Is your private cloud strategy really working? What is your framework for success?

22nd December 2017
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Is your private cloud strategy really working? What is your framework for success?

Whether you want to take your IT operations to the public cloud, keep them on-premise, host off-premise using a private cloud model, or indeed choose to invest in a hybrid configuration, the IT Manager must start with a clear understanding of what they are trying to achieve from an IT and business perspective before embarking on their cloud journey.

This may seem like stating the obvious, but at Wanstor we have seen several cases recently where businesses have invested in cloud computing models without thinking about the outcomes they want from a cloud computing strategy.

It can be tempting to get caught up in debates and discussions about “cloud technology”, after all it is a major IT trend which lots of IT and business leaders are talking about in various online and offline publications. However just because something is a hot topic doesn’t mean the fundamental questions of business need are not addressed:

  • What are the key drivers for change?
  • Do we need to change?
  • Are we trying to reduce operational costs?
  • What do we need to do to improve the IT infrastructure environment to better support the business?
  • How can we make staff more productive through IT?
  • What is the right approach for achieving IT objectives over the next 12 months?

Obviously these are not simple questions with simple answers. As Wanstor has learned from our experience of working with 100’s of businesses across the UK on private cloud migration projects, the unique challenges of cloud computing require new ways of thinking, planning, and cross business collaboration to achieve common IT and business goals.

We’ve also seen that success can happen early in a cloud computing engagement by those IT leaders who are able to frame a realistic strategy at the beginning, which has definition and appreciation for the capabilities and limitations of the businesses they lead.

At Wanstor we say business decision makers need to have a “cloud frame of mind.” We believe a “cloud frame of mind” should be used to tackle the various strategic considerations required in a private cloud deployment project.

So let’s start at the beginning, what are you trying to do with your private cloud project?

Generally private clouds are invested in for one of 3 major business reasons:

Agility

  • Reduce time to market: Implement new business solutions quickly to accelerate revenue growth.
  • Better enable the solution development life cycle: Speed up business solutions through better development and test, and a fast path to production.
  • Be more responsive to business change: Deliver quickly on new requirements for existing business solutions.

Cost

  • Reduce operational costs: Optimize daily operational costs like people, power, and space.
  • Reduce capital costs or move to annuity-based operational costs: Benefit from reduced IT physical assets and more pay-peruse services.
  • Make IT costs transparent: Service consumers better understand what they are paying for.

Quality

  • Consistently deliver to better defined service levels: Better service leads to increased customer satisfaction.
  • Ensure continuity of service: Minimise service interruption.
  • Ensure regulatory compliance: Manage the compliance requirements that may increase in complexity with online services.

Where businesses locate their needs amongst these primary drivers and define their objectives as they consider their cloud computing options is a basic starting point in the process. For many in IT the private cloud is proving especially attractive, mainly for what it offers in terms of control over matters of security, data access, and regulatory compliance. Their primary interest in a private cloud architecture revolves around the pressures to cut costs without sacrificing control over essential data, core applications, or business-critical processes. The main secondary interests around private cloud computing are more to do with business growth and the possibilities it offers in terms of scaling workloads at different times of the year. This shows that IT leaders are beginning to think seriously about cloud computing as a way to turn IT into a business enabler rather than being seen as a costly department by other business unit leaders.

As identified above there are several drivers IT leaders are investigating as a means of reasoning to move workloads to a private cloud model. Once the IT leader has identified business needs and objectives, they should take the time to understand the capabilities, limitations, and complexities of their current IT environment, which starts by performing an analysis of technical and organisation maturity vs different capabilities of cloud computing. The next step is then to determine where you want to take your IT team and the business it is serving, and assessing the prerequisites for the desired objectives.

