Cloud Computing: How to Take Advantage of it to Make your IT Organization Agile

IT agility is always cited among the key benefits of cloud computing. However, a close scrutiny of certain posts, articles, and white papers written about it as well as discussions with some of the best cloud experts of the major consulting brands show that it is misunderstood. This is not a joke.

In this post I will share some of the lessons learned from my experience leading cloud migration initiatives in the Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) area. These lessons are detailed in my last book, Cloud Computing: Advanced Business and IT Strategies to Extract Tangible Value from the Cloud. I highly recommend it.

What is IT agility? What tangible benefits can be derived from it? Is there a connection with the notion of IT operating model? What is the best approach to implement it? are some of the questions answered here.

What is IT Agility? What are the Tangible Benefits?

In practical terms, I define IT agility as the extent to which your IT capability including IT people, processes, and tools increases your organization’s performance. In other words, the greater IT agility the higher business performance. It has to do with how well the flexibility of your IT people, processes, organizational configuration, governance mechanisms and tools facilitate and accelerate the workflows within your IT organization to enable expected business performance.

There is no standard and no automatic benefits of IT agility; IT agility benefits vary according to the competitive advantages you’re trying to equip your organization with. Is it a greater focus on your core competency? Is it rapid provisioning of IT resources? Is it accelerated delivery of IT services? The benefits are many, in other words IT agility is one thing and the benefits associated with it are another.

When a cloud vendor, a consulting firm and even an IT executive promise IT agility always ask them what competitive advantage is associated with “their” IT agility, and more importantly how they’re going to implement it, most of the time what you get is confused and embarrassed answers complete with dazzling brand names and mind-boggling acronyms. They don’t understand the whys and wherefores of IT agility. The following section explains why.

The Central Notion of IT Operating Model

It is honestly outrageous to hear some of the cloud vendors and consulting firms selling client organizations the false idea that IT agility is an inherent benefit of cloud. Their message “Implementing Cloud Infrastructure Will Automatically Make Your IT Organization Agile” is simplistic, misleading and is a pure marketing gimmick. Here is why.

IT agility results from the well-thought arrangement of your IT operating model people, processes, organizational configuration, governance and tools such that workflows within your IT organization are optimized and enable the achievement of a specific competitive advantage. Examples of such competitive advantages include greater focus on core competency, rapid provisioning of IT resources, and accelerated delivery of IT services.
IT agility is acquired through transforming your IT operating model; it is an overall effort that requires strategic thinking, IT processes fine-tuning, IT organization structure reconfiguration and IT people training. Until shown proof to the contrary an IT infrastructure does not think not even strategically, it does not re-engineer processes and organizational configuration and does not train people. Human being does. This is to say the important fact that the organization’s IT leadership must take concrete action to implement IT agility.

Cloud computing is not a technology, it is primarily a two-component IT service delivery model which includes an IT Operating Model and a Virtual Computing Capability (VCC). The figure below presents a simplified version of an Amazon Web Services (AWS) based IT service delivery model I designed for a leading firm in healthcare, let’s give it the fictitious name of Health Care Service International (HCSI):

The vast majority of cloud vendors, cloud consultants and CTOs think and talk about cloud as a model but in reality see it as a technology, this is not a joke. They focus on the right side of the model, the implementation of the VCC, and assume it will magically result in IT agility and expected competitive advantages. I invite you to judge for yourself how absurd and incomplete is such perspective.

Transforming the IT Operating Model to Implement IT Agility

IT operating model transformation (or IT transformation) is the Cinderella area of today’s cloud migration practices as cloud vendors, the major consulting brands, and certain CIOs / CTOs are selling business leaders the false idea that implementing Virtual Computing Capability (IaaS infrastructure and SaaS applications) is the only thing that matters. This is a very short-sighted viewed several IT leaders will pay in cash. Here is why.

As Joe McKendricks, an extraordinary cloud thought leader, puts it “Cloud computing is fantastic, but everyone is adopting it – so it’s not a differentiator in itself; it’s merely leveling the competitive field.” The real issue at stake for CIOs / CTOs versus cloud computing is IT agility as it is the foundation of the competitive advantages businesses must develop: competitive innovation, fast time-to-market, and more importantly the ability for the business to embrace frequent and major changes. My point is substantiated by’s Bernard Golden when he says “business response to changing conditions or opportunity will ultimately prove to be the more compelling and will come to be seen as the real agility associated with cloud computing.

My Five Recommendations for Implementing IT Agility

The IT agility principles and mechanisms as addressed in this posts as well as the recommendations that follow are part of the integrated Cloud Computing Transition Methodology (iCCTM) detailed in my last book, Cloud Computing: Advanced Business and IT Strategies to Extract Tangible Value from the Cloud. I highly recommend it.

Recommendation #1 – Take advantage of a structured agile approach for IT operating model transformation

It provides the delivery process, the collaboration mechanisms, and the facilitation tools needed to control the end-to-end IT agility implementation, put key stakeholders into effective cross-functional team, and accelerate problem solving, consensus building and decision making. The virtue of structured approaches and frameworks in IT transformation is they provide the logic , the tools, and collaboration framework needed to mitigate risks, control cost and time so that targeted business objectives are achieved.

Recommendation #2 – Start by involving your organization (or client) IT leadership in workshops for capturing the executive vision and underlying business drivers

The bottom line with implementing IT agility is to equip your organization with competitive advantages that flow from your organization (or client) executive leadership vision. Trying to implement IT agility without the executive vision and related business drivers is like building castles built on sand. The executive vision provides the big picture that correlate the IT operating model and the expected competitive advantage.

Recommendation #3 – Leverage a use case diagram to discuss the IT operating model

It provides the visual support that facilitates discussions, communications, collaboration and decision making around the IT roles, responsibilities, processes, governance and tools needed to enable IT agility. Always involve folks from the strategic, tactical and operational levels of your IT organization (or client); it results in a greater adoption of the target operating model that facilitates IT agility implementation.

Recommendation #4 – Always involve IT folks including Application Developper, Service Transition and IT Operation experts in the service catalog and SLA definition workshops

IT folks are primarily are the first concerned about the IT operating model supporting the implementation of your organization’s IT agility; their contribution will result in an IT operating model in line with your IT organization’s culture, requirements, and expectations and more importantly, in the accelerated adoption of your organization’s IT agility capability.

Recommendation #5 – Take advantage of the industry’s proven IT service management frameworks including IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL), IT Service Capability Maturity Model (CMM), and eSourcing Capability Model for Client Organization (eSCM-CL)

Cloud computing is about delivering IT services; 90% of recommendations and best practices of IT service management framework such as ITIL, IT Service CMM, and eSCM-CL which address the IT outsourcing issues remain valid. The weird thing is established IT vendors and consulting firms very rarely mention that central issue.

Sharing Value to Making Our Businesses and Lives Successful

The ideas, concepts, and recommendations in this posts built upon my observation of the IT industry, lessons learned from varied consulting works and cloud migration projects including public and private cloud based on technology as varied as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and VMware vCloud Director.

I highly encourage you to read Cloud Computing: Advanced Business and IT Strategies (to know more), the notions addressed in this post are detailed and illustrated through a complete and detailed real-life case study involving a major and global wireless operator