Private, Public and Hybrid Clouds Will All Need an IT Service Culture

As more companies move to the cloud, one thing is becoming clear: IT must develop a service culture to keep end users happy.

May 15, 2012

5 Min Read
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Whether IT focuses on a public, private or hybrid cloud computing strategy, it's going to be measured on service like never before. As a result, more and more IT executives are focusing on service culture development.

Servicing the systems and the applications you deploy would seem to be second nature, but it never has been for IT. All too often, new systems and applications have such demanding requirements that no sooner do you wrap up one project than you're off to the next one. At the end of the day, your feet get held to the fire by upper managers who want IT quickly deployed so the business can reap the benefit. There are few penalties if you skimp on support and service.

To further compound things, the IT skill set traditionally comes up short in so-called "soft skills" like people management, teamwork, written and verbal communications, and service. By nature, IT professionals tend to be task- rather than people-oriented--and the IT culture rewards technical and project management performance more often. As a result, CIOs have their work cut out for them because the cloud is going to require excellence in service.

What makes cloud computing different? For starters, outside cloud vendors are pitching to end-business managers, not IT. "It seems that every month, I get word about a new cloud application that the company is considering," says an IT director at a Fortune 500 manufacturer. "Sometimes I get word of an offering after the contract has already been signed with an end-business department, and I'm simply being told to assist the cloud provider in onboarding our company, and to manage the contract and the service agreement."

The service-level agreement lists what the company should expect from the vendor. If these service levels aren't stated, companies are increasingly demanding that they be added to the agreement. The best companies meet quarterly with vendors to review service performance.

While all of this is going on, there has also been a notable shift toward private clouds. During the past two years, companies have become comfortable with cloud solutions and what they can deliver--but there have been few improvements to eliminate security concerns surrounding public cloud providers. The security concerns are so pronounced that even very small businesses are implementing private clouds, thanks to a plethora of vendors offering "cloud in a box" solutions that are practically plug and play.

End users, however, expect the same service culture from a company's private cloud that outside providers promise.

Next: Service and Collaboration ChallengesThe question facing IT is: Can it quickly attain the levels of service that end users are likely to expect? The short answer: There are several dynamics within traditional IT operations and culture that CIOs will need to address in order to make a successful transition to service.

It's no secret that the majority of IT staff members prefer task-oriented, technical work, which the IT culture traditionally rewards. The best application developers and system programmers get six-figure salaries and are canonized into prestigious positions. However, as IT moves into a service culture, new staff positions demanding both technical expertise and soft skills will be needed. Chief among them is the internal account executive, who will reach out to users and be their advocate with internal IT. This account executive will likely be evaluated on the strength of verbal and written communications, the ability to run meetings and collaborate, and skills from which he or she can build consensus for solutions between disparate groups of stakeholders.

After the account executive, there's a need for project managers who can not only run technical projects but also successfully bring people and goals together. That's not an easy combination to find. "You can be the best technical program developer, but if you can't communicate, you can reach a point where you're not useful," says Louise Magee, human resources manager at Allstate in the United Kingdom. "We continue to look for IT professionals who can communicate, interact positively with users and be strong team players. These are the people soft skills in IT that we often find missing."

Private cloud-based services are going to span multiple platforms and systems in IT. They are also going to demand strong collaboration among staff members with different IT specialties. This is easier said than done in many organizations because IT staffs are siloed into highly specialized areas and don't consistently cross-communicate on a daily basis. Each group also tends to use its own tool sets for monitoring, fine-tuning and trouble-shooting systems. When they come together to work on an issue, each can potentially defend its "area" of the problem by saying that its tools indicate its systems are functioning normally. "It's a bad situation," says a CIO at a large financial services company. "Everyone passes by the glassed-in 'war room,' where all of these expensive systems experts are meeting and debating whose fault the problem is. Meanwhile, the users just sit and wait."

Strategies CIOs Are Likely to Consider

IT is entering the private cloud era with a solid set of best practices in transaction processing, database and network management, and data center management. It will also have to develop and reward for people skills and user management and collaboration. Most CIOs already know that service is an IT Achilles' heel. The key is developing a new set of IT goals and strategies that can cultivate a service culture. Some IT organizations are already making strides with service by employing strategies such as:

  • Developing a set of IT service metrics such as time to respond, time to repair and system uptime that reward IT for exceptional performance

  • Developing new positions in IT, to allow for more meetings with end users to review service-level performance and discuss business IT needs

  • Breaking down technical silos within IT by restructuring the IT organization and replacing specialty tool sets with a common set of data and tools that everyone uses

  • Evaluating how well IT is meeting the needs of the business

"Over 20 years ago, we made a strategic decision that we would be business-driven and that we would have to sell any IT solution to our business units first," says John Heller, CIO at Caterpillar. "We developed a comprehensive ROI formula that measured 15 or 20 different cost categories, and that ultimately came down to a cost per end user. When I talk to CIOs of other organizations, I realize that this approach is somewhat unique to us."

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