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Cloud Computing: Revolution vs. Evolution

Cloud Computing: Revolution vs. Evolution

To businesspeople, cloud computing is often regarded as a revolution. But to IT, it's just an evolution of infrastructure efficiency. Where does this dual vision come from? For IT, it's all about ways to improve delivery of the server-centric, application-centric environment, according to Capgemini's Andy Mulholland. "However, businesspeople ... reflect on it in terms of the change in society and the business world."

By Dana Gardner
03/03/12 5:00 AM PT

Andy Mulholland is the global chief technology officer and corporate vice president at Capgemini. In 2009, Andy was voted one of the top 25 most influential CTOs in the world by InfoWorld. And in 2010, his CTO Blog was voted best blog for business managers and CIOs for the third year running by Computer Weekly.

Capgemini has launched a white paper on cloud computing. It draws distinctions between what cloud means to IT and what it means to business while examining the complex dual relationship between the two.

As a lead-in to his recent Open Group conference presentation on the transformed enterprise, Andy drew on the paper and further drilled down on one of the decade's hottest technology and business trends, cloud computing, and how it impacts business and IT. The interview is moderated by Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions.


Listen to the podcast (36:27 minutes).

Here are some excerpts:

Dana Gardner: Why do business people think they have a revolution on their hands, while IT people look cloud computing as an evolution of infrastructure efficiency?

Andy Mulholland: We define the role of IT and give it the responsibility and the accountability in the business in a way that is quite strongly related to internal practice. It's all about how we manage the company's transactions, how we reduce the cost, how we automate business process, and generally try to make our company a more efficient internal operator.

When you look at cloud computing through that set of lenses, you're going to see ... the technologies from cloud computing, principally virtualization, [as] ways to improve how you deliver the current server-centric, application-centric environment.

However, business people ... reflect on it in terms of the change in society and the business world, which we all ought to recognize because that is our world, around the way we choose what we buy, how we choose to do business with people, how we search more, and how we've even changed that attitude.

There's a whole list of things that we simply just don't do anymore because we've changed the way we choose to buy a book, the way we choose and listen to music and lots of other things.

So we see this as a revolution in the market or, more particularly, a revolution in how cloud can serve in the market, because everybody uses some form of technology.

So then the question is not the role of the IT department and the enterprise -- it's the role technology should be playing in their extended enterprise in doing business.

Gardner: What do we need to start doing differently?

Mulholland: Let's go to a conversation this morning with a client. It's always interesting to touch reality. This particular client is looking at the front end of a complex ecosystem around travel and was asked this standard question by our account director: Do you have a business case for the work we're discussing?

The reply from the CEO is very interesting. He fixed him with a very cold glare and he said, "If you were able to have 20 percent more billable hours without increasing your cost structure, would you be bothered to even think about the business case?"

The answer in that particular case was they were talking about 10,000 more travel instances or more a year -- with no increase in their cost structure. In other words, their whole idea was there was nothing to do with cost in it. Their argument was in revenue increase, market share increase, and they thought that they would make better margins, because it would actually decrease their cost base or spread it more widely.

That's the whole purpose of this revolution, and that's the purpose the business schools are always pushing, when they talk about innovative business models. It means innovate your business model to look at the market again from the perspective of getting into new markets, getting increased revenue, and maybe designing things that make more money.

We're always hooked on this idea that we've used technology very successfully internally, but now we should be asking the question about how we're using technology externally when the population as a whole uses that as their primary method of deciding what they're going to buy, how they're going to buy it, when they're going to buy it, and lots of other questions. ...

A popular book recently has been The Power of Pull, and the idea is that we're really seeing a decentralization of the front office in order to respond to and follow the market and the opportunities and the events in very different ways.

The Power of Pull says that I do what my market is asking me, and I design business process or capabilities to be rapidly orchestrated through the front office around where things want to go, and I have linkage points, application programming interface (API) points, where I take anything significant and transfer it back.

But the real challenge is -- and it was put to me today in the client discussion -- that their business was designed around 1970 computer systems, augmented slowly around that, and they still felt that. Today, their market and their expectations of the industry that they're in were that they would be designed around the way people were using their products and services and the events and that they had to make that change.

To do that, they're transformed in the organization, and that's where we start to spot the difference. We start to spot the idea that your own staff, your customers, and other suppliers are all working externally in information, process, and services accessible to all on an Internet market or architecture.

So when we talk about business architecture, it's as relevant today as it ever was in terms of interpreting a business.

But when we start talking about architecture, The Open Group Architectural Framework (TOGAF) is a set of methodologies on the IT side -- the closed-coupled state for a designed set of principles to client-server type systems. In this new model, when we talk about clouds, mobility, and people traveling around and connecting by wireless, etc., we have a stateless loosely coupled environment.

The whole purpose of The Open Group is, in fact, to help devise new ways for being able to architect methods to deliver that. That's what stands behind the phrase, "a transformed enterprise." ...

If we go back to the basic mission of The Open Group, which is boundarylessness of this information flow, the boundary has previously been defined by a computer system updating another computer system in another company around traditional IT type procedural business flow.

Now, we're talking about the idea that the information flow is around an ecosystem in an unstructured way. Not a structured file-to-file type transfer, not a structured architecture of who does what, when, and how, but the whole change model in this is unstructured.

Gardner: It's important to point out here, Andy, that the stakes are relatively high. Who in the organization can be the change agent that can make that leap between the duality view of cloud that IT has, and these business opportunists?

Mulholland: The CEOs are quite noticeably reading the right articles, hearing the right information from business schools, etc., and they're getting this picture that they're going to have new business models and new capabilities.

So the drive end is not hard. The problem that is usually encountered is that the IT department's definition and role interferes with them being able to play the role they want.

What we're actually looking for is the idea that IT, as we define it today, is some place else. You have to accept that it exists, it will exist, and it's hugely important. So please don't take those principles and try to apply them outside.

The real question here is when you find those people who are doing the work outside -- and I've yet to find any company where it hasn't been the case -- and the question should be how can we actually encourage and manage that innovation sensibly and successfully?

What I mean by that is that if everybody goes off and does their own thing, once again, we'll end up with a broken company. Why? Because their whole purpose as an enterprises is to leverage success rapidly. If someone is very successful over there, you really need to know, and you need to leverage that again as rapidly as you can to run the rest of the organization. If it doesn't work, you need to stop it quickly.

In models of the capabilities of that, the question is where is the government structure? So we hear titles like Chief Innovation Officer, again, slightly surprising how it may come up. But we see the model coming both ways. There are reforming CIOs for sure, who have recognized this and are changing their role and position accordingly, sometimes formally, sometimes informally.

The other way around, there are people coming from other parts of the business, taking the title and driving them. I've seen Chief Strategy Officers taking the role. I've seen the head of sales and marketing taking the role.

Certainly, recognizing the technology possibilities should be coming from the direction of the technology capabilities within the current IT department. The capability of what that means might be coming differently. So it's a very interesting balance at the moment, and we don't know quite the right answer.

What I do know is that it's happening, and the quick-witted CIOs are understanding that it's a huge opportunity for them to fix their role and embrace a new area, and a new sense of value that they can bring to their organization.


Dana Gardner is president and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, which tracks trends, delivers forecasts and interprets the competitive landscape of enterprise applications and software infrastructure markets for clients. He also produces BriefingsDirect sponsored podcasts. Follow Dana Gardner on Twitter. Disclosure: The Open Group sponsored this podcast.


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