply done by virtualising the on-premises applications and running them on a server in the cloud.
For a short time, organisations saw cloud as a way of converting Capital Expenditure (CapExp) to Operational Expenditure (OpEx) with respect to IT infrastructure by delivering it as Infrastructure as a service (IaaS). This model simply provides access to cloud resources that organisations can use to run their computing and storage operations. The pay as you go renting model of cloud quickly extended to include a plethora of other as-a-service delivery options. Platform-as-a-service (PaaS) provides app development teams with a platform on which they can easily and quickly create scalable applications. Business applications and facilities such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and storage can run in more cost-effective consumable ways when delivered as a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offering. In short, cloud services offer a level of flexibility, scalability, elasticity and control as well as the means to better focus on quickly meeting the operational needs of the business.
However, none of the as-a-services offerings really represent what cloud means to an organisation today.
If not that, then what?
To move to the cloud requires a change in the way that organisations do business. It enables an agility and pragmatism that frees up an organisation to be more innovative, not just with regards to technology but with respect to processes, business models, and models of customer and employee engagement.
Take Word processing. Moving the word processing software to the cloud might make it accessible across multiple devices but it doesn’t modernise how it is used. Modernisation means looking at the very reasons why employees are creating documents; the processes around them; the value (if any) that is derived for the business; and if the process is still necessary how it can be improved and optimised.
In the context of application development, changing architectural patterns to meet the service orientated nature of cloud derives little value. As one CIO told CIC, I could move everything I have here to there but upon completion the business would have nothing new, and so there would be no value in the exercise.
Embracing cloud native architectures, is about embracing the ability to rapidly design, build and deploy applications. Doing so can enable the business to derive potential value from new opportunities (both internal and external) more quickly. If such innovation proves successful by generating value for the business, then those solutions can be further invested in and scaled to meet greater demand. If the opposite is true, then applications can be abandoned with limited waste of time and money.
More than this, the processes to support such rapid innovation should improve outcomes.
Speaking to organisations that have made the journey to cloud as part of their transformation to operate more effectively in the growing digital economy, one begins to identify a number of core supporting processes. One of these core processes is a need to instigate an environment for continuous integration, development and deployment – the fundamentals for DevOps. Others include employing Agile methodologies and embracing greater collaboration amongst key stakeholders. Design Thinking is another example of the kind of process that can help lay the foundations for transformation and innovation and drive and support a move to cloud.
An ability to reimagine an organisation’s processes is at the heart of Design Thinking. It can be applied to application development but also more broadly to the creation of business solutions and processes that better serve the business operation and the ecosystem of suppliers, partners and customers. Organisations embrace Design Thinking to react more quickly to changing market conditions and customer requirements to be more competitive in an economy that is rife with disruption.
But how do you start thinking about such processes and know when, how and where to apply them? This can be challenging without some level of guidance. And as such, explains the move by a number of software vendors and consultancies in employing onsite and offsite innovation labs and programs to guide organisations. Many of the labs and programs are designed to not only provide a means to investigate the latest technologies and practices, but to also offer an environment where organisations can experience what is required to transform and deliver innovation.
Creative Intellect Consulting has published a number of podcasts that look at cloud and the benefits that an innovation lab can deliver. ’What’s next for Cloud in Europe” features a discussion with IBM’s General Manager for Cloud in Europe, Sebastian Krause. CIC’s podcast on ‘Precision tactics from the IBM Cloud Garages’ hears a discussion with Steve Robinson and Rachel Reinitz on the value add from an innovation centre like the IBM Cloud Garage.
Ultimately, cloud is not just infrastructure, platform, or software. It is an enabler of a broader organisational shift and culture change that should deliver a modern enterprise. One that operates differently than before and is driven by a culture that is less siloed and more focused on outcomes that can be measured and continually optimised. Such change will not happen simply by shifting some IT stuff to the cloud but by embracing so much more.