Many of the businesses we work with, start at a basic stage along their cloud optimisation journey. Usually they have already managed to consolidate infrastructure resources for better cost efficiencies through virtualization. If your business fits this profile, an acceptable outcome might be to advance your business to the next stage by implementing more sophisticated infrastructure level resource pooling, which would achieve still greater cost savings as well as a measure of improved time to market. Similarly, your current business capabilities may put you somewhere in the middle of the cloud maturity model, with a relatively high degree of sophistication in business areas you consider your top priorities, such as being able to respond to seasonal shifts in demand for example.

While your ultimate goal might be to bring platform as a service (PaaS) and software as a service (SaaS) architectures so you can leverage a larger set of hybrid cloud capabilities, such as anytime, anywhere access for your customers built on a unified set of compute, network, and storage resources, your near-term focus in the context of an infrastructure as a service (IaaS) model may just be in moving the dial specifically on automated provisioning and de-provisioning of resources. It’s in this approach, by making deliberate, incremental progress in the service of a longer-term strategy that real IT transformation occurs on a private cloud model.

The way forward is to recognise that changing to a functional private cloud model is an evolutionary process, where the investments you make in technology solutions must be evenly matched at each step by the maturity of your business in managing them. Your strategy must be carefully applied in those areas where your business is likely to benefit most. Indeed, not all capabilities of a private cloud need to be, or should be exploited.

The real task lies in balancing the potential goods of a private cloud solution against actual business needs, understanding your capabilities and limitations at each stage of the process, and putting a plan in place that charts a realistic, achievable course of action for getting it done.

The objectives you choose for your private cloud will raise a number of questions about the various technical and organisational implications of implementing your solution. Below are some examples of the kinds of questions IT Managers need to be able to ask in order to frame a comprehensive and realistic strategy for achieving private cloud objectives.

Self-service – Do you want to allow your users to provision the resources they need on-demand without human intervention? How much control should you relinquish? What are the potential consequences of offering a self-service model for common tasks? Will cloud computing be left unchecked and unused if individual users can select their own licences and usage limits, if so how much money will this cost the business, if accounts are left unused?

Usage-based – Pay-per-service, or “chargeback,” is one of the hallmarks of cloud computing, and if your private cloud strategy includes driving greater transparency of costs for better resource planning, you need to know the incentives you are trying to drive. Are you trying to reward good behaviour and punish bad? Do you wish to push more round-the-clock workloads to night time operations for power savings that support your company’s environmental initiatives?

Elasticity – Being able to respond efficiently to fluctuations in resource usage can represent a major selling point for cloud computing. It is important to consider first whether you really need a sophisticated system of automated provisioning and de-provisioning of servers to deal with fluctuations in demand. If significant and relatively unpredictable, then this capability may be appropriate. If the need is regular and predictable, straightforward automation may be sufficient for your purposes. Other questions you need to ask: Which applications are priorities, and which can be pushed back in terms of priorities?

Pooled resources – Consolidating resources to save on infrastructure, platform, and/or software costs is a common goal for large-scale IT operations. If you’re in a medium/large business with several independent departments potentially with their own IT operations, you are likely to encounter critical questions of process: E.g. Will independent groups deal with the inherent limitations of shared infrastructure and services? Will standardised configurations come at the cost of the optimised systems to which they’ve grown accustomed? As you move forward in the process of pooling your resources to get the benefits, you need to be aware of the likely trade-offs in putting everyone on a standard set of services. It may well be worth the cost to the business as a whole, but it may not seem that way to those who lose capabilities or levels of service to which they’ve been accustomed.

Comprehensive network access – As you move out from behind the business firewall and away from tightly controlled client configurations and network access scenarios, there are several important considerations that will need to inform your strategy, beyond the obvious concerns over security, such as the nature and extent of supportability: What kinds of personal devices will you support and to what degree? How will mobile clients (smartphones, operating systems and tablets) access network resources, and will you have the right levels of bandwidth to service them? What forms of authentication will you support?

Whatever objectives you are aiming to achieve, the important point to note is that building a private cloud is a process for which there are numerous tactical and strategic considerations. A successful private cloud implementation relies on the ability to think through all facets of the undertaking, clearly understanding the dependencies, trade-offs, limitations, and opportunities of any particular strategy. The reality for most businesses is that an incremental private cloud strategy is the only realistic path, given the technical and organisational complexity of current IT operations which exist as the business has invested large sums of money into them over a period of time.

Expectations and realities of cloud computing in a business IT context can prove a challenge to resolve. Many IT leaders understand why an incremental approach is needed, but those outside IT, are less clear about the real implications of implementing a cloud solution. The right strategy for achieving private cloud objectives must also include an appropriate communications strategy for setting and managing expectations for the business as a whole. With the whole business informed, from the board room to the front office, the hard work of defining and executing on your private cloud strategy is far more likely to achieve its objectives and set your business on the path to long-term success in the cloud.

For more information about Wanstor’s private cloud services click here.

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Reasons why business leaders need to consider outsourcing their IT service desk to a specialist provider

14th December 2017
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Service Desk Operatives smiling

At Wanstor we have recently been talking to a number of existing and potential customers about their IT service desk support. Our discussions have highlighted a number of major trends which IT departments and business leaders were not aware of putting pressure on IT service desk resources. For example:

  • Employees are more mobile than ever before, meaning things break at different locations
  • Employees attitudes to work are changing from a place where you go, to something you do as and when required
  • Different business departments wanting access to cloud services
  • More and more applications are being developed and used in day to day business
  • Data management becoming a serious headache as employees and customers demand access to it 24/7
  • More and more devices being used – leading to security and patch management issues in terms of the right levels of resourcing and making sure users are safe at all times from potential attacks
  • New technology and new devices are being launched all the time – What is the best way to offer support?
  • Growing operational costs of supporting a sprawling mixed vendor IT infrastructure
  • End users complaining about the time it takes to solve issues through the IT service desk

Traditional IT help desks used to service the business during opening hours and at fixed locations, however this is no longer good enough. IT support staff are now required to be multi skilled across a range of technologies and provide support to staff at different locations 24/7.

As business technology has become increasingly complex, the need for dedicated IT support services has grown. Typically the IT help desk has provided end users with little more than basic trouble shooting and issue management services. In the past when technology was made by only a few manufacturers, staff could easily be trained and appear knowledgeable about computers and IT infrastructure. However as business has become more reliant on technology, a standardised and documented helpdesk approach is needed, one which offers a consistent set of services and protocols for help desk staff. Over the past decade, IT help desk staff have started to become hindered by the sheer speed at which enterprise technology has evolved. There are a number of trends that have made it increasingly difficult for traditional IT help desks to provide the kinds of support that end users need:

These trends include:

  • Improvements in users personal IT has changed perceptions and expectations of what IT can help them with in their working lives. The user experience of smartphones and laptops is significantly better than even 5 years ago. What’s more, many of the leading technology providers provide consumers with a high standard of customer service (Just think of the apple store). So, when they call up their company’s IT service desk, they quickly become frustrated by untrained staff, staff who do not keep lines of communication open or inefficient processes which they have to go through to get a simple problem fixed.
  • Most of the modern workforce have been using advanced technology for the majority of their lives. Many employees are now capable of resolving minor troubleshooting problems and are also used to looking for answers online through search engines. Quite often, the IT help desk is a last resort for more complex problems, meaning IT help desk staff must be prepared to resolve more difficult issues.
  • As technology has evolved users are using a variety of software and applications in their business lives. Today, the typical business will be using 100’s of applications, with staff constantly connecting to the network with different kinds of personal and mobile devices. Expecting the service desk to monitor and support this complexity alone is problematic, as every user has a different IT need in terms of software and applications.
  • Employees want to work when they want to not when they are told to. This change in mindset with regards to work alongside the widespread acceptance of cloud technology and mobile devices, means business users are now able to access company content from their smartphones or laptops at any hour of the day. Most of the time this is hugely beneficial to the user and the company, allowing workers to be productive whilst out of the office. However, when they have problems logging onto the system, or syncing a document to their device, they need support instantly. When an IT help desk is closed at weekends or after 5pm, the service simply does not match up to user and business requirements.
  • More pressure is being placed on IT helpdesks. Staff turnover is constant as many internal IT helpdesk staff simply cannot cope with the demands being made of them. The HDI regularly states that the staff turnover rate on IT service desks is as high as 40% with many staff who do not leave complaining of stress and stress related illnesses. Such a high staff turnover means internal IT service desks often have extremely large training bills as they are constantly struggle to train and retain skilled staff members alongside many positions remaining unfilled.

