During a Sunday morning sermon, the preacher picked up a copy the Holy Bible, held it high in his hand with a lot of energy and passion, and told the congregation, “…this book has ALL the answers, you just have to ask the right questions…”. Surely, one can expect similar situations in other religious venues, political gatherings, strategy meetings, and so on, where someone or something claims to have a lot of (if not all) the answers. However, to find the most useful answer(s) we must indeed ask the right question(s); the wrong questions will only lead to confusion and wasted effort without ever reaching the desired goal.
Asking the right questions takes both science and art. Clear recognition of the appropriate context is the first step to formulating valuable questions. In a business setting such a context involves goals, motivation, assets, and constraints. What outcomes are we trying to achieve ultimately, what drives us to seek such outcomes, what can we leverage to realize these desired outcomes competitively, and what conditions do we have to abide by as we try to achieve these outcomes? The higher the goal importance the higher the criticality of context recognition and correct question articulation.
Adoption strategies for cloud computing, where organizations source their technical capabilities including hardware and software over network connections (like the Internet) as on-demand and pay-as-you-use services, must also start with the right questions. Cloud based services can replace data centers, offer databases, operating systems and “systems-of-record” applications (like ERP, CRM, HCM, etc.). They can provide modern “systems-of-engagement” platforms like mobile and analytics, and allow easy, fast and cheap access to emerging technologies like device-to-device communication (IoT), big-data analytics, machine learning, AI, cognitive computing, and virtual reality. Cloud-based developments can also drastically reduce concept-to-product timeframe by better facilitating Agile and DevOps practices, etc. Generally speaking, cloud can save organization money and operational headaches while helping them to become more agile. However, what cloud benefits would be the most valuable and along what timeline for a particular organization? To answer this we need to figure out how to ask the right ‘cloud questions’. This is something that many company stakeholders and consultants often miss. Their aspirations are often either too limited to make the right impact or too lofty to be realistic. How do we strike the right balance between “what is needed” and “what is achievable” in a particular cloud adoption situation?
Peter Drucker, one of the most recognized management gurus, famously asked the five high-level “magic” questions pertinent to all businesses (ref. “The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization”, Drucker et al, Jossey-Bass, 2008): What is your mission? Who is your customer? What does your customers value? What results do you seek? What is your plan? In a spirit similar to Drucker’s questions, we want to frame five high-level categories of “cloud questions” that all organization desirous of realizing the maximum possible benefits from cloud adoption should ask:
1. Competition – Better products or services? Faster time-to-market? Higher quality-to-cost ratio?
2. Operations – Lower running costs? Move some CapEx to OpEx? Reduce operational headaches?
3. Innovation – Increase innovation experiments? Rapidly scale-out product/service launch?
4. Compliance – Feasibility of staying compliant to security and regulatory constraints?
5. Prioritization – What adoption roadmap most benefits the business? Short-term? Long-term?
The majority of cost reduction benefits from cloud adoption comes from squeezing out the inefficiencies commonly found in traditional IT landscapes: low (typ. 20-30%) hardware capacity or software license usage, high maintenance costs due to lack of standardization and complex management tools, and low development and testing productivities due to slow and expensive access to tools that are often not pre-integrated and are complex to use. Key agility facilitators provided by cloud adoption are immediate (often just requiring few clicks) and give access to full stack of required technical capabilities to test and scale out new concepts, and provide very low barriers of capability acquisition costs, and better business-IT alignment through application development platforms and practices that use business lingo.
On the flip side, an impactful cloud adoption is no small undertaking, especially for existing businesses that have been mainly relying on on-premise hardware and software for a long time. Depending on the given IT landscape, standard operating procedures, and prevailing organizational culture, cloud adoption may require many substantial changes. Some of these key changes include tendering and contracting strategies shifting from traditional to cloud product or services vendors, IT operating model moving from “hire-to-build-or-run” to “outcome-based-service” type, a different level of attention to security and regulation compliance as information moves back and forth between the inside and the outside of company firewalls, and a re-alignment of system development lifecycle (SDLC) skills and practices.
As with anything, an organization’s current readiness or maturity in skills and culture related to key aspects of cloud adoption will dictate the proper starting point of cloud adoption as well the adoption roadmap. It is the combination of answers to aforementioned cloud questions (obtained first at a high-level and then enhanced with more detailed ones with in each of the categories) and the probability of the success of required actions that will set the organization’s cloud adoption journey on the right track and continue to guide the its evolution, delivering excellent business benefits along the way.