Author: Rich Hillebrecht, CIO at Riverbed Technology
Enterprises are growing increasingly comfortable migrating from on-premise applications based in the data center to cloud-based services, and that signals a significant change in the role of the IT department. Traditionally, IT has had complete autonomy and control over the selection and rollout of new hardware and software applications, with no input from users. Today, IT is evolving into a service provider capable of tailoring applications to the unique needs of individual business units. This demands that IT controls the presentation of a new app to users, ensures it works across all devices, and all users across multiple departments and locations are happy with their experiences. IT is, in essence, taking the lead, delivering real business value by empowering employees to be more productive and collaborative while ensuring applications and information stores are secure.
Consider the cloud-based word processing, spreadsheets and presentation tools available today that did not exist even a few years ago. Slowly but surely, the venerable desktop version of Microsoft Office is giving way to robust online solutions from Microsoft, Google, Apple and others that enable true real-time collaboration among users. And many of them tie into cloud storage services like Dropbox and Box to further enhance user productivity, relieving IT of the responsibility of installing and maintaining huge storage racks in the data center.
Adoption of these cloud-based tools among large-scale enterprises, which have trailed smaller businesses in adoption rates, has risen sharply in 2015. For example, data security software developer BitGlass recently released its second annual Cloud Adoption Report, which found that Office 365 adoption has grown more than 300 percent to 25.2 percent of enterprises, compared to just 7.7 percent in 2014.
Not only have enterprises been slower than SMBs to adopt cloud computing applications, but they’re also actually behind some of their own employees. “Shadow IT” is now a well-established phenomenon, but what may still surprise even the savviest CIO is just how many employees are using these applications, particularly those that are cloud-based, and how extensive the selection has become.
In February 2015, cloud security platform developer CipherCloud issued the findings of a year-long study on cloud usage. A couple of the more startling findings from the “Cloud Adoption & Risk Report in North America & Europe – 2014 Trends”:
• Enterprises vastly underestimate the extent to which shadow IT cloud applications are used by their organizations. Eighty-six percent of the cloud applications that employees admit to using are not sanctioned by IT.
• One major U.S. enterprise thought that employees were using about 10–15 file-sharing applications, but then discovered that number was almost 70.
Although shadow IT may not be a foreign concept to IT departments, there are serious risks to giving up control of the applications and services that employees use to access IT systems and manage or share sensitive business information. Doing so undermines information security efforts, can lead to compliance violations, and can add redundant services that create inefficiencies with those already implemented and overseen by IT.
I don’t need to look any further than my own company for an example of the risks shadow IT can create. A few years ago, we discovered that nearly half of our 2,000 employees had their own cloud storage accounts spread out across multiple providers. That meant there was an unacceptable risk that Riverbed products were being stored in a service over which IT had no administrative control or visibility. Regardless of how IT’s role evolves, one responsibility will remain constant: we must be vigilant in the protection of the company’s intellectual property.
Because employee satisfaction and participation were important to us, we did not want IT to swoop in and mandate every employee use of a particular storage service. So we listened to what features and capabilities users wanted, and selected one provider that helped us accomplish two goals: protect IP and offer a service that was right for our employees. Sounds like a simple fix, but it represented more than that. It signaled a significant change in how IT manages the introduction of new applications in the enterprise.
In fact, there may even be opportunities to partner proactively with SaaS product vendors on this front. For example, at Riverbed we established a partnership with Microsoft to make sure we work together to optimize things like security and performance. It’s a win-win. As their customers rapidly shift to the Cloud as the preferred delivery mechanism, they have the same objectives as IT when it comes to end-user productivity and satisfaction.
IT as a Partner, not a Dictator
In fact, it’s not just a change in IT’s role, it’s an organizational change. IT now works with other business units to decide which collaboration and productivity applications to implement, what the rollout schedules will be, and whether IT (or the cloud services provider) will provide training for users. The days of simply declaring “we’re going to switch from Microsoft Office desktop to Office 365″ are gone. As both a leader and an “in-house consultant,” IT needs to explain its recommendations and emphasize the business rationale behind them, including cost-savings, improved user productivity, and stronger security. Though some colleagues may be partial to solutions they originally chose and may have preferred to see them used company-wide, thoughtfully fielding their questions and responding in non-tech speak helps smooth the transition.
You may also want to consider preparing early for a new set of issues that arises when you migrate data to the cloud. Sticking with the O365 example, simple everyday tasks like uploading and downloading individual files, or emailing a larger file such as a video to multiple people can put a heavy load on the infrastructure. If one person emails a 10 MB file to a distribution list of 100 people, that can consume a lot of bandwidth and most of it will be due to the transmission of redundant information to 99 people – all the way from remote sites, out your Internet Access Point to your O365 instance and back. You’ll be deluged with complaints about slow downloads and uploads and sluggish overall system performance.
Managing user perceptions (or misperceptions) of an application, and preparing to immediately address issues are also key to a successful migration. Are you able to deliver a consistent experience that ensures files are readily available, performance levels are satisfactory, and the user experience meets expectations? Do you have real-time visibility across the entire environment so you can understand the caliber of service you’re delivering to all users and all locations, including branch offices and other remote sites? Considering the average company can operate 55 remote IT facilities using a single large data center, nearly half of all employees work in branch offices and approximately 50 percent of all company data likely resides outside the data center. This means IT will have to devote about 50 percent of its budget and resources to its 55 branch offices.
Tips for Success
Before rolling out a new cloud-based application:
• Develop an understanding of the different ways individual departments will use the solution. Finance’s top concern may be spreadsheet management while marketing will want to ensure it can collaboratively create image-rich presentations. Teams typically have distinctive workflows — some that are simple and some that are much more complex. Discovering the different needs of users will help you build the right portfolio of applications.
• Don’t turn off a legacy application until users have successfully adopted the new cloud app. Premature disconnects can cause angst among late-adopters and sow mistrust of IT.
• Collaborate with business units to demonstrate early success with new tools and help develop templates for other groups. For example, you could approach one department with an offer to jointly manage a project using a new collaborative app – in the process you’ll uncover much of the information you need to create that template. Then have visible leaders from both IT and the early adopter department regularly broadcast to the company how they’re using the new tool. It will help the broader rollout go more smoothly and quickly.
• Consider creating a Performance Management Center to provide visibility into the different apps you’ve deployed and the quality of end-user experiences. If you look at the typical IT org chart, there is no “performance engineer.” As IT moves into the service provider role, this Performance Management Center can utilize sophisticated tools to deliver a consistent experience, ensuring readily available files, satisfactory performance levels, and that user expectations are met. Real-time visibility across the hybrid IT ecosystem – from the data center to cloud-based applications – is critical to confirm the caliber of service you’re delivering to all users and all locations. And this visibility is key when moving from a control model to a partnership model.
So consider these tips as you start to shift your enterprise to the cloud. They’ll help you manage your organization’s migration to cloud collaboration and productivity apps and position you as a trusted business partner delivering true business value.
 CipherCloud, “Cloud Adoption and Risk Report: 2014 North American and European Trends,” February 2014.