CIO Insight: Why I decided to embrace the Cloud

Read By 81 Members

This article explains my thoughts on the rise of cloud technology. Although largely based on facts some of the information is formed purely from my own experience and therefore should be seen as subjective.

Society is changing and this is greatly reflected in the workplace as we shift into the digital era. No matter what generation you are from there is an expectation that everything should be at your fingertips, we are the ‘On Demand’ society.

In the workplace we need to adapt to meet this expectation along with the idea that our users not only want to access data when they want but from whatever device they choose. The shift is seeing a more knowledgeable, demanding, mobile and expectant workforce, who are naturally adapting to the new era, given that technology is so readily available to them. The accessibility and low cost of technology is adding to this, users want the same experience they have outside of work as they do inside and the IT department must keep up with these demands.

So the digital era is upon us, our users know exactly what they want and how they want to access it. It gets worse though – they don’t want to wait for it. The On Demand world is an impatient one.

Many IT systems have not been built for the demands of the digital era so IT leaders are being left with two options if they wish to stay relevant. Replace / upgrade their legacy infrastructure and digital platforms that are typically located in a head office / data centre or migrate to a cloud based service.

I think we are all aware an on premise or data centre based solution would require some design, estimation of growth, administration, maintenance, power consumption considerations, budget for the capital investment and of course the team to support the solution.

The cloud based approach gives us a few service based options;

PaaS Platform as a Service, allowing customers to develop and manage their applications without having to worry about building their own infrastructure.

IaaS Infrastructure as a Service, provides customers with virtualised computing resources.

SaaS Software as a Service, probably the most common and certainly used in our everyday lives already. A subscriptions based (although sometime FOC for personal users) way of consuming software.

Realising the benefits

The benefits can be summed up in a number of ways, a cloud solution or service such as the ones described above allows organisations to scale as they demand comes in. For example, a company selling tickets for a musician may need to scale up for the day tickets go on sale, due to the expectation and demand of fans rushing to purchase tickets, however in the subsequent days they would scale down again. It’s a great way for just paying for what you need to use and when you need to use it. That is not to say over the lifecycle of the service it will be cheaper but it is certainly a more efficient way of paying for your IT. As well as this flexibility, the other cloud benefits are things like, reducing the risk or reliance on your own data centre, the ability to work from anywhere, increased collaboration, the physical restrictions of your datacentre, capital expenditure free (whether this is a benefit depends on the business), automated updates, future proofing, time to market and security. Some of these are subjective I know – but my take on utilising Cloud technology is this. Unless there is a strong business case for continuing to run services internally, within your own data centre – why do it? With each service we outsource to the cloud, the more time we enable our team to concentrate on adding value to the business. For example, a team of sys admins could spend their entire working week supporting legacy infrastructure or planning upgrades to systems. If those platforms and systems were in the cloud they could spend that working week evaluating how technology can be used to speed up or automate an internal process which in turn could save or make the business money. IT can shift to being an integral part of the business from being an overhead.

Grey Cloud

There are a few things to watch out for though before you start throwing stuff up there. Like any purchase due diligence needs to be carried out before committing to any cloud service. I’ve discovered two or three pitfalls which you should be aware of.

Like any service purchased, you are entering a contract with a 3rd party, your reliance is on that service provider by relinquishing these services you lose the ability to control your own destiny in the unlikely event of a disaster. This may be a positive, you may not have the resource or capability to deal with such an event but you will be at the mercy of the service level agreements. I urge you to pay attention to the SLA’s, ensure they are fit for purpose and align with the expectations of your business. On a similar note, check the contractual agreement with regards to the data you hold on these services. Where and how will it be secured? Who else can access this data? Who owns the data? What happens if the service provider ceases to exist? For what period are we committed to this service provider? We may be IT leaders traditional, but we now need to be contract negotiators as well! Check those get out clauses!

Two of the benefits included the ability to access the service from anywhere and taking the reliance away from our data centres. This is great but we are almost creating a single point of failure for ourselves – our network and our data lines. We’ve already learnt that our colleagues in the digital age are impatient so we do not want to be bound by the restrictions on our data lines. We need to ensure we can provide the correct levels of speed for end user to the service and that our data lines have adequate levels of redundancy built into them.

Financial Considerations

Low upfront cost, higher ongoing cost – this has already been talked about. Apart from lowering our capital costs and increasing our operational costs there are other financial considerations we need to be aware of. Like any service, the likelihood is that the cost will go one way – up. Where most IT departments are being asked to slash their operating costs year on year, cloud means that these costs will probably increase. The justification comes from realising the benefits, in particular if the IT department can add value in other areas.

