3 Cloud Questions CDOs Must Ask First

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Cloud is becoming a de facto infrastructure for post-COVID-19 companies.

It is no longer about cost efficiency; for many, it is the default infrastructure as they seek to balance agility and resilience. For some, it allows companies to bootstrap their business growth. For a few, they have no choice.

But as many chief digital officers would know, it is not an easy journey. Migrating via refactoring or lift and shift is only part of the challenge. Below are three that many often have trouble with — and only one has to do with technology.

Who owns the cloud?

With COVID-19 running amok, companies, especially traditional ones, had to become digital-first and data-centric overnight — both internally for employees and externally for their customers. So, public cloud adoption rose. And according to Gartner, more than 45% of IT spending on system architecture, infrastructure software, application software, and business process outsourcing will shift from traditional solutions by 2024.  

It raises a fundamental question: who owns the cloud? But unlike on-premises IT, it is not cut and dry.

Peter Gatt, a partner at Servian and who works with companies to drive their digital journeys, says it should not be a single individual. Even if there was individual ownership — like a chief digital officer driving his or her strategy — he believes it will be short-lived. “Rather, [cloud] should be owned by the organization.”

Antonio Pugliano, an associate partner at Servian, felt the ownership questions should begin with the outcomes. “Usually, the question is asked because of cost centers and internal reasons around governance.”

Instead, companies need to look at what kind of outcomes or results they are looking to get. “How is it impacting what you can deliver? How are you looking to develop trust and agility? What kind of convenience do you want for your users in a world where they expect 10 times more? So, you need to start looking at it from those perspectives,” Pugliano explains.

Gatt agrees. He notes that it comes down to “what is the business trying to do.” While some of the answers may involve a specific role or department, they should involve the whole C-suite for companywide digital transformation in the cloud.

“Where I’ve seen [cloud adoption] work is when [cloud costs] are basically distributed as an expense to the overall business, and the projects and products that are running it. This is when you have a strong, agile methodology around the distribution of funds across different product groups,” Gatt adds.

Pugliano offers Netflix as an example where it is “highly aligned and loosely coupled.” He notes that it comes down to being agile as an organization, not just the IT infrastructure. Other ways include having a center of excellence that involves stakeholders. Whichever approach works, an agile approach to the cloud allows a company to tackle broader challenges and change the owner accordingly.

One significant benefit of having such an agile approach to cloud ownership is to address what Gatt calls “Black Ops.” These are development teams that decided to create or subscribe to their own cloud infrastructure to drive business.

“It shows a misalignment of outcomes. These people will say that they grew their business, brought in lots more revenue, and increased the brand [reach]. But that is not what the infrastructure side sees as they are more worried about control and data security,” Gatt explains. 

To address the growing Black Ops issue, companies will need to take an agile approach to cloud ownership and define it as part of business outcomes. Pugliano says that this allows the entire organization to see the cloud as owned by the business.

Do we have the right culture?

In a digital-first world (and today’s digital-only marketplace), creating the right digital-centric culture is becoming critical. It allows a company to look for business solutions and opportunities via a cloud infrastructure. Data-centric employees can also strengthen the culture to be more mindful about data governance, ethics, and security in the cloud.

Unfortunately, building a digital culture with an agile mindset is hard. “In fact, there is a genuine belief that adopting digital technology is a lot easier than adopting a digital culture,” says Pugliano.

Regardless, Gatt advises companies to focus on building the right culture first. “We are not talking about a short path here, and then a lot of trial and error. If anyone in any consultancy says it is easy, they are lying.”

Part of the difficulty is that there is no single blueprint for culture building. It is “because every organization is different, their customers are different, and the way they operate is different,” Gatt says.

While there are best practices and programs to drive culture-building, the critical element is people. “If the people are not aligned from the top-down, then there is a misalignment. Once there is one, we see failure,” he adds. 

Companies are looking to build an agile culture by embedding different functions into teams and working in squads. It requires companies to change the way they remunerate and compensate their employees and build teams that think in an agile manner. It also allows consultants like Servian to embed themselves into these squads to drive these outcomes and share their knowledge.

“With squads, companies are not hiring a person; they are hiring for an outcome,” Gatt points out. However, Pugliano admits that it does change the procurement and business models. It also needs a company leadership that is comfortable with autonomous squads who are not held down to a status quo.

Does multicloud matter?

Multicloud is now a fashionable term. But the reality is that becoming an expert on a single PaaS is hard enough. For many companies, finding such an expert is equally challenging. A multicloud infrastructure becomes more costly and complex to manage.

So why do companies still want multicloud? The primary reason is often compliance or governance. Companies may also want to have the added insurance of having a different cloud platform for redundancy. But both Gatt and Pugliano point out that companies need to understand the higher costs and the difficulty of creating a team well-versed with different cloud platforms.

Even if the cost is not an issue, companies need to consider low-level abstraction libraries. The reason is that each public cloud provider offers a rich set of infrastructure services that are unique in nomenclature, functions, configurations, APIs, control, and visibility. They also need to be deployed, orchestrated and configured correctly — a key concern considering that cloud misconfiguration is a major reason for breaches and outages.

Of course, there are solutions. Gatt highlights the use of cloud controllers or cloud management platforms and the popularity of infrastructure as code. At the same time, Pugliano points to Kubernetes based platforms (e.g., OpenShift). And the number of solutions that make multi-cloud easier is also increasing.  

“But in all honesty, it adds a lot of complexity. Sometimes, there is a tendency for technologists to over-engineer,” Pugliano notes.

Gatt also highlights the reason for significant cloud platform players to support multi-cloud orchestration. It makes it easier for cloud platform providers to expand their customer base and “persuade” the company to migrate to their cloud platform for all their needs.

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