Right now, some organizations are discovering that getting their various enterprise software-as-a-service (SaaS) systems to play together nicely is far from a simple task. In fact, managing the disparate technologies, risks, and contracts that are pulled behind a wagon train of cloud providers requires that you hone your vendor-management skills and processes, and understand how the separate SaaS systems are constructed so that they all can work together. For these reasons, it may be tempting to turn all that complexity and governance over to a cloud services broker (CSB). At that point, one might legitimately ask, “Why will I need an IT department when all my applications are running in the cloud and I’ve outsourced the management of those applications to a CSB?”
Here’s why. Handing responsibility for your IT to a CSB, no matter how expert and trusted it may be, is not simple, particularly when considering the risks you assume when your organization’s very existence depends upon its IT applications.
In fact, managing a CSB is not all that different than managing a conventional IT department.
Internal IT Versus the Cloud Broker
Compare and contrast what a CSB and what your internal IT department does to manage the cloud ecosystem. Compare your IT department’s strategy and business plan with the contract you’ve signed with your CSB. The wording will be different, but the functional accountabilities may well prove to be a surprisingly close match.
In fact, in July 2012 Gartner predicted that “by 2014, 30% of midsize-to-large enterprise IT departments will become brokers for cloud services consumed by their companies.” This should be seen as a common-sense evolution of the role of the IT department where it is engaged and included in every aspect of your cloud journey.
One of the core responsibilities of the IT department is to manage all the complexity of enterprise IT on behalf of the organization. How well your IT department does that; how well it engages, aligns, and adds value to the business, is another matter.
For any IT department worth its salt, however, the procurement, facilitation, delivery, integration, orchestration, and management of enterprise technologies is what it does. Real costs (not vendor estimates) and real technological difficulties (not vendor marketing) may come back to bite the CFO and the enterprise if the company’s cloud systems were selected and deployed without input from the IT department, or were not (at least) subject to an appropriate level of IT scrutiny and financial due diligence. Yes, a CSB could do it all for you. Whether you feel comfortable with outsourcing that responsibility eventually comes down to a referendum on your own IT department. (Of course, no matter how you choose to manage the cloud, accountability still rests with executive leadership.)
Avoiding the Success Trap
When businesses demand speed of deployment and agility, and users demand simplicity, stand-alone or minimally integrated cloud applications sate that appetite very well. And then the business and the users get hungry again, and demand more. But each serving of cloud services potentially adds to IT complexity. That complexity is like the calories in a slice of chocolate cake. You don’t see them, but you’d be foolish to imagine they’re not there.
With cloud applications, someone still has to architect, implement, maintain, secure, operate, and support a spectrum of technologies that make up the typical cloud provider’s solution. The calories in a slice of cake become visible when you step on a scale. The complexity of the cloud solution becomes visible when it comes time to integrate it with any other systems, be they cloud, conventionally hosted, or on-premise.
That’s the trap. Cloud services may taste great, but they’re definitely not less filling. Backing out of a messy, poorly integrated cloud ecosystem is very much a position you don’t want to find yourself in. And if that’s where you end up, you’ll be wishing your IT department was there to help.
Implemented well, and for the right reasons, the cloud can simplify enterprise IT, allowing your IT department and business as a whole to focus on your core business. That’s when the magic happens. The key is to look further ahead down your cloud path, and deliberately engineer out the future challenges.
That’s just good business sense, and a sure way of avoiding the success trap of cloud computing.
Rob Livingstone, a former CIO, is the author of Navigating Through the Cloud. He runs an IT advisory practice and is also a Fellow at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Australia, where he teaches strategy and innovation in UTS’s flagship MBITM program. Visit Rob at www.rob-livingstone.com or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.