We gathered around 20 IT leaders from big companies to try and get a handle on how they use multi cloud to respond to customers’ changing demands – as they use ever more channels to interact with brands – and drive better business outcomes.
Conversations went far and wide, but here I’ve tried to distill the biggest takeaways from the night around multi cloud and how it helps to deliver new business methods, improved efficiencies, and reduced risk and IT expenditure.
1. Allow different business units to learn from ‘digging in the dirt’…
There’s no need to automatically admonish those who can’t find what they need in the corporate IT suite.
Some of the best ideas for innovation come from people who don’t follow the rules and use their credit card to buy cloud power outside of standard protocols.
Shadow IT is usually about finding ways to solve problems more effectively, so smart IT leaders look to embrace it, even if it seems to go against the business’s instincts. As one guest said, “It’s like you have to dig in the dirt and get your hands dirty.” When different teams adopt this approach and try new things, sometimes it’s going to feel like the equivalent of teams ‘digging in the dirt’. But where ideas don’t work out, there’s a good chance they’ll quickly pivot to better ways of meeting their specific needs.
The cloud is made for just this kind of experimentation, easily allowing teams to leverage different platforms in search of the best solution. Stifling people who can help the business find optimum ways of doing things doesn’t make sense.
2. But make sure you’re able to govern as teams innovate
“What happens when your marketing team puts all your data in the cloud?” hypothesised one guest on the (frankly terrifying) scenario of having no control over shadow IT.
These days your governance doesn’t just need to cover multi cloud, it’s more like multi-multi cloud, particularly for businesses across global territories. In this situation, organisations are potentially buying cloud-driven technology without IT’s knowledge, so costs and security risks are bound to escalate.
When it comes to shadow IT, prioritise discovery, understand what business value is being added, test it and then put safeguards around it so situations can never get out of control.
Things like shadow IT audits, which we do a lot of, are a structured way of getting back to basics and understanding what problem users are solving and seeing how the total cost of ownership stacks up. Managed security wraparounds for autonomous business units help you govern without stifling change.
3. Think about ‘two-speed’ IT
This idea held sway with many guests. There may be an issue you need to fix, or a customer demand you need to act on quickly. That’s when you call on ‘Fast IT’ to deliver at speed.
Fast IT is built through experimentation. It happens on-the-fly and is quickly deployed, tested and refined. This is unlike traditional ‘Core IT’, much of which happens in a ‘top down’ way, where technology is built from a clearly-defined list of requirements and can be counted on to support the work of thousands of people.
Fast IT creates smaller-scale tactical solutions that may well turn into a corporate solution years down the line, but only once you’ve walked around every element of cost and security for every user in every territory. That doesn’t stop its use in the here and now when you need to deploy new services in an agile way.
4. View IT as a commodity – don’t get locked in
“Our infrastructure? We don’t care who provides it.” This was an increasingly prevalent perspective articulated by one guest. In this mindset, you become the broker and IT becomes like gas or electricity – you don’t care who does the wiring, so long as you have a reliable and cost-effective supply. You also shop around every couple of years to ensure you’re getting a keenly-priced service.
‘Everything as a service’ (EaaS) has a lot of traction. As one guest said, “I don’t want to have to change databases and worry about resilience. Let someone else worry about it.”
Avoiding lock-in was a related theme. It’s vital to be able to get up and go and try something else if whatever you’re using now isn’t delivering the benefits you need.
5. Avoid technical debts
And one of the big benefits of EaaS is that its far harder to run up technical debts, where you give in to the temptation of choosing what feels like an easy solution now, instead of using a better approach that would take longer.
As one guest said, “When you do it yourself, the risk lies with you, and if you make mistakes, then you have to go back and do it again. This becomes ‘I’ll do it next year’, but with Everything as a Service, you don’t have to worry about that.”
And in terms of taking advantage of the latest tech innovations, as one guest put it, “I want software to evolve and don’t want to worry about the plumbing.”
6. Address tech-personality bias
It was interesting to hear so many historical tales of personal preferences at a senior level leading to major IT decisions and, ultimately, technical debts that more pragmatic IT leaders avoid.
One guest described their sector as wedded to Microsoft and thinking “Google is for start-ups.” Another described the difficulties of collaborating in scenarios where, say, the CEO was personally in thrall to one technology over another.
At Rackspace, we’re tech-agnostic and there’s no bias around one option over another. I may be biased but I strongly believe, as do it seems many senior IT leaders, that pragmatism drives improved business outcomes using multi cloud.