Fewer moving parts via consolidation, rationalisation, simplification and standardisation are the themes of most enterprise ICT strategies these days. Reuse an existing asset or capability before buying a new one, or heaven forbid, building it yourself. Stop wasting so much money on unnecessary duplication, fragmentation and complexity of commodity ICT, so that scarce funds can be applied to activities that create real business value.
Implementing this strategy requires a mix of technology and organisational solutions. Building a robust and scalable Corporate ICT Utility is a major technical challenge – usually exacerbated by the complexity of the legacy environment and by funding and skill constraints. To agree on and knitting together The Menu of common applications in a way that meets the needs of a critical mass of users is even harder. Persuading staff throughout the enterprise to adhere to the strategy is harder again and keeping them on track even harder still. Good luck with that.
Little wonder then, that many folks are on a quest for a better model. Cloud computing is just such a model - an alternate paradigm for the delivery of applications, development environments and infrastructure services from beyond the borders of the enterprise. Indeed, the pure model of cloud computing sources these services from facilities with global, or at least national, scale.
Enterprise ICT strategies are all about shifting the location of ICT capabilities upwards - from the business unit to the division to the corporate levels, to capture economies of scale. Why not shift these outwards as well – right outside the enterprise to harness global scale economies?
Cloud computing can offer solutions for both the technological and the organisational challenges of the enterprise ICT strategy. On the technology side, cloud services are built in a “greenfield” manner from the newest of new hardware and software engineered for scalability, high performance and efficiency. Buy the services from a cloud provider, or buy the pre-configured technology solutions to assemble a private cloud of your own – if you can afford it.
The applications are designed and operated to meet the needs of millions of different users around the world – there is a good chance they will meet the needs of your users with some simple configuration. APIs are published, enabling integration. No problemo.
Organisationally … talk to the hand! The cloud services are what they say on the label – no more, no less. We don’t own them and can’t change them. Deal with it. This will all work out once you get used to it.
At one level this model sounds ridiculous and unworkable. The users will demand application customisation won’t they? How can we trust infrastructure we don’t own? The thing, however, is that the cloud is actually starting to gain traction because it offers users and CIOs alike a new set of simpler, faster and better options compared to “traditional” in-house and outsourced models. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is popular with users precisely because of its WYSIWYG nature, low up-front costs and speedy implementation times. Infrastructure-as-a-Service provides CTOs with new ways to source processing and storage capacity – on tap, pay-as-you-go.
Consider this. If you needed to replace a commodity, but business critical, system like the email and collaboration platform, would you use a traditional on-premises application suite or consider a cloud computing offering like Google, Microsoft BPOS or LotusLive? It would depend on your security profile and the nature of your business, of course, but it is interesting to observe the increasing adoption of cloud email and collaboration services by universities. Cloud email and collaboration platforms can be better – available from any browser – as well as less expensive. Consolidation, rationalisation, simplification and standardisation achieved all at once!
The UK government has just released a new national ICT strategy, which explicitly includes creation of both a government cloud and a SaaS style Government Applications Store as key elements of a structured programme of ICT consolidation, standardisation and simplification across central and local government. Why? Because they see cloud computing as a model that provides fresh solutions to both the technological and the organisational barriers to an enterprise ICT strategy.
Dr Steve Hodgkinson leads Ovum’s ANZ public sector advisory services. Email him at email@example.com
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