What cloud providers still get wrong, and what customers could do better

Despite the rapid expansion in suppliers and services, there are still areas where the cloud industry could change for the better, according to one IT director.
Written by Toby Wolpe, Contributor
Jaguar Land Rover's shift to becoming a major consumer of cloud services has taught it some important lessons. Image: Jaguar Land Rover

The cloud industry may have grown up quickly over the past few years, but it still has some way to go to improve in certain key areas.

Its main shortcoming lies in the way cloud providers treat larger business customers, according to Alex Rammal, director of IT at car maker Jaguar Land Rover.

"My biggest issue when dealing with cloud companies is that they still don't always seem to have made the move away from a consumer-based business to an enterprise-based business," Rammal told an audience at the recent Cloud World Forum in London.

"For us to be successful with them, they have to learn that different way of acting with large-scale corporate customers."

However, even if cloud providers adjust their model to cater for the demands of enterprise customers, any hope of building a relationship will vanish if they take the wrong approach to winning business.

"One of the things that really gets my goat — normally enough for me to stop any relationship with a cloud provider — is when they go directly to the business with a sales pitch effectively saying, 'We can do this without involving your IT department'," Rammal said.

"Sounds lovely — up until they need to integrate with some of the legacy environment. Then suddenly we're left with a badly thought out, badly architected plan. So that's a definite a no-no to me.

"The world of IT has changed substantially. We're not the blockers that we may once have been. Cloud companies need to understand they need to work with us on that process."

Not only should providers work with IT, they should be doing more with artefacts and evidence to help technology professionals make the case for cloud to the business.

"It frustrates me that every time I want to move a new system or a new application to the cloud I have to go through the same legal loopholes to make sure we're signed off that it's data compliant, PCI compliant," Rammal said.

"What I'd really like is some help from the cloud companies to provide that out of the box, to try and take the majority of that conversation away."

But progress not only needs to be made by cloud providers. User organisations also need to improve their approach in the delivery of cloud projects.

"We need to get better at working in the same ways as the cloud companies to allow us to put those solutions in, more easily and simply than we can possibly make it with our current processes," Rammal said.

"We need to be more versatile with our business processes. We had some issues with some early cloud solutions that we put in where we expected the cloud provider to change their processes within the systems to suit our way of working.

"The cost of doing that ... we probably may as well have just gone down the bespoke route. Part of the benefit should be that standardised process that we can implement out of the box using a SaaS solution."

However, even where companies want to adopt more cloud-based services, they are being hampered by a lack of expertise.

"Things such as vendor management I find really lacking when we're looking at recruiting graduate and junior level staff. To me, these are more important skills moving forward than some of the traditional computer science type environment," Rammal said.

He believes companies need to get better at influencing cloud providers' roadmaps.

"We work hard with Google, for example, to understand what's coming up in the future and make sure there's an enterprise point of view that helps drive their roadmap. We've got a lot better at that. There's still a long way to go," Rammal said.

As well as improving the company's ability to understand the budget implications of cloud for internal finance processes, what is really needed is a clear strategy, which will reduce the number of detailed discussion about projects.

Businesses also need to research cloud providers and technologies extremely carefully because moving later between suppliers remains a major issue.

"There is something close to a 100 percent retention rate on collaboration cloud software, so you have to do your research and make sure that you've got that right up front," Rammal said.

"So my takeaway thoughts on this would be for the cloud providers: think enterprise. We're not a consumer base, we have to be treated slightly differently. And from the end user company, be brave. We have to be more receptive to change.

"I always find it strange that IT departments, who are the people who probably introduce the most amount of change to companies, are generally the ones who find it hardest to manage that change themselves. We have to get better at that."

Jaguar Land Rover's shift to becoming a major user of cloud services came in part out of its complex history of ownership: nationalised, privatised, part of the Rover group, part of BMW, and then Ford before being sold to Tata Motors in 2008, just as recession hit and car sales fell 21 percent in the UK alone.

That complicated history left the company with a fragmented IT landscape consisting of legacy applications, lots of systems and interfaces, broken processes and high running costs.

On top of that, the recession meant there was no scope for substantial capital investments to replace the 100 or so projects that were running at any time and the heavy reliance on onsite, onshore contract resources. The company had 18 months to separate itself from Ford with a need for its IT to become more scalable and global.

Five years later, Jaguar Land Rover has Google Enterprise as its main cloud provider, with 25,000 seats and a major investment in collaboration. The firm is also a significant AWS user for its QA and development environment.

Parts of the company's SAP CRM system are in the cloud, with its ecommerce platform hosted in the SAP HANA cloud and IBM's FlexNet employed for its private cloud. It also works with a number of other cloud providers for one-off systems, such as Steelwedge for its sales and operations planning.

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