The issues identified above have led many businesses to explore alternatives to the traditional in-house IT support approach. At Wanstor we believe the aim is not to replace the talent firms already have. Rather, the goal should be to extend and enhance in-house IT staff, by letting them focus their attention on high value strategic activities, whilst using a mix of outsourced staff and technology to support wider business and IT goals for highly intensive administration tasks.

At Wanstor we believe by enhancing internal IT services teams with improved help desk technology and outsourced IT service desk teams for high volume/admin heavy tasks, businesses can fill the skills, cost and user satisfaction gaps which exist and achieve the best possible ROI from their technology. The main reasons many business leaders are talking to Wanstor about outsourcing their IT helpdesks are:

Improved communication – Focussed on the specific needs of the business and end users

Training – Outsourced IT service desk staff specialise in providing customer support for a wide range of technologies. This means that they are trained with the latest versions of software solutions. They can also be trained to help with a business’s specific technology set up.

Cost savings – Many IT outsourcing companies provide contracts that give businesses the option to only pay for the services they need and use. An internal IT service desk is a fixed cost in terms of people and technology which needs to be provided even when the business does not require large volumes of IT support. By moving to a pay as you go IT service model, it has been proven through many extensive studies that operational costs of IT service desks can be cut by over 20% in many cases.

Outsourcing part of your IT support service will only be successful if the solution and partner you choose aligns with the specific needs of your business. It is essential that business and IT decision makers develop a plan of requirements and expectations before they engage with an IT partner. By taking the time at the outset to decide what the business actually needs from an IT support partner you can decide on whether you are looking for a partner to resolve repetitive problems like resetting passwords, or are looking for a close partnership where your IT help desk is fully supported by an external team and best in class technology.

At Wanstor we recommend all businesses do 5 things before they engage with and decide on an outsourced IT service desk partnership. They are:

  • Discuss what is going wrong with your existing IT helpdesk team and see if there are any process or people improvements which could be made to alleviate pressure and improve the service required back to the business
  • Interview a selection of end users and find out what they want/expect from an IT service desk and then evaluate if you already have the skills/capabilities to satisfy those user demands or if you definitely need some help
  • Have a vision of what you want the IT service desk to look like. Can you provide that vision with internal staff or do you need expert outside help to reach your IT and business goals. If you do want external IT support what does your ideal IT partner look like and what services should they provide?
  • Engage with a partner who can support your vision and has the expertise and experience to turn it into reality. Your partner should be able to advise you on what is realistic, and you should expect them to be able to guide you to a degree.
  • Set KPIs to judge whether your partnership is successful, it is highly valuable to measure progress. Conduct regular customer satisfaction surveys to find out whether your business users are now happier with the service they are receiving.

In summary, the traditional IT help desk model is redundant. Business technology has moved on and is still moving through its various lifecycles at a real pace. As a result, traditional IT help desks are simply unable to cope with the increased demands being placed on them. At Wanstor we believe the future IT service desk model is a hybrid one. One which uses internal IT teams for strategic high value IT programmes of work and an external provider who can look after all of the operational IT demands from users such as patching, password re-sets, application updates and making sure the right security is in place. Get the internal/external IT service provider mix right and your business could benefit from access to highly trained staff as and when it needs them, lower operational costs and improved end user satisfaction levels.

To find out more about Wanstor’s vision of the IT service desk of the future download our whitepaper here.

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