Do Enterprises Need an Agile Approach to Cloud Strategy?

cloud strategyNow that corporate IT is finally taking cloud seriously, we’re starting to see development of more explicit enterprise-wide “cloud strategies”.   Whether driven internally or with the help of external consultants, many of these take familiar IT strategy development processes and direct them at cloud.  Here are some common pitfalls we’re seeing with many of these efforts:

  • Failing to focus on transformation – most cloud strategy development efforts begin with an assessment of the current application or workload portfolio that has some vague similarities to an application rationalization exercise.  The goal is to determine the “best fit” cloud delivery model based on business, technical and operational criteria.  While a perfunctory nod is typically made to “business objectives”, the bulk of the effort focuses on technical workload analysis.  This pretty much assures that any resulting strategy will largely result in identifying easy “low-hanging fruit” and incremental improvement opportunities.  Instead the starting point should actually focus on exploring how cloud models can drive business or functional transformation.   Mapping workloads is important, but failing to first explore the inherent business transformation opportunities associated with agility, flexibility and accelerated time-to market misses the point.
  • Maintaining IT ownership and control – in most cases corporate IT is driving the cloud strategy effort.  This raises a couple of major questions.  While in most cases business stakeholders are certainly involved in the effort, why aren’t they driving it?  And given that business stakeholders in many cases can migrate to SaaS, PaaS or even IaaS on their own, why is a single integrated enterprise-wide strategy even required?  While IT will need to play a role in overall integration, security, and service management, that is an enabling support function that doesn’t necessarily need to drive an overall strategy.
  • Taking a “waterfall” mindset– the typical enterprise cloud strategy development effort we’ve seen is a centralized, top-down multi-month analytical effort that results in a multi-year migration plan to a target end-state environment.  To borrow from the software development world, this is essentially a “waterfall” approach to strategy development.   The problem is that the constant innovation and change we’re seeing in the cloud market creates uncertainty and unknowns that makes multi-year planning horizons almost laughable.  An agile like approach that uses a set of guiding principles, goals and “backlog” to drive ongoing migration activities that change and evolve in reaction to business priorities and cloud market innovation might be a more fruitful approach.
  • Viewing strategy development as a one-time event– given the immaturity and pace of innovation in the market cloud strategy development should not be a project with a beginning and an end, but rather a continuous, evergreen process.  As the pace of innovation is only likely to increase with cloud, open source, big data and mobility, expecting an annual or even semi-annual strategy planning process to keep pace just isn’t realistic.  For many enterprises cloud strategy should instead be a continuous, ongoing effort.
  • Ignoring broader organizational impacts – cloud migration has significant implications for functions like procurement, vendor management and finance.  For example shifting IT from capital-focused budgeting models to operating expense can create financial issues for IT intensive companies.  These issues are often neglected, or not even addressed in many cloud strategies.  There also is many times a lack of realism around the cloud skills gap that exists in many organizations, and naiveté around how much change the IT organization itself will need to go through to support the strategy.

The rapid pace of innovation, relative market immaturity and disruptive nature of cloud models suggests that a new approach to IT strategy may be required.  Unfortunately many enterprises are building strategies on assumptions, models and processes that may be familiar but not terribly applicable or relevant.

Interested in learning about how cloud can drive business agility?  Check out our recent post on OODA loops and how cloud and big data can shorten decision-making cycles.

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