TECH.insight

Bring the cloud to the enterprise

Monday 16 March 2015

You want to create amazing and relevant digital products and get them delivered

‘I don’t need a hard disk in my computer if I can get to the server faster…carrying around these non-connected computers is Byzantine by comparison.’ – Steve Jobs, late chairman of Apple (1997)

The cloud and its capabilities were realised and predicted by the late Steve Jobs many years before its current form i.e. a model of computer use in which services stored on the internet are provided to users on a temporary basis. This provides agility and the ability to experiment. Those who directly benefit from this explosion of computing power are entrepreneurs working to establish growing companies and ‘intrapreneurs’ of large, existing organisations. The liquid market for resources with advanced tools allows us to test ideas quickly and scale them once a success is achieved.

Take the example of tape.tv, a Berlin-based online station. Co-founded in 2008 by Conrad Fritzsch and Stephanie Renner, the company hosts upwards of 45,000 music videos from all major labels and an impressive collection of indie labels.

The current reach of the site is around 4 million unique users with an average dwell-time of around 25 minutes. This business idea would never have been possible or open to be realised by anyone 20 years ago, in the absence of cloud technology.

Each day, 890 million people log in to Facebook, which also has 1.9 billion active mobile users. The Netflix share of overall US traffic grew to more than 34% of all peak period downstream traffic, accounting for 66% of the digital film market. Traditional economic models are being broken down by the communisation of resources, used to connect people at a scale never realised before.

The approaches that enable this scale and innovation must become available to large-scale enterprises. However, it is not always as straightforward a choice as for emergent companies in the startup world. Traditional enterprise IT is secure, safe and controlled, but often slow-moving. Traditional enterprise IT may not be appropriate for rapid digital product development.

The proper considerations with regard to security and governance have to be made. It is important to apply techniques as required in the correct areas. Often it can help to make a slow and inflexible process obsolete. In this article we will outline the arguments and also an approach to how to convince an internal sponsor to get involved.

Companies come to AKQA and ask us to create products and services that must replicate modern cloud approaches to work effectively. We help them to convince their internal stakeholders, and always work to understand all of the internal considerations.

Reasons

From our perspective, the current arguments for cloud-based adoption centre around agility, innovation and scale.

Agility

With the cloud you can be leaner and more agile. To stay agile and to keep delivering, you need a pipeline that takes your ideas to your customers as fast as possible and with the least friction, while ensuring high quality.

You want to create amazing and relevant digital products and get them delivered. You want to keep them amazing and relevant by delivering again and again. We use the practices of continuous delivery to achieve this.

A fundamental part of this is a modern, flexible and agile cloud-based infrastructure that can integrate seamlessly with your software. This is the step-change to transform your client’s digital product pipeline.

Innovation

In the coming years, the cloud will matter more to business leaders than to IT leaders. The increasing adoption of cloud means more innovation in terms of business ideas in conjunction with pure IT functions. Pace-setting organisations are using the cloud to gain competitive advantage – through strategic business re-invention, better decisions and deeper collaboration.

Enterprises have begun to realise that they should push business technology into the cloud and get back to focussing on core competencies.

Scale

By taking advantage of the scale of third-party cloud providers, the enterprise is sharing the burden and cost of hiring and training, and managing hardware. When done with a consolidated approach, this can deliver considerable savings. But as the technology behind the cloud (VMs, Docker, etc.) becomes more scalable, connected and increasingly delivered as a service, IT teams can move away from a components-centric world of storage space or CPUs.

In the future, we’ll see more IT teams thinking of and buying services to deploy apps or to solve problems such as adding request management, booking engines and purchasing.

People

‘You must not blame me if I do talk to the clouds.’ – Henry Thoreau

We know what the advantages are to this approach and are ready to work with everyone to ensure success. Who are the right people to achieve this goal? Who are the stakeholders to convince and what is the right approach?

Find your internal sponsor

One of the first things to do is to find an internal sponsor – together you must then work out who is your audience within the organisation. You need to help your sponsor to reach that audience. Help them to convince their own team and their peers, both internal and external. Detail the evolution of the field, the inspirational leading players, the innovative approaches to learn, getting to deliver a product with startup-like velocity.

Meet everyone

Cite sources that your audience (and their audience) will respect, such as Gartner. Prepare product evaluation workshops and facilitate internal pitching with all of the relevant parties. Another approach is to turn your infrastructure requirements into abstract principles and objectives that either a product or approach solves.

Be proactive at overcoming the most painful and significant obstacles. For example: is the security department an influential gatekeeper? Then get them involved early. Be objective but opinionated. Don’t get bogged down in rating risks on a scale of 1 to 10. A spreadsheet won’t make any decisions.

Transition

With all of the key stakeholders informed and ready, what are the next steps? The main objective is to create a success story that shows improvements on key metrics. This is essential, but having the right environment to deliver it is too. Ultimately, the enterprise must be able to realise cost efficiencies via adoption as well as agility and innovation.

Define success

Agree early on what success means. This is often easy to define in terms of existing standards, e.g. reduced cost, increased release velocity and scale of delivery. Where necessary, you should illustrate the advantages of the new approach in comparison to the existing one.

Create a suitable pilot

A powerful approach is to work with your sponsor to create an internal startup-style organisation that has a completely different mentality and operational model. Co-locate and set up visible scrum/Kanban processes with boards that illustrate progress. Practise continuous delivery and involve your team in decisions. Show how cloud and automation are the key components of these approaches.

Measure all points

Measure everything and understand the key metrics and points of inflection for your client’s business. Leverage an existing rich landscape of analytics engines already in the cloud, e.g. Google Analytics or Tableau. Latest data suggests that 65% of leading companies use cloud to make evidence-based decisions.

Consolidate learnings

Once the pilot and initial projects have proved successful, it will be possible to expand services and move existing work onto the cloud-based approach. Rewriting existing applications may be a good long-term option, but it usually takes a very large investment of resources over many years.

A better approach is to offer customers virtual deployments that mirror ‘on-premise’ installations but exist only in the cloud. There are various approaches to this, e.g. PaaS or Docker containers. The main point is to offer seamless flexibility between existing architectures and the cloud.

Conclusion

The cloud continues to revolutionise our lives. By using cloud infrastructure techniques and following through on these steps, enterprises can gain:

Further reading

Other articles in this series take a closer look at individual practices, including:

About The Authors

Paul is a Technical Director at AKQA in Berlin.
Diggory is a Technical Architect at AKQA in Berlin.

@paulslatts