Five Steps to Cloud Choice Confidence

By Tim Bull -

icon showing hand selecting shirt with cloud imagery

In-house cloud tech competency is on the rise. So why is cloud choice confidence on the decline? Find out why and learn how to position yourself to make continual IT choices, fast — and transform business-as-usual. 

Why choosing cloud services is like choosing your shirt

Making the right cloud service choices is important. But it’s tricky. To explain what I mean, let’s start with an analogy. Here’s why choosing cloud services is like choosing your shirt: 

  • You need to think about making the right choice every day.
    Yesterday’s shirt may not smell so great.
     
  • You need to get into good routines that enable you to make and act on that choice
    Up, shower, iron and at ‘em!
     
  • More people may be left unimpressed by your choice than agree with it.
    Fashion or style? Form or function?
     
  • Despite a lack of consensus, you must choose anyway
    Turning up to work shirtless can be professionally catastrophic (even at cool places like Rackspace Technology).
     
  • It’s not the same as choosing your friends, TV, fridge or traditional servers.
    Choose those well and they should last for years.
     

To put it another way, last year two leading industry analysts surveyed that CIO/CTO ‘platform choice confidence’ (i.e., they know where they are going to put their apps for the next two years) is less than half what it was four years ago. On the face of it, this seems incongruous as there are hundreds more really viable platform configuration options than there were four years ago (public, private, VM, Kubernetes, IaaS, PaaS, SaaS etc.).

Not only are there lots of viable platform options, in working with many different cloud customers as a solutions leader at Rackspace Technology, it’s clear that in-house cloud tech experience, familiarity and competency has increased significantly in the last one-to-two years. Our customer partnerships are now far more interactive, complex and sophisticated as a result.

 

So with more options and know-how, why is (cloud) platform choice confidence decreasing? 

Consider going to an exciting new restaurant for lunch and you have limited time to choose from a menu with new and unusual things on it. The dishes sound all kinds of delicious, but you’ve got a number of questions like: what are these weird ingredients? What do they taste like? Do they even go together? Sometimes we all have this dilemma, right?

So would adding more items to the menu help you choose faster? Would having more of your dining guests discuss their favourite dish help you? Possibly, but probably not.
 
If we’re struggling to choose what we really want to eat, we might apply some simple criteria: what major food groups and calories should I eat? What am I having later or tomorrow? What goes nicely with a certain dessert or wine I know or really want to try?

It’s important to set a few genuine criteria to help us choose quickly, and well. Whereas just reading the menu for inspiration, and then hoping a conclusion will come, often leaves us bamboozled by the gastro marketing of all the discreet ingredients and their provenance. It’s hard to order what we want or need to eat this way. Or perhaps we just order the thing most like the thing we had last time — which was ‘fine’ but can leave us feeling like it wasn’t worth spending the money. Does this sound anything like choosing platform services in your organisation? 
 
Research and experience show that for many organisations, there’s a good chance you may feel like making choices between cloud platforms can be very similar. As technology leaders, we must seek out new technology service benefits without knowing the tech intimately. We must listen to our incumbent staff and expertise. We must be mindful of industry trends and other companies’ experiences. We need to believe that our choices are not only good for our business but justifiable to our peers and customers. 

IT leaders now face an unprecedented challenge, where such a range of platform tech options changes so frequently that just being familiar with the ‘menu’ or some of the ‘ingredients’ often doesn’t result in the ability to make the best choices. 

The usual information channels (sales, marketing, word-of-mouth, influential techs, proofs of concept, white papers) and decision-making inputs (cloud centres of excellence, tech evangelists, procurement targets) often lead us into long term commitments that we struggle to adapt later. We are at risk of making choices that only really meet a certain silo of requirements. Even worse, the pace of cloud evolution means that choice will be harder to justify a year later when an appreciably ‘better looking’ option appears. We may have just made a very stiff rod for our backs in 12 months’ time or so.
 

How to make better cloud choices?

Our customers who are acing enterprise cloud consumption in even a handful of ways get this, and their inspirational leaders in technology platforms have made some deep changes in IT requirements management, and the operations that support decision-making and monitoring processes. This prepares them to make good business IT choices fast, but also to be hyper-ready to make continuous choices and change their business-as-usual. How? It’s not really answerable in a blog, but some consistent observations include:

 

  1. They don’t just keep the lights on in legacy IT, but aggressively optimise incumbent core business services to retain business performance with reduced leadership interventions. In doing this they can extend their influence and improve cashflow to invest in cloud ops and evolve. This can be hard, as it requires new energy spent on old stuff, often with some tough legacy IT choices.
     
