This content is part of the Essential Guide: Cloud services overview: Pursuing a new business model

Tips to align cloud computing strategies with clients' business goals

Many organizations remain puzzled about how cloud computing should integrate with their overall business objectives, creating an opportunity for cloud providers to step in and help.

While organizations have gone from thinking about and moving simple workloads to the cloud to pondering which systems to move off premises next, they are grappling with aligning the technology with their business strategies.

According to a recent study by Accenture, only 38% of C-level executives have integrated their business and cloud computing strategies, despite the fact that 95% have a five-year cloud strategy in place.

Jack Sepple, senior managing director, Accenture Cloud, and Accenture Operations group technology officer, AccentureJack Sepple

With cloud adoption growing steadily, observers say enterprises can no longer afford to maintain siloed cloud and business strategies. As a result, there is a significant opportunity for cloud providers "to help enterprises see the bigger picture when it comes to IT transformation and to realize the benefits of aligning business and cloud goals," said Jack Sepple, senior managing director, Accenture Cloud, and Accenture Operations group technology officer.

Integration is a crucial aspect of any journey to cloud, whether private, public or hybrid, he said. However, in order for digital transformation to succeed, different teams and departments across the enterprise must work together to achieve shared, big-picture goals, Sepple said.

"The objectives that cloud computing enables for the enterprise, such as cost reduction, business agility and better data-driven decision-making, are not IT-specific," he said. "Therefore, to relegate cloud decision-making to the realm of IT would be short-sighted."

Cloud computing strategies: How cloud providers can help make the connection

Steve Terp, President, Concerto Cloud ServicesSteve Terp

That is what cloud providers are finding. Steve Terp, president of Concerto Cloud Services, said clients' ability to integrate their business initiatives with cloud computing strategies is "all over the board" when they talk to business leaders. The level of integration depends on how strategic and how close the relationship is among IT, line-of-business people and executives. Moving business processes to the cloud is a fluid and constantly changing process, he added. "There are so many ways to approach moving to the cloud that it's sometimes difficult for line-of-business people and executives to trust IT's vision for cloud."

Concerto has an advisory group that works with technology and business leaders when they need assistance with aligning a business operation with a cloud process. "The most important thing is [that] cloud is a tool for agility, efficiency and the ability to focus on the business rather than getting tripped up on the technology," Terp said.

There are so many ways to approach moving to the cloud that it's sometimes difficult for line-of-business people and executives to trust IT's vision for cloud.
Steve Terppresident, Concerto Cloud Services

When alignment is done well, it creates that agility and allows businesses to do things faster and prioritize where they want to focus their cloud efforts. "Having a plan and executing it to get some of their objectives met and helping them nail down how they can utilize cloud providers and focus on the rest of the business can make a big difference," he said.

Although the concept of cloud is relatively simple, it can be hard for a lot of business leaders to really grasp how they can take advantage of its benefits. That's where cloud partners provide value, agreed Jason Cutler, director of channel sales at SADA Systems.

Jason Cutler, Director of channel sales, SADA SystemsJason Cutler

In the case of an application like business intelligence, for example, "I would say a lot of time what [business leaders] want is that outcome, and how we get there is really the responsibility of the partner or project leader," he said. "Do they care about the sausage being made or the sausage at the end of the day? The answer is they care about the bottom line -- how is this going to help their business and will they see true value in their organization."

Yet, once companies go beyond migrating functions like email into the cloud, "it does require us to bring in line-of-business leaders to the conversation," Cutler added. They want to ensure that the cloud system "is going to resonate across all aspects of the business."

SADA developed the Value Envisioning Workshop, which speaks to business leaders on how a cloud offering will work and how it will enable all departments to collaborate and utilize cloud apps from either Microsoft or Google.

Addressing an IT skills gap

The Accenture study also found respondents perceived a shortage of cloud competencies and an emerging skills gap within IT functions. Seventy-eight percent of C-level respondents said their IT organization may lack the skills necessary to be involved in as a service purchases, even though 88% believe IT should participate in these transactions.

"For enterprises that are new to the cloud, IT staff may not be sufficiently familiar with the cloud market to make educated decisions around specific solutions," Sepple said. Companies that are exploring a move to "as a service cloud" should train staff so they can take part in the process, he added. "Cloud service providers could also help alleviate this knowledge gap by working in tandem with IT staff and the C-suite to select the appropriate cloud solution that meets the unique needs of the business."

Brett Gillett, Amazon Web Services practice lead, SoftchoiceBrett Gillett

There is "absolutely … a skills gap," agreed Brett Gillett, Amazon Web Services Practice Lead at Softchoice. "If you're trying to build apps in the cloud, that's a very different skill set than putting them there. In many cases, it's about understanding what services are on the platform."

That can be a challenge, though, when you consider that AWS is coming out with over 1,000 new features or services this year, he said. "So you can imagine the challenge customers are having to keep up with that rapid pace of innovation."

Unlike an internal IT group that needs to focus on all aspects of the business, "We have resources here where that's all they do. Customers who come to us can leverage those resources, rather than spending their entire day thinking about this." Finding the right partner helps ensure they're "not missing something obvious," Gillett said.

There is a "long list of skills" missing in an IT organization, according to Terp, including understanding software and software development and how it runs in the infrastructure. Other lacking skills are related to network connectivity, performance around how different systems integrate together and security, he said. "The rules and threats around security change so rapidly, it's difficult for companies to … stay on top of that," whereas cloud partners deal with new security threats every day, he said.

For Sepple, the lack of integration between business and cloud computing strategies was the most surprising finding of the survey. "Given the major investment that businesses are making in as a service cloud, we were expecting to see a more unified approach," he said. "By aligning their cloud and business strategies and involving IT more directly in cloud decision-making, companies will be better positioned on their journey to the cloud when the as a service economy comes of age."

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