What Star Trek: Discovery taught me about cloud consulting

NCC-1031's crew is a prime example of an IT services consulting firm gone dysfunctional.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

Pictured: Anthony Rapp as Lieutenant Paul Stamets. (Image: Michael Gibson, CBS)

As a life-long science fiction television and film fan, I continue to be amazed by the storytelling and character acting on Star Trek: Discovery. And no, it's not just because it's a CBS property and I really want you to subscribe to CBS: All Access, where you can watch not just the new series, but also every episode of Trek beginning with The Original Series.


Captain Lorca carries the key performance metrics that his division needs to meet.

One of the main premises of Star Trek it that has always been a media vehicle for teaching us broad lessons about important issues in modern society. Whether it is war, sexuality, racism, or how we deal with "others," it has never been afraid to tackle the hard stuff.

Star Trek: Discovery's current plot arc is centered around the history of the Klingon/Federation conflict that has been discussed, but not shown, in the original series. The USS Discovery, NCC-1031, is a science vessel that has been hastily re-purposed to serve as a ship of war on the front lines with the Klingons.

There's a lot going on in terms of plots and subplots within the show. And it's a very different Star Trek show from what we have seen before. It's much darker, and the ethics and morality that we have come to expect from a starship crew are far blurrier than on earlier shows.

In addition to the parallels to current society that I see between the Federation and the Klingons, I see many parallels of the Discovery crew itself to roles within our IT profession, particularly in the services and consulting space.

The mysterious and ethically dubious Captain Lorca has the senior leadership role in his organization. I see him carrying the key performance metrics that his division needs to meet.

In a consulting services organization, that's very much a sales-driven role, which, for the most part, assigns priority in things like services offerings and go-to-market strategy based on what customers are asking for.

In Lorca's case, his primary customer is the Federation Admiralty. And his key performance metric is winning the war with the Klingons. Period.

In the cloud consulting space, "Winning the war" means displacing on-premises infrastructure, moving legacy workloads into the data center, and selling value-added services on top of public clouds run by providers that are looking for skilled partners to do the heavy lifting.


Lt. Stamets is equivalent to DevOps, systems architecture, or head of product development.

Lorca needs to sell his ship's capabilities to his customer. If he doesn't deliver on what he sells, and he doesn't meet his numbers, he's in deep trouble. So, he pushes and pushes his staff well beyond their limits of what they know they can deliver.

Everyone on Lorca's team has an important role to play in order to pull this particular consulting engagement off.

Lt. Stamets, the ship's resident mycologist, is front and center. He's the guy behind the Discovery's experimental "Spore Drive" that the ship can use to travel immense distances in the blink of an eye -- where traditional Warp Drive technology would take the ship weeks or months.

In cloud consulting, I would say he is equivalent to DevOps, systems architecture, or head of product development, in that he is the guy who really needs to understand the platform (Spore Drive) from an architectural perspective and whether it will do what Lorca claims it can do for his primary end-customer, the Federation.

Stamets has a ton of skin in the game and he is a massive stress-case. And, as it was seen in the last episode, he gets really upset when Lorca signs contracts and scopes stuff out without consulting him first.

The Spore Drive is alpha-level technology that has never successfully allowed the Discovery to leap across the galaxy in a single jump. At best, it has taken baby steps or proof-of-concept.


Lt. Saru heads the Project Management Office.

So, when Lorca tells the Federation admiralty, "Hey, no problem, we can jump across the galaxy to save Corvan II," a colony that mines a key strategic resource that is under attack from the Klingons, he rightfully gets pissed off.

Stamets was clearly not brought into the scoping effort or the statement of work (SOW) authoring stage when Lorca (sales) made commitments. No wonder the dude is always cranky.

Lt. Saru, our favorite 7-foot-tall alien, is the first officer aboard the Discovery. He takes direction from Lorca to make sure everything on this particular engagement runs smoothly. In other words, he heads the Project Management Office.

Stuff isn't running smoothly. So, he's also a stress-case, and his dendritic ganglion is squiggling off the charts.


Lt. Commander Burnham? She's delivery engineering.

And Lt. Commander Burnham? She's delivery engineering. She has to work with Saru in PMO to make sure the engagement hits Lorca's crazy milestones he's established with the Federation using Stamets' untested mushroom-powered Spore Drive.

Read also: The greatest Star Trek laptop stickers of all time (TechRepublic) | 20 Star Trek quotes to help you boldly go through the workday (TechRepublic)

Stamets may own the fundamental solutions architecture for Spore Drive and created the offering, but Burnham has to actually implement this half-baked tech regardless of the insane targets Lorca has committed his organization to hit with the extremely dangerous stuff Stamets is cooking up in his lab.

And when the goofy stuff doesn't work, she needs to come up with unconventional workarounds or else the whole mission is in peril. That means sometimes throwing Saru under the bus. So, he doesn't trust her one bit.

If it isn't obvious, the Discovery crew is very much dysfunctional. They need to work as a team and be in alignment with each other's goals, or they won't get anything done.

Services delivery in the cloud consulting space is no different. Sales, architecture, PMO, and delivery engineering has to be in sync or it all falls apart.

Sales need viable offerings that architecture creates, and it should not overextend the capabilities of the organization or make unrealistic commitments to customers using technologies that are arguably untested. It needs to bring in architecture and delivery engineering early into the process to define scope -- when the sales effort with the end customer is being started -- in order to minimize risk to the project.

Architecture and delivery engineering need to be in agreement that the solution works and meets customer expectations and that they have the bench and processes to pull it off.

Lorca can sell all he wants, but without having the right skills on staff and a mature consulting methodology, he can forget his bonus at the end of the year, because they'll be reaching into blue dollars to rectify customer satisfaction issues, or worse, they'll be dinner at Kol's table. And we know what it looks like when Klingons eat, it's not pretty.

Saru in project management needs to keep track of all the milestones and deliverables, but at the same time, delivery needs to fall in line with expectations and work with PMO to be sure the work breakdown structure will actually result in delivering the engagement successfully.

Burnham cannot continue to throw Saru in PMO under the bus whenever the project goes off the rails. They need to take ownership of the delivery process they agreed to.

I love this show, and the characters are indeed some of the most memorable we have seen on Star Trek, but if any of these people were working for my cloud consulting organization, I'd show them the airlock.

Do you have any of these personality types in your organization? Talk Back and Let Me Know.


Which is better: 'Star Trek' or 'Star Wars'?

CNET's Luke Westaway and Rich Trenholm ask which of the two greatest geek franchises deserves the top spot.

I've seen the future of 3D printing (think Star Trek replicator)

Competition continues to drive the breathtaking pace of 3D printing innovation. Here's what we can expect very soon from this transformative technology.

Star Wars at 40: It's 2017, and these aren't the droids you're looking for

40 years after the premiere of Star Wars, we're much closer to HAL and The Terminator than we are Artoo and Threepio.

Editorial standards