ExecutiveX: When Too Many Clouds Create a Storm
Challenges of the Cloud
It started with a simple question: “What’s your approach to cloud?” I’ll never forget his candid and immediate response: “Aaron, I have so many clouds… what I actually have is a storm!” “He” is the VP of IT for a mid-sized manufacturing company, and he had a story to tell. In that moment, the concept of ExecutiveX was born. I wanted to create a platform where IT leaders could feel comfortable in sharing candid thoughts for the benefit of the greater community. Being able to provide those thoughts under the shroud of anonymity would hopefully lead to honest, authentic, and even vulnerable insights from IT leaders. This authenticity would be the true value for other leaders in the IT community. We’ve spent a little over a month writing about cloud technology — why vendors are pushing so hard, what the benefits are, how to determine the best strategy for you, and more. This piece focuses on challenges of the cloud, and rounds out the series as well as serving as the first piece in our new ExecutiveX series.
My conversation with this VP of IT gives us a chance to provide a first-hand account of what managing a hybrid cloud environment looks like in practice and get his perspective on things he would have done differently. While this VP hasn’t made the switch to the Oracle Cloud environment yet, he does run JD Edwards EnterpriseOne and is currently managing a number of other applications that are in the cloud. Thirteen of them, in fact.
“It Just Happened.”
His tale is a cautionary one. When he joined the company in 2010, they’d already implemented a few software programs that were running on a cloud environment. “Looking back, we didn’t have a cloud strategy — it just happened,” he said during our conversation. “Some were here before I was, and we had rogue IT organizations selecting providers without my inclusion.”
The end result is a mixture of disparate cloud applications. Although each application works well for its individual business function, none were selected with an overall IT strategy in mind. This is the concept of Postmodern ERP, applied incorrectly. If IT systems are expected to work in concert, our VP of IT had inherited a symphony without a conductor.
Challenges in Moving to the Cloud
Even once our VP was able to take over the various cloud technologies running throughout the organization, there were still a number of challenges he faced. The two most significant were siloed knowledge and integrations.
JD Edwards serves as the IT hub at this manufacturing company, with each of the 13 cloud software systems sending information back to JDE and extracting information from it. But arriving at that set up wasn’t easy.
“The software vendors all know their solution, but they need to understand how it’s going to play with other solutions in the enterprise,” says this VP. “How does it interact with those solutions? Not only from an interface standpoint but from a duplication of information standpoint — how will it impact the system to have multiple sources of the data coming in?” Add in that each software requires a different testing protocol and each vendor handles support in a different way, and you begin to get a picture of what he’s having to navigate.
“Some will only do upgrades during the day, some just tell you when to upgrade, they don’t care when you have a project going live — they say, ‘We’re going to do an upgrade this weekend and this is going to happen no matter what,’” he explained. So although they no longer need to manage each upgrade in-house, in many cases they also no longer have control over if — or when — an upgrade happens. And keep in mind, there are 13 separate cloud systems that are getting upgraded at various times, without his control.
And then there’s tackling all of the integrations and keeping them all running properly despite different upgrade schedules and support options. In most cases, each of the cloud platforms is fairly self-centered, said the VP of IT.
“These software vendors take on the attitude that ‘this is our solution, this is how you use it, and this is how you key the data in.’ Everybody has a different interface and way of building interfaces. Are they using XML? Are they using FTP? How are they doing checks and balances? How can you be sure all of the records are going from one system to the cloud environment, and how are you validating the data is going back and forth? Very few of the providers provide checks and balances on the interfaces; you always have to build that yourself.”
Been There, Done That: What To Do Differently
If he had to do it all again, there are a number of things the VP says he’d do differently.
Get Ahead of the Storm
“I’d try and get out in front of the cloud strategy,” he said. “I had a major business transformation project going on. I didn’t have resources to work on formatting a server and to work on some of these cloud projects… so some of these cloud solutions just ‘happened’ to me. Some of these solutions we could easily have in-house, be under our control, and control when the upgrades happen rather than having these solutions forced upon us.”
Create and Define Your Process
Instead, he’d prefer to create processes around selection and around the challenges above. “You want to have a process around how you handle and control security, integration activities and integration points. That’s a process you want to have defined pretty much up front, so when you’re going to a new cloud application, you don’t end up with a user somewhere in a back room controlling all the security. To give you a quick example, we have a couple of applications right now where one person in the company knows how to do security. That person is a junior level clerk and has no concept what it means from a security standpoint. They have no idea how to handle an external attack on those applications.”
Identify a Business Champion
In addition to defining the selection process, he said he’d want to make sure each solution had a very strong business leader on the front lines who understands how that platform worked. “If it’s a cloud environment and the IT department’s not supporting it, there’s no one to fall back on within IT to become that knowledge expert. So you need to make sure you have a knowledge expert aligned for each of the cloud solutions.”
Your Options: Lead the Charge Or Fall Behind
When it comes to the relationship between business and IT departments, we typically see two distinct cultural scenarios. Business either drives innovation and pulls IT along, or the IT department pushes the business forward toward innovation. Regardless of your company’s cultural disposition, the IT department will ultimately be left managing the interaction, integration, and security concerns for these new cloud applications. According to the VP we spoke with, managing a multi-cloud hybrid environment can be complex and sometimes challenging. But it’s much better to get out front and guide the business through the process, so you can ensure it’s done in a way that is in the company’s best interest, and ultimately avoid the storm.