Does cloud computing drive business agility?

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Over the past few months, I’ve been talking to people about business agility. I recently attended the IBM Pulse 2014 conference where business agility and cloud computing were talked about at length.

Cloud agilityI heard business agility discussed strategically in keynote presentations and breakout sessions. Robert LeBlanc, Senior Vice President of Software and Cloud Solutions at IBM talked about the need for agility. Liz Herbert (@lizherbert), Principle Analyst at Forrester, talked about how the need for business agility is driving the need for IT speed.

Since then, I’ve been scratching my head and wondering: does cloud computing does really help your business become more agile?

I talked about cloud computing with people I know and met at the conference. We debated whether cloud computing, as people have traditionally understood it, drives business agility. In the old days, we used to think of cloud computing as simply an infrastructure play. Through the use of infrastructure as a service (IaaS) available through cloud providers like SoftLayer, we learned that IT can scale infrastructure faster and more dynamically. We learned that applications can be made available in different geographies because of the reach of cloud providers like SoftLayer.

Let’s suppose IT infrastructure can be delivered quicker and the solutions sitting on that infrastructure can be globally available and scale dynamically. Does this alone make a business more agile? Not necessarily! It helps but it doesn’t address some of the basic challenges in enabling business agility.

How can my business become more agile?

Let’s step back and talk about what a business needs. With the explosion of social media and the emphasis on two-way interactions with customers, businesses are starting to recognize that they need to respond much faster to events and opportunities. Businesses need rapid and dynamic responses to changes in the business environment.

They need new applications to help capture potential market opportunities and rapid changes to existing applications to allow them to respond more quickly. Businesses need solutions to be able to scale up or down depending on the success of a particular offering or campaign. They need it—and they need it now.

Should the business simply ask IT to deploy their applications in the cloud? Will that make the business more agile? Probably not.

What else needs to happen? What does the business need to do? Is there more that IT can do to enable a business to become agile? As a business, are you ready to adopt software as a service (SaaS) or business process as a service (BPaaS)?

As the business owner, you know your processes best. Why can’t you take advantage of BPaaS offerings that are available for your industry or segment? You understand your human resource (HR) processes. Why can’t you use Kenexa Talent Management on the cloud to help you manage your HR processes?

Why do you need to have IT build specialized applications when those applications are already available? If you have a need for digital push marketing, shouldn’t you be able to leverage capabilities that have already been built? Why can’t you use Xtify to deliver that capability?

And how must IT help?

IT can think differently about how they deliver solutions. Fundamentally, business needs IT to deliver quicker and to be adaptable, flexible and agile.

IT needs to take advantage of new development methods that support continuous deployment, continuous testing and continuous feedback. DevOps, which focuses on communication, collaboration and integration, is a method that organizations are starting to adopt to deliver high quality solutions quicker.

To fully embrace DevOps, you need to be ready to develop using platform as a service (PaaS), such as that provided by Codename: BlueMix. BlueMix allows you to quickly and dynamically assemble and build your application using available building blocks to assemble and deploy applications.

BlueMix helps developers move from concept to solution very quickly. They can assemble prebuilt components to build an application. Developers can build these applications without knowing anything about the middleware they’re taking advantage of or the infrastructure on which it sits.

It’s true that IT operations still needs to needs to provide infrastructure. However, by leveraging infrastructure as a service (IaaS), available through cloud providers like SoftLayer, IT gains the ability to provision and provide infrastructure on demand, whether it be servers, storage or network. You can scale up or you can scale down. You can build in one location or across the world. You don’t need to worry about procuring and installing or configuring hardware. Instead you provision it and it’s ready to use.

If I do this, will my business be agile?

My view is that business agility requires more than simply embracing cloud computing.

According to Faisal Hoque of BTM Research “… companies are agile because they have converged their management of business and technology. Organizational constructs, processes, and management behaviors drive business agility, and as a result, lead to improved financial performance.”

After looking at this definition, my answer would be that cloud computing does not by itself make a business agile. Cloud computing, however, does move a company significantly along the path to business agility.

What are your thoughts? Comment below, or connect with me on Twitter @FRBauerle.

Check out more coverage from IBM Pulse 2014

Mike McGuire: A conversation with Steve Twist, Australian cloud expert

Frank Bauerle: Does cloud computing drive business agility?

Indrajit Bhattacharya: Bottlenecks and cloud scaling

Allan Tate: Three ways IBM Pulse 2014 exemplifies our times

Rob Phippen: Integration and cloud: A new chapter in a long story

Sarit Sotangkur: Five key takeaways for developers

Rakesh Ranjan: The data scientist’s guide to BlueMix

Angel Luis Diaz: IBM to sponsor Cloud Foundry Foundation

Michael J. Fork: IBM leads with Codename: BlueMix

Steve Strutt: Standing room only at Open Cloud Summit

Ron Kline: Hybrid cloud is here (and its future is dynamic)

APS Cloud Delivery/SaaS Enablement

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