What is the single biggest reason IT executives shy away from services provided in the cloud?
–They fear loss of control.
And they have a point. We all feel the same way if we’re the ones who have to listen to the angry complaints when critical services hiccup. We’d rather have our own resources, skills, in-depth knowledge of the technology, round-the-clock coverage, and on-site staff to leap into the breach.
Unfortunately, budgetary pressure combined with increasing complexity makes it difficult to have such good command of every one of our organization’s mission critical capabilities. As a result, many of us are looking at working with cloud service vendors, like it or not.
NWN sees six big challenges in getting and keeping control in the cloud. The good news is that each one can be managed in a way that does not just retain control for your IT team; you can actually increase control.
1. Sustaining good service levels. What we really want is uninterrupted service—aka always on. It’s a bit unrealistic, especially since we also want to be on the latest rev. A more realistic expectation is very high service levels, very quick response to hiccups, and very well coordinated planned downtime.
To understand whether your cloud vendors can provide this level of support may not be as difficult as you think. You need only ask them to describe their service management approach. If they practice proactive service management, you will receive service levels that you probably could not achieve on your own. What’s proactive service management? Operating the environment so it doesn’t fail.
To give yourself confidence that your provider has this capability, call some current customers and ask the following:
- How many months of uninterrupted service have you had?
- When did the service levels improve most recently without an increase in price?
- In what percentage of monthly meetings with your dedicated service manager were you offered suggestions for improving your environment that would prevent future problems?
2. Retaining visibility and accountability, without losing sleep. As we all know, when the “system” is down, IT is accountable. It doesn’t matter who the cloud vendor is or what the contract says, the buck stops at IT. When the occasional hiccup does occur, what IT really needs is the answer to the questions that will certainly arise: When will service be restored; what happened; how can we prevent it from happening again?
To make sure you can sleep at night, choose a vendor who embeds the answers to these questions in its processes. Every service outage, no matter how small, should be communicated, if not planned and coordinated. Every service outage should be researched and explained so that the root cause can be fixed. The vendor’s everyday process—repeating for emphasis: everyday process—should include analysis of outages and permanent remedies to approach flawless operations.
Before you choose a provider, ask your candidates if your technical team can shadow them for a day or two to watch this in action. If you don’t see it, you are talking to the wrong vendor. Ask them to lead you through an example of their typical monthly meeting with a client. Again, you should hear recommendations for preventing future problems and for stamping out service uncertainties.
3. Making costs predictable, now and in the future. Predictable costs are one of the most appealing benefits of cloud services. However, these still require your management to achieve. Scope changes can undermine predictability, and some vendors count on these for the profit margins they want. We all know that game. They contract for a scope of service that carries an appealing price, but which does not provide a complete, sustainable service.
Before you buy, you will want to ask your vendors to quote you the “whole job,” based on their experience. This allows you to examine their recommendation about exactly what that entails—a good test of their experience and integrity. You should also consider establishing a contractual break point based on cost increase. For example, if your monthly costs increase by, say, 25 percent or more, you might want the ability to terminate without penalty. An agreement of this sort will put you in closer control of scope changes.
4. Keeping your own team up to date. Staying at the most current rev level of the hosted software is table stakes for good cloud service providers. It is one of the big reasons IT executives favor cloud services over managing their own on-premises resources. But in order to stay abreast of technology developments and keep getting what you need, your must maintain a certain level of expertise on your own team. How is this possible, or even practical when a capable provider takes care of every little detail?
The trick is for your team to cultivate a strategic understanding of the service or capability—the what—and allow the service provider to own the how. For example, an IT team of two manages an infrastructure that supports a global medical device firm this way. The IT leaders make sure they stay tuned into the company’s business plans, relevant technology developments, and the service providers’ performance and roadmaps. By monitoring these strategies and execution carefully, they can safely trust technical details to their provider.
5. Integrating. What good is a cloud service if it does not support the way your organization wants to work? And to do that, it has to integrate with the systems and infrastructure you operate yourself or get from other service providers. You will only feel that satisfying sense of control when you know how the important interconnections are going to happen.
Once again, quiz your service provider about the specific connections you know you will need. Speak to reference accounts that went through similar projects with the provider if you can. Look for examples of integrations that the provider took on for the first time, too. Investigate their approach as well as their results to ready yourself for the unexpected direction your systems portfolio might take.
6. Exercising flexibility and innovation. Part of maintaining control is cultivating the ability to maneuver—to change when needed and to drive technology-enabled improvements in your business. In a do-it-yourself world, your team comes up with the ideas; in the cloud, IT leaders ask their service providers for help.
You will want to set up a structure that is right-sized for the amount of change and innovation you need. The most innovation-hungry organizations ask their service providers to meet with senior business and IT leadership quarterly to suggest opportunities to leverage technology in new ways. More conservative organizations may hold these discussions only annually.
Regardless of your cadence, you will want to make sure your service provider is up to the task. Every vendor will tell you about their forward roadmap, but you’ll get a better idea about their actual performance by looking backwards. Ask them for the timeline on which they introduced new options over the past three years. You’ll then see which vendors delivered the most appealing features most quickly. You can also ask about the quality of those services when you interview their reference clients.
Effective IT leaders want to feel that they can control the assets and resources they need to be successful. NWN has found that our customers who manage through these six challenges feel that they have more control than they had in their prior do-it-yourself environments. In addition to ensuring their organizations receive top notch service, they gain strategic reach—freeing the IT team to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the line of business executives to drive results.