A recent survey from MIT Technology Review Custom and VMware posed a question to companies from around the world and across major industries: “What did you learn about multi-cloud infrastructure adoption that surprised you?”
While many of the responses focused on specific technical difficulties such as security, data migration, integration with legacy systems, and the like, more unexpected learnings focused on the need to manage people and process changes across the organization.
Automation Is, Counterintuitively, About People
“What companies don’t always understand is that automation is a major underpinning of the multi-cloud journey,” says Ajay Singh, general manager and senior vice president for VMware’s cloud management business unit. “Automation challenges organizations because of the people and process changes that need to happen in order to get full value from cloud technologies.”
Companies adopting multi-cloud environments tend to anticipate technical issues, and for many, those aren’t the most significant barriers to full integration. Instead, companies tend to struggle most with changes to staff, policies, and ways of working that are disrupted by multi-cloud implementation.
Automation is not a panacea, and automating the wrong processes can do more harm than good. Before tasks and policies can be automated for cloud, they must be reviewed for relevance and efficacy. For most organizations, this requires a comprehensive audit and a return to foundational principles. Companies quickly discover that multi-cloud adoption isn’t the sole responsibility of the IT department, but rather a shared project among executive leadership, HR, DevOps, and other elements of the organization that all play a critical role in choosing what is automated and why.
According to an IT director for a major American educational institution who took part in the study, cloud adoption affects the entire organization and “results in organizations having to restructure their project management process,” which illustrates the transformational nature of cloud.
Emerging Best Practices
There is no predefined methodology for addressing the people and process changes prompted by multi-cloud migration, but an emerging set of best practices may help:
- Lead from the top. People and process changes are difficult to navigate without the buy-in of top leadership. If leadership doesn’t impart the urgency of the initiative, change won’t be a priority for the organization.
- Create one team. Form a cloud team with a blend of internal IT and external cloud resources. Operate the team like a service provider, and designate a single channel for all cloud related issues.
- Implement centralized funding. Cloud adoption can alter CapEx and OpEx gearing ratios and may require budgeting across offices, divisions, and business units. Until efficient cloud budgeting can be implemented, budget for cloud centrally to avoid confusion.
- Automate IT services. Use APIs to create an automated, self-service portal that provides a single catalog of IT services so that anyone with a budget can order an environment and, in most cases, have it available in less than a day.
- Create a way to measure scale. An important element of any plan is giving stakeholders comparable data to make clear choices. When VMware engaged in its own digital transformation, it adopted a virtual machine unit (VMU), defined as 1GHz CPU and 2GB memory as its standard service baseline for comparison purposes.
“The VMU enabled us to measure cloud growth and cost,” says Velchamy Sankarlingam, VMware’s vice president of cloud services development and operations. “For example, when our private cloud reached 175,000 VMUs two years ago, we discovered costs had dropped 50 percent. And we expect another 50 percent cost decrease in 2018. VMUs enable us to make those kinds of apples-to-apples comparisons.”
Cloud adoption is difficult; there’s no way around it. But companies that move to cloud reap benefits in efficiency, agility, and innovation. They’ve also learned that comprehensive planning, careful progress, and a positive attitude are critical for implementation. The end result of meeting these challenges is a transformed organization, positioned for the future.