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How agility, ability & execution deliver on the business value of cloud

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Michael Fitzgerald

Michael Fitzgerald

The benefits of cloud computing have been touted in this and countless other IT industry publications. But there’s often a disconnect between the deployment and the business outcomes.

It’s Michael Fitzgerald’s job to connect the cloud strategy to the business value. As partner and global leader for IBM Cloud’s CIO Advisory Services, Fitzgerald is tasked with making sure organizations are seeing a return on their cloud investment. So, who better to talk to how to ensure that your organization is making the right investment?

Thoughts on Cloud recently caught up with Fitzgerald at the IBM Cloud Innovation Forum in Naples, Fla., to find out what CIOs are looking for in the cloud today. For an expanded version of this interview, be sure to watch the video below.

 What does it mean to you to have business expertise built into your cloud?

 Having business expertise built into your cloud is really about the execution of business processes via the agility and the ability to field processes dynamically in the cloud. If you think about the ability to stand up a new service, like a cloud business service or a cloud service brokerage, you’re really talking about the ability, in real time, to assemble different components, assemble the process and execute the process. This is the case whether it’s transaction processing, whether it’s setting up a new campaign or a transportation management process. The ability and agility you have via the cloud or cloud brokerage services is allowing you to do what SOA was ultimately supposed to do—that’s really what I view as business agility in the cloud.

 What are some ways you’re helping CIOs deliver higher value from their technology investments?

 Applications have to run on something, so when you have agile, deployable, consumable compute that your applications can run against, that’s the number-one way they can quickly deliver value to the business. We think of it in three different tiers. CIOs are delivering projects and services, so those high-value projects have to get out there quickly. They have to not fail. They have to have a high degree of resilience, and they have to make a difference in the business. They have to interact with the systems of record—the back end systems. So the whole idea of composing real-time development activities that can interact with long, stable running systems of record is really the most important thing we help them do.

We call that “unbundling IT,” where you’re taking this mess, composing it into very understood and segmented areas so that you can focus on effectiveness. As (IBM CEO) Ginni Rometty  says, “Clarity drives execution.”

 When it comes to implementing cloud strategy, what are some of the latest critical must-haves that you’re hearing when talking to CIOs?

 They have to segment the talent. The people who were building SAP systems or Oracle systems or big back-end processing systems are really not the people, the talent, who are building these new systems of interaction or systems of insight. So for CIOs, it’s really a matter of getting the right talent in place so they can execute the plays they call.

So, are CIOs facing a lack of talent in the marketplace right now, and how is that being addressed?

 It’s a need for more talent. There is a war for talent out there. For example, American Express is trying to insource application development because they see that as a strategic differentiator. But it’s difficult to hire 3,000 programmers into American Express when they might want to go to Silicon Valley. Walmart, for example, their web services is a project called Brisbane out of San Francisco—not Northwest Arkansas.

 We’ve often seen that cloud is not just about the technology alone, it’s about a company culture shift toward innovating with cloud. How have you seen this shift happen most effectively?

 I think it’s when you can look at it and realize it’s not about everything. Just like digital isn’t about zeroes and ones, cloud isn’t just about virtualization. Cloud is about the API economy. It’s about thinking of different ways to compose and execute compute so that it beats logic, and logic is, in my mind, applications, while compute is the infrastructure it runs against. When you take that whole, and look at all the different ways you can do different mash-ups, when you can look from a cloud business perspective and you can bring a business component in. SOA was always supposed to be a component you can just plug in to your enterprise and give you capability. CIOs are thinking differently about IT, where they’re not hiring rafts of system administrators, they’re now hiring rafts of people to write code that is going to go into production every 90 days—that’s the new culture of cloud.

 Hybrid cloud is obviously a huge focus right now. What would you say is your hybrid cloud philosophy, and where is the IT industry headed with hybrid?

 Every workload can’t be put on a cloud. If you look at SoftLayer and you look at Azure and the different big compute systems, they’re basically Intel still. There’s big back-end systems of record and big data warehouses, and sure, you could try to put them all on the cloud and deal with that, but it’s a lot of money. And is that worth your time and investment right now? So it’s kind of a pace-layer activity where a lot of the old IT that’s very intense—especially transaction processing systems—are going to stay on their old base. Maybe you virtualize it or isolate it in some way. But the new systems that are coming online are going to be cloud-ish types of systems that will all be compatible or they’re going to go to SoftLayer-type platforms. All of the new stuff is going to be cloud, which is the hybrid environment that’s just going to have to exist.

What are the keys to a strong transformational agenda for companies looking to move more of their workloads and business units to the cloud?

 Transformation is a touchy word. One organization’s three percent change might be another organization’s transformation. It’s really a matter of gaining clarity about  what outcome you want. Do you want to move the needle on cost? Do you want to move the needle on client satisfaction? Do you want to move the needle on profit? Revenue? It’s really a matter of getting those big business goals and then driving it through in a very disciplined and focused way to what outcome you want from your organization. Then it’s a matter of coming up with a plan and executing. It’s a lot harder than that sounds, but having a clear focus on the outcomes allows you to drive to the measures that are going to produce those outcomes.

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