Join the cloud revolution: I think you’ll need to do it, but you have to see this as an entirely new way of working. It’s not just a step on from outsourcing. Lindsay Miller CIO Acision gives his view business perspective
A world leader in mobile data, Acision solutions enable companies to drive new revenues through more innovative services: to better control, optimise and ‘monetise’ data traffic. With 60% of SMS traffic going through Acision software, its customers include eight of the top 10 global mobile operators. Lindsay Miller has been the company’s VP of ICT, the de facto CIO for thisworldwide company, since 2008. Previously with Logica plc, he’s a member of the CIO Community on LinkedIn. So first things first:what does Miller make of the cloud?
There's been a lot of confusion, not helped by the IT industry itself,” he says. “For some, self-interest means they will eke out their existing products and approaches as long as possible while they ready themselves for the next generation of IT solutions. For customers, people have heard of the cloud but many aren’t sure what it is and what they should do about it. But many will already have some presence in the cloud, through their data centre or managed hosting, say. We’ve had our toes in the cloud for almost three years through salesforce.com, developing our own understanding of how we can utilise the cloud. The cloud is changing the rules, which can only be a good thing.”
Miller says that, in essence, the cloud is “a very different way of delivering services. Ultimately, you shouldn’t care where that service is delivered from: you buy it and utilise it. But that sort of thinking is going to challenge people massively. The real strength of the cloud, for me, is you just use a service, you don’t try to be special. The advantage comes in that everyone is using the same core applications and infrastructure.
The real value, the real power, lies in the information and data you’ve collected and use.”
Miller has overall responsibility for Acision’s IT, infrastructure and applications, which support 1,600 employees across the world and customers in 100 plus countries. He is based in the UK, while most of the IT organisation sits elsewhere; the key applications platform in the Czech Republic.
“Technology is essential to our business. First, our customer-facing infrastructure is used to deploy and support our products. Second, our business enablement infrastructure supports the organisation. Keeping it all running smoothly is a 24/7 activity, 365 days of the year. When you see just how many SMS run through our software you can appreciate just how important IT is to our business.” He continues, “The last few years have been very challenging. Now more than ever, people want to do things faster, better and cheaper - but that’s been true about IT from day one. You know, technology only really moves quickly when there are real pressures on business to perform. I think we’re starting to see business pick-up again, and the question people are asking is: what happens next?
What’s the next stage in how IT will help my business?” For many, Miller says, the cloud points the way.
“A CIO always wants things faster, better, cheaper and more reliable. Which should lead us into looking at new ways to do things. Existing models for outsourcing and offshoring will no longer give business the impetus it needs - hence the cloud.” He says this trend has arisen, in part, because there are no longer any geographical constraints for businesses and IT. “I have four IT staff in the UK. But we have IT people and operations across the world. Today, companies can deliver and consume IT services from anywhere, which poses new challenges for everybody.”
As for the benefits promised by the cloud, Miller says: “Ultimately it’s going to be cheaper. Maybe not right now, but that will be the case. And businesses will need fewer specialist skills, especially in IT; or rather, skills will focus around applications and services rather than infrastructure. Companies will no longer need big global networks, as staff anywhere simply need a connection to the Internet. Enterprises won’t need complex networks. Businesses can start using ‘core’ applications – finance, CRM, and so on – in a more ‘standard’ way rather than spending huge amounts customising them.
People have invested massively in ERP but, if you’re buying and selling something, you’re doing much the same as lots of other companies. It’s the underlying information and knowledge you’ve gathered that’s valuable. Banks virtually all offer the same things in similar ways. Conceivably, all banks could run on one cloud platform.
It’s the knowledge they hold, on accounts and customers, their experiences, that really counts.” So what of the future? “The cloud’s only just got started,” Miller asserts, “and it will continue to change as the Internet itself is redefined. Look at Apple and its apps: cloud now is mainly based on an old portal concept but apps moved away from that model to empower consumers instead. A big challenge for enterprises, for CIOs, is to embrace that consumer model and all the benefits it suggests for their organisations, in terms of greater control and lower costs. And there will be big questions to answer around the interoperability of applications and sharing of data across multiple clouds and providers - and there will be many to choose from.
The cloud provides that choice and flexibility, which itself can be unsettling. That’s why you need to plan your approaches carefully and know where you’re going.” As for the pace of change, Miller says Acision’s own objective “is to move as much into the cloud as we can in the next 2-3 years. We’re starting with standard stuff, like email and SharePoint, and will then move progressively to bigger applications. However, if providers get theiract together faster we might move something like ERP into the cloud faster too, given it’s so expensive to run. Within three years, the core of our business will be in the cloud. And it won’t be a ‘private cloud’ either; I don’t see the value of going back to traditional outsourcing approaches.
For us, the cloud is a quantum move, not about taking small steps. Of course, how you make that move is the big question; how can you test and prove that what you’re doing is the right thing? But,
I believe it’s something that has to be done. And I’ll say it again: your data and information is the critical element, not the applications.”
Miller suggests some advice for CIOs considering a move into the cloud: “I think you’ll need to do it, but you have to see this as an entirely new way of working. It’s not just a step on from outsourcing. Before you make your move, you need to be sure your business is able to make that leap, or understand what you need to change to enable it. In part, it’s about acknowledging that infrastructure’s already a commodity and applications are going the same way. What’s already second nature to us as consumers, how we access and use apps, still seems unnatural for enterprises. Making that leap is the first thing a CIO needs to do. In terms of IT resources and services, enterprises need to truly join today’s consumer society - because that's the cloud.