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IT Departments: passing the cloud test

Posted on 22 February 2012 by Pierre Picard

by Samuel Gautier, Principal Consultant and Business Development Manager, Bull Advisory Services.

Samuel joined Bull in July 2010 and holds a management role among the team of Principal Consultants. In this role he oversees consultancy assignments and is responsible for delivery in terms of methods, models and tools, as well as for the development of a number of offerings based around the eSCM[1] repository. Previously, Samuel was Deputy Technical Director at Storage Foundation. He began his career in 2000 at Unidirect (Orange Business Services) as Manager of the Storage and Security Business Units.

In response to the challenges of businesses increasingly dependent on IT, the cloud is flourishing. But its advent has turned everything upside down for IT Departments, as they see their role, their function and their culture being transformed. A radical rethink is needed to successfully make the transition.

There are no longer any sectors of the economy where IT does not play a pivotal role. In many areas, even the most traditional ones, it is now inextricably integrated into products and services, even if it is simply to provide a customer service channel. Everywhere, it is facilitating management processes, in an unavoidable way. And the general public and users alike are constantly clamoring for more and more mobile applications, the ability to follow businesses on-line and high added-value functionality. So, in other words, flawed IT systems can seriously compromise business activities; while appropriate computing resources, aligned to this new landscape, can be an extremely powerful differentiator. The current enthusiasm for cloud computing is due, above all, to the fact that it represents the best way to successfully navigate this revolution. It not only addresses the financial issues (of cost control, transforming CAPEX into OPEX, pay-per-use…) but also, at the same time, meets the need for speed, agility, geographic flexibility… So there are numerous good business reasons to move towards the cloud. But there is still one reason not to go in that direction too fast: if the IT Department is not ready for it.

For mature IT Departments – those who have already started to rationalize their infrastructures through consolidation, virtualization, shared services… and strengthen their practices (most notably by adopting best practices as set out in ITIL, COBIT or CMMI guidelines) – moving to the cloud may seem more like an evolution than a revolution; the logical next step in a process set in motion long ago. But it is still a profound transformation, which goes above and beyond the technological aspects. Adopting the cloud changes the whole positioning and role of the IT Department within the organization, forcing it to change its function and rethink its whole culture. And such fundamental changes demand careful thought, preparation and on-going support.

With the cloud, the IT Department no longer presents itself to the business (in other words, its internal customers) as the prime contractor responsible for delivering technical solutions, but as the guarantor and manager of service level agreements (SLAs). It becomes the interface between its users and suppliers (of which it may be one itself), being capable of translating business needs into technical features. In this position, it can find itself in competition with – even circumvented by – consortia, IT services companies, public cloud operators… But it does have the advantage of its close proximity to the business, and its understanding of the organization’s activities, culture and challenges. So it really needs to focus on one question, for which it is better placed than anyone to answer: how can IT best be used to help the business? In the age of the cloud, the IT Department’s most important role is to be a catalyst for innovation and value-creation, through technology. On the other hand, if it also chooses to operate some services itself, it clearly has to demonstrate that it is competitive with the market. Even if it delegates some of its current functions via the cloud, the IT Department still has a lot to keep it busy: feasibility studies and analysis, trend-spotting, R&D, managing external suppliers, customer and user support…

With the advent of the cloud, many functions in the IT Department are evolving, while others are appearing completely. This is especially true for the jobs that directly relate to services contracted to external suppliers. There is effectively a need to manage the entire life cycle of these services: including choosing and managing suppliers, setting up legal frameworks, establishing the conditions and logistics for transferring business elements (data, rules…), managing security and know-how (so you do not totally lose control of your information systems), managing reversibility… The e-SCM repository is a good tool for managing all these elements, because it has been designed to structure the customer/supplier relationship, enabling processes and understanding to be effectively transferred. New job roles are also emerging around customer relationship management: the IT Department must fully embrace its new mission as a supplier of services to the business, and act as such using appropriate marketing, communication, sales, support and after-sales service tools. Undoubtedly, this is the biggest transformation: which directly affects the culture of an organization that has often existed somewhat at the margin of the rest of the business, protected by its technical expertise. Now it is in full view, forced to compete and to guarantee the level of contractual services. So the IT Department is no longer judged by its resources, but by its results. And that clearly indicates that it needs to develop a customer-focused culture, at every level, at its very heart.

The services catalogue is the focal point for this three-fold transformation: strategic, operational and cultural. Putting this together is also a good indicator of the IT Department’s level of maturity vis-à-vis its new positioning and the principles of cloud computing. The role of the services catalogue is to formalize the service offerings that the IT Department can provide to the business and present them in an easily understood way, no longer focused around technical features but business issues. The talk will no longer be about GHz, RAM and kbit/s, but about functionality and guarantees in terms of availability, security, capacity and performance, in a language that relates as closely as possible to the business. The services catalogue makes it possible to move from implicit promises (the ability to do something) to explicit commitments (in the form of service levels). It enables a whole new pact to be forged between the IT Department and the business. So it is absolutely essential for the IT Department to involve the business – its future customers – in creating the services catalogue. That means understanding its real needs, otherwise how to offer a relevant service or negotiate it with external cloud providers? It means agreeing on a common language, because as a tool for enabling dialogue and productivity, the services catalogue has to remain accessible to non-technical staff. But it also makes the business face up to its own responsibilities including, clearly, the real cost of excessive or unjustified demands. So the IT Department’s expertise lies in its ability to establish the idea of this correlation between its customers’ business performance indicators on the one hand, and the technical resources offered by its suppliers on the other.

To make this transformation happen and consider it from all angles – organizational, economic, technological… – the IT Department often needs additional help. By bringing its methods, tools and industrial consulting experience into play, Bull can act as a real accelerator in this process. As part of an integrated approach, Le Cloud by Bull™, Bull Advisory Services works alongside IT Departments to achieved their new status not just as a supplier, but also a consumer and distributor of services: using a step-by-step, personalized methodology, from the identification of services that could be switched over to delivery via the cloud right through to their actual transformation and the provision of evidence to demonstrate ROI.


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[1] E-SCM: eSourcing Capability Model


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