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How the IT Department must Transform to Embrace the Cloud

Tuesday 5 June 2018 Digital Transformation


Dominic Rowles's picture
By Dominic Rowles

Recent reports suggest that 61% of digital transformations are driven by business leaders as opposed to only 36% by IT Development and Operations. The picture is even worse if we consider the current prevalence of Shadow IT, when SaaS tools are bought without the approval of the IT Department or where tools are developed in-house on services offered by Public Cloud suppliers such as AWS. How can the IT Department reinvent itself and become relevant again and drive cloud transformation themselves? Certainly if any problems are encountered on any Shadow IT it’s the CTO that will receive a phone call before the CEO. While services and solutions must embrace the cloud, policies and procedures must keep up and be enforced by the traditional custodians, the IT department, especially where security is important. Therefore the IT department needs to transform for the Cloud age.

Taking the lead in the age of  IT consumerization

The IT department has a chance to be more involved in the overall business vision, providing platforms that are innovative, flexible and agile for the company innovators to develop solutions and to help the business react to challenges and opportunities. There is so much choice being offered and the eco-system is getting so large that the IT department needs to become a centre of excellence, understanding and offering solutions to problems the business didn’t even know it had. This means that the IT department might drop some of the areas they may have had to support in the past, such as infrastructure, and focus on the innovation found in the marketplace or from cloud providers themselves.
But how should the IT department meet the high expectations of business leaders regarding agility? First and foremost, IT departments need to become a service lead organisation that provides the business with a high quality and flexible service catalogue, allowing the innovators to develop in real time where IT empowers business.
The second requires a cultural shift that could challenge IT departments: The IT department should behave like a consultant, understanding the overall business goals and presenting options to their business colleagues from more than just their own IT service catalogue. This means that the IT team changes from being the dog that everyone kicks, to the experts that will support business innovation. This may require very different types of people at the top of the IT organisation who now must become business driven and have an appetite for evolution. To achieve this then IT must consider the businesses requirements but not apply a ‘current IT’ filter where they inhibit or limit the potential of a new offering by what they can support in their down data centres today. In addition the role of automation is growing in delivering the scale and agility necessary for cloud type operations. Staff will not be able to keep up with the increased demands of them and automation can provide the IT teams the necessary leverage to efficiently manage the resources which in addition will free personnel to focus on business value activities.
Finally the IT department must become fast learners. To understand the potential of new cloud technologies and development approaches such as DevOps then they must evolve as fast as the industry, potentially employing Agile delivery staff and management teams willing to test new technologies and learn quickly how these benefit the business as well as addressing IT challenges like high capex and opex.

The IT Department Crisis

However, before suggesting how the IT departments need to change it is worth discussing what changes brought about their identity crisis.
Change has been coming a long time. As infrastructure has become more complex, anything other than a giant IT team has meant IT has had to be jack of all trades. This means their customers often know more about a given piece of infrastructure or applications than they do. That puts them on the back foot. Add public cloud and DevOps and suddenly the IT customers have a route to capability that was never available at all or at least in the right timescales. Who needs to use the IT team when you can get your credit card out and spend £30 on AWS cloud services where all the infrastructure is taken care of?
Also, there is the challenge of IT department having become ‘invested’ in a technology or software and the view that trends in the IT department must continue. Often departments identify themselves in houses be it Oracle, IBM, HP, VMware. This has resulted in IT departments being unwilling to adapt or try new technologies and therefore has limited evolution. As technology evolves faster, IT departments must be challenged to similarly evolve. This mean enabling ITaaS where IT brokers both traditional and cloud services to the business and where they develop and maintain the cloud management strategy.
Often the IT department has become slow and cumbersome in compared to cloud solutions. Everyone has had an experience of waiting weeks for access to servers, compute capability or requesting some changes to a native application even when these are virtualised and apparently flexible. In some cases these can be replaced by access in minutes, and then an ecosystem of public cloud platform applications that may do everything that they need, rather than waiting for changes in the home grown CRM or ERP system. The business leaders will always side with the innovators who are trying something to win more market share or solve an end customer problem. So the IT team will look like the nagging business prevention unit who find ways to retain the status quo rather than embracing change. However when something goes wrong, the first phone to ring will be the CTO or the Head of IT.