The total cost of ownership will probably be greater, especially the longer you have the service. Where as in the past we’d purchase Microsoft Office for our new starter in year one and not worry about it again we now pay for that subscription year on year. Once again, the benefit is that we always have access to the latest version of that piece of software but the cost for the lifecycle of the employee is likely to be higher.

The final consideration is the cost to moving to the cloud, how are we going to migrate? Pulling data or services out of legacy systems can be costly and can take huge amounts of time. My personal view is to switch this argument on its head and ask how much it would cost to leave it where it is…

The Security Argument

The biggest difficulty I’ve found with customers and within my own business is the security argument – in that I include where your service is physically located. Many organisations are still wary of not controlling their services or being unaware of where their data is held. For me, this is one of the biggest myths in industry. The key is in the sentence above; organisations are still wary of not controlling their services. Controlling does not mean security though! The fact of the matter is this, if I select the right service provider – let’s say Microsoft for argument sake, the resources, capability and knowledge they have will be far greater than I can ever leverage in my own organisation. This is before you consider the contractual and reputational impact on a company like Microsoft if they were to have a breach. It isn’t just about security though; it’s how they’d react in the unlikely scenario that something did happen. Is your department geared up to recovering to an incident? I refer back to my earlier point, the key is in the contract with the service provider.

Skills required for the cloud

So IT have made the decision to embrace the digital era, key services where possible will be pushed into the cloud but what skillsets are required for this new era? If my in-depth knowledge of exchange is now redundant, what will I do? I explore this area in greater detail in my article, The back office is dead, long live the IT department, available via my LinkedIn profile however to briefly summarise we need a new set of skills – not just for cloud but for the digital era. We need to reinvent ourselves as business people not IT people.

There are some key areas we’ve already touched upon in this article, we need to be contract negotiators, we need to understand finance, with all the ambiguity around the cloud we need to be influencers which indicates we need to be good communicators and have an in-depth knowledge around security and compliance. We need to understand and be able to talk business in order to offer technical solutions in order to solve business challenges and most importantly we need to be innovators. We need to be adding value and driving revenue for our businesses and our advantage is our knowledge and experience of using technology.

Cloud supports Digital Disruption

Business loves a buzz word – Digital disruption is upon us! How does this link into an article about the Cloud? Well as discussed our skillsets need to be aligned with us driving revenue and adding value to the business, this is digital disruption in a nutshell. A new technology and business model is used to transform the proposition of an organisation, driving value in the services provided. Where cloud can assist and support digital disruption, is speed to market and the agility of the service you are providing.

Utilising cloud services means that organisations are not restricted or constrained by legacy IT, we can scale, flex or change direction easily and react to the market place. We’ve discovered our colleagues and customers want an On Demand type service and cloud technology lends itself to this approach which supports digital disruption. This “on the go” “on demand” approach is in no small part due to the increase and development of mobile technologies and this type of technology lends itself perfectly to cloud based services, in particular applications or software.

Some sort of summary!

I think it is clear from this article that I am a big fan of Cloud computing but hopefully what you can conclude from this is that utilising the Cloud in some form will be vital for your organisations. Cloud is here to stay and can certainly help grow your organisations and I see IT being able to utilise the benefits and deliver much greater value back to the business in so many ways.

My advice – put the cloud at the heart of your digital strategy!!

Alex Farr

Since starting my career back in 2000, I have quickly progressed through the IT industry. I feel I have gained valuable experience during my career which has allowed me to turn my hand to many IT projects for many different organisations and exposed me to the latest technologies and skills including Cloud Services, Virtualisation, Office 365, BYOD, Business Continuity, Networking, Active Directory, security and much more. In 2010 I progressed into Management, this led to me becoming the IT System Manager for The All England Netball Association. I spearheaded one of the biggest projects the business had ever taken on in completely redesigning, implementing and supporting a new back office system for over 100 remote users as well as internal staff including 2 offices. My second management job saw me move to company called Bounty UK Ltd, a global organisation with over 400 employees with offices in the UK, America and Hong Kong. Managing a team of 6 and upto 60 servers it was certainly a different environment. I then moved to Transport Systems Catapult as IT Manager, it was a unique opportunity at a green field site with a start-up company funded by Innovate UK which I have been able to shape in my image. I was responsible for the complete infrastructure, IT policies & procedures, managing the IT department, relationship management with the business and launching the centre of innovation in Milton Keynes. Following a promotion I am now Head of IT across two of the Catapults, Energy Systems and Transport Systems, heading up two IT departments across two sites. I believe very much in transforming the perception of the IT department to being a key enabler for the business, an IT professional should be approachable, responsive, think creatively and have a positive "can do" attitude rather than listing all the reasons why something can't be done and shying away from taking intelligent risks.

Have Your Say: