Align cloud infrastructure to your business strategy — or fail

Anything other than a cloud-only strategy for new IT initiatives will require justification at more than 30 percent of large enterprises by 2020, according to Gartner.

Anything other than a cloud-only strategy for new IT initiatives will require justification at more than 30 percent of large enterprises by 2020, according to Gartner.

However, despite strong interest in public and private cloud infrastructure, few best practices are in common use because broad enterprise deployment is still in initial stages. Many organisations are still determining the similarities and differences with traditional forms of computing.

In contrast, the process for developing an IT strategy is relatively well established.

Unless your cloud infrastructure is properly aligned to the long-term business strategy, it will ultimately waste resources and place your organisation at risk. It’s important to optimise your approach to drive successful business outcomes.

By considering the specific aspects of cloud infrastructure, in conjunction with a structured approach to IT strategy, it's possible to align cloud usage with your organisation's business and IT strategy. When taking this approach, ensure that the investment is being applied to meet business outcomes, while balancing the agility benefit of cloud against the need for adequate governance.

There are multiple implications of failing to align cloud infrastructure, particularly a loss of relevancy and a reduced perception of value, resulting in diminished participation in future planning and adoption of cloud. In turn, this will result in reduced governance and oversight, which can further increase the risk of failure.

Four steps to success

There are four key steps you can take to align cloud infrastructure to your business strategy.

  • Define the scope

Determine cloud infrastructure's suitability to your organisation's key goals, beginning with clear definition and articulation of its benefits and challenges. Inconsistent, incomplete and inaccurate definitions create unrealistic expectations on both technology and business outcomes for IT and the organisation overall.

Although the term "cloud" is now commonplace, it's inadequate for describing the range of ways that enterprises can consume cloud services. There’s a spectrum of technology and services often described by business units as "the cloud," which in reality ranges from simple colocation and hosting, through to virtualisation on demand, complete development platforms and wholly managed application environments. And let’s not even consider ‘cloud-washing’!

Although seemingly obvious, a key first step is gaining consensus on the various approaches to cloud infrastructure, which will reduce confusion and misconception. Then determine the benefits and challenges, followed by evaluating your cloud service options.

2. Align to IT strategy

Once you’ve defined the scope, determine the state of the organisation's overall business and IT strategy. More broadly, cloud infrastructure should be considered a style of computing and a potential means of supporting your organisation's strategic goals. In isolation, it cannot compensate for a broader lack of business and IT alignment.

The ideal situation would be that a cohesive, articulated business strategy exists for your organisation, and that the IT strategy is linked to it. In theory, this would enable your cloud infrastructure strategy to seamlessly integrate. For many organisations, however, this won’t be the situation.

3. Create a strategic plan

The strategic plan for cloud infrastructure will result from examining the strategy inputs through the filters of the strategic planning process. This helps identify the best cloud initiatives to reach the target state, including identifying gaps and ascertaining the cost and effort required to overcome them.

Once the business needs have been identified, and IT is considering a technical solution, there are number of considerations that must be understood when looking at the broad range of possible solutions – architecture, operating mode, governance, sourcing and culture.

4. Create an operational plan

Once the strategic plan has been sufficiently developed, the determination of specific operational activities can be pursued with reduced risk of inefficiency and improved alignment to the organisational strategy.

Specific operational plans are likely to fit into one of two possible scenarios:

  • Discrete: Trying to solve a current problem or enable a solution for a current/proposed project.
  • Foundational: Establishing a basis to address new applications, as well as assess and migrate existing applications, when or if a cloud infrastructure will be beneficial across the enterprise.

Where to start

First, baseline enterprise strategic goals and business drivers by answering the question: "Why cloud?" before considering "Which cloud?" or "How do we implement the cloud?" Ensure alignment with your business strategies by reviewing your approach against the four steps above.

Also, make sure to maximise reuse — where relevant — by leveraging existing skills and capabilities in enterprise architecture and strategic planning. Catalogue patterns of successful business-enabling solutions, and showcase examples of the "art of the possible" with business units.

Michael Warrilow is a research vice president at Gartner. His focus is on the evolution of modern infrastructure software, including software defined, virtualisation, containers and cloud infrastructure. Michael will be speaking at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Australia, 30 October-2 November 2017.

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