  2. They build really strong relationships with internal and external customer bases so they can be sure of what those consumer group priorities really are for an application or data platform. This can be hard, as often their market demands are totally out of kilter with the tech, IT ops and IT incumbency-change realities. It is also often a very ‘non-IT discussion’ —which is often not why IT leaders work in IT at all.
     
  3. With laser focus they map those demands to not just the functional, but the often deprioritized empirical non-functional or service requirements (NFRs). They then continuously re-validate these via some form of platform service catalog review process. This up-to-date superset of NFRs must inherit an explicit or implicit priority because next comes the really hard bit of making delivery priority calls and possibly stakeholder compromises.
     
  4. They make decisions based on the platform consumer, budgetary and board priorities for the next 3-6 months. To many enterprise IT operational leaders, this can sound very short term, but having the efficient governance to operate at this cadence is fundamental. Whether it’s targeting cost savings, compliance/approvals, security or time to deploy, businesses will have weighted priorities at the top level that will be of esoteric importance at any point in time. And these priorities can change pretty quickly: priority development is why many businesses need different platforms operations at different times. No matter what they presume they need, it’s rarely the same as anyone else in that quarter or half-year.
     
  5. They quickly turn decisions into benefits-realisations plans, prepare their leadership and staff for some degree of change and failure, and prepare themselves to measure benefits-realisations progress. They track just a few KPIs like bloodhounds (daily or weekly) so that they can make another big decision in a month or two. Then repeat ad infinitum (and occasionally ad nauseum).

 

Who really does these things for diverse, enterprise platform management? I mean really? Very, very few. Most platform choices are made and stick for years, for better or worse. It’s tough when your 9-5 (or 8-8) is running the incumbent IT. That’s why you need to engineer yourself some proper time, energy and cashflow for cloud first. We see fairly well-defined cloud programmes stall just because there is no time from the internal domain experts and leaders to steer them. Easier said than done, but those who first make time to lead cloud governance are taking the first step to becoming the real cloud platform leaders. I have enormous respect for how they leverage their experience and knowledge and find the energy to always re-evaluate and realign teams and systems. They spend a lot of time driving cloud IT ops, through often not talking tech at all.

Note we’ve not even mentioned AWS or Azure or GCP or Kubernetes or VMware or you-name-it. Yet, despite that, we all work in IT and are often impatient to ‘solve’ — to propose a technology service option to buy or sell or reconfigure. Open those doors once you have done the work above, and the ensuing conversations will have no shortage of contributors and energy, steadied by new guardrails around contributing material benefits at the right time for your business.

What we’ve seen is that by investing the time in 1-5 above in advance of tech or service selection, customers get somewhat more ready to choose cloud services well. Their new cloud governance fundamentals are in place before getting stuck in the mire of technical architecture, engineering and product comparisons. They align to making good choices more quickly and more regularly with more accountability to their business and customers than they would have done if the conversation had started around a hyperscale product or virtualization layer or an orchestrated containerised mesh. Because cloud ops change so quickly, being able to react and respond to change, making choice a perpetual paradigm, comes from insight, consensus and teamwork fuelled by high levels of energy. Lose even one of these, and you’re at risk of just agreeing with the loudest or least contentious voice for far too long.

Achieving the above can be challenging, especially on your own. But it’s possible in a few months if you can believe in and follow a proven approach to becoming a true cloud platform leader. Our experience shows that in the current cloud service sector, this is no longer much to do with how much of a hyperscale public cloud footprint you have, how many engineers you have, or how automated your DevOps processes are.

Rackspace Technology often helps our customers enhance their operational service model for cloud and their platform service catalog. We also help to strengthen decision making criteria before we supply specific application or cloud services (the core of our business). During this early engagement, the success of both customer and Rackspace Technology is mutually aligned: if you don’t choose well, we don’t succeed as a provider either. Being merely cloud ‘agnostic’ is too passive in this sort of working partnership: we help put you in the driving seat to change direction when it’s best for your business. We have built our business and services to support your choices, when you need to make them. We can help you make the big choices every month, starting with your appointed Customer Success Manager. Which of your other partners really does that? If you want to get into the detail of how and where we can start, we’d love to talk to you, as the focus is different for every business.
 

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