Becoming the nerve centre of business

So how can these challenges be addressed and the IT department become a nerve centre of businesses?
This is a major culture shift and there will be a few casualties on the way. But the overall principle is that the IT team needs to produce a radically different set of services for their customers. To achieve this they need to actually understand what the overall business is trying to achieve and work with them, not at them. In diverse company’s this can get complicated especially if there is a history of failed IT delivery or operational issues. The business needs to accept that processes need to be adhered to for the protection of the business, but could be redesigned to take advantage of the agility on offer. The IT team could be more aggressive in seeking to understand the new capability being offered in the cloud and design sandboxes for their internal customer teams. They could seek to be driving the rest of the business to adopt new capability and ways of working, rather than being the last ones to know about it. If they could find the right balance they could introduce this service lead mentality while having a stronger hold on governance and security. It will never be perfect, but how much more rewarding for the IT department to be presenting imaginative solutions to business rather than just trying to fit square pegs in round holes on the whim of the loudest internal customer.
Ultimately putting themselves in the driving seat means IT can introduce new technology and working patterns themselves, meaning that their organisation are ready and willing to adopt change rather than being a reluctant party in the process of evolution.
So why is it essential that the IT department retains its active role in setting standards for solutions and their procurement? Well something very bad will happen if you don’t have some level of oversight and control. In the worst case scenario the business will have introduced a weakness in security that could have devastating long term consequences. But you can just as easily launch a product without the rigour that’s needed to make sure it works under stress. The IT department should become the standard bearers of quality and security and make sure that the innovations are sufficiently robust to let them loose on the market. This will often mean testing suppliers proactively against a series of considered metrics before presenting these to the business as options.
However in reality the future for IT is a hybrid-cloud model especially for any business that has any volatility in IT consumption. If a CEO isn’t seeing demand go up and down within IT then they should ask themselves why not.  If you have variable workloads and you are interested in taking advantage of native capability available on the cloud that someone else has taken the trouble to invent, then not having a hybrid-cloud strategy is risky.
While ‘all in the cloud’ is an aim, some legacy applications won’t ‘travel well’ onto the cloud either for performance or architectural reasons which cost result in high costs of running there. Therefore they may be best left where they are in the company’s Data Centre before allowing these to die a natural or expedited death. Another case for a hybrid cloud solution might address a variety of challenges and allows some innovative approaches such as Disaster Recovery or Fail-Over in the cloud where cloud resources can be spun up in a Public when private infrastructure fails meaning that high-service availability may be possible on current IT budgets.
But how can companies benefit from a compromise between the on-premises and the cloud only approach:
Rule 1, Start ups, just go cloud. But if they really take off it won’t be long until governance needs to be added to the mix.
Rule 2, If you have your own kit and it works sufficiently well for the business requirements, don’t be drawn into cloud before you need to, however some IT housekeeping now to optimise how you consume IT would be beneficial now, and get you in the right shape when you go cloud. We’ve seen many companies with a cloud drive but that have massively over-consumed private resources which means that a migration to the cloud will be very costly from an opex point-of-view and will get ever larger as the consumption of new resources by departments is uncontrolled.
Rule 3, Optimise: The main benefits are always about volatility in your IT requirements, and fast access to capability. These are the guys that need to go to the cloud, but the cloud needs to be used for what the cloud is good for. Don’t just lift and shift otherwise savings will be hugely constrained. Provide a capability that allows innovation without exposing you to real or reputation risk. The key word is optimisation. Optimise solutions before the move to the cloud and when there make sure these are constantly being optimised supported by the right analysis and reporting toolsets.

Looking into the future

The fact is that IT department will need to evolve in the next 5 years. Don’t be surprised to see CTO or Head of IT come from a business background. This would be no bad thing in terms of changing the role of the IT team within a business.
IT teams will drop some capability, and cloud allows you to do this as you don’t get to touch the infrastructure. This allows IT to invest in their own brand of evangelism. Be the expert in quality output, the cloud marketplace and security. Lower level architectural and infrastructure management roles and cost will disappear and higher value enterprise architecture and consulting type roles to the business will develop.
However IT departments and cloud providers should work together in the future and move towards a more efficient integration of business systems and cloud tools. Cloud providers need to reach out to IT departments. Provide a structure and approach that meets their specific needs around quality while providing the R&D teams with sufficient agility. Until now, Public Cloud providers could have been seen as the enemy of boring old IT departments.
Also cloud providers need to work closely with the IT departments to articulate roadmaps and run consultation programmes where IT departments can influence these. Much like we saw a movement away for bespoke written software to COTS (Commercial-Off-the-Shelf) software, IT departments need to be encouraged to give up the crown jewels and allow external parties to maintain infrastructure but with the ability for these customers to guide the roadmap to ensure business needs are met.
The speed of change in the cloud is accelerating and therefore its overdue for the IT department to evolve to capture the wave and embrace it.

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How can IT Departments reinvent themselves, become relevant and drive cloud transformation?

How the IT Department must Transform to Embrace the Cloud


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