As organisations look to embrace the cost-efficiency opportunities deriving from new technologies and services, there is a lot of talk about the benefits, risks and possible ROI of the blanket concept of ‘Cloud computing’. However, it is still unclear how using Cloud services will affect the existing network infrastructure and what impact it can have on IT support roles and the way end users deal with incidents.
The effect on an organisation’s infrastructure depends on the Cloud model adopted, which may vary based on company size. For example, small organisations which are less worried about owning IT and have simpler, more generic IT needs might want to buy a large part of their infrastructure as a shared service, purchasing on-demand software from different vendors.
Buying into the Software as a Service model has the benefit of simplicity and cheapness, as it cuts out much of the responsibility and costs involved, which is a great advantage for SMEs. This solution also allows 24/7 service availability, something that small firms might not be able to afford otherwise. The lack of flexibility of this service, due to the impossibility to customise software, is less of a problem for these types of organisations. But there are still risks related to performance, and vendor lock-in.
Using this model, a small company’s retained IT infrastructure can be relatively simple, and therefore there might be little need for specialist technical skills within the IT department. A new skill set is required, however: IT personnel will need to be able to manage all the different relationships with the various vendors, checking that the service purchased is performing as agreed and that they are getting the quality they are paying for. The IT Service Desk will therefore require a smaller number of engineers, less technical but more commercially savvy. More specialist skills will shift towards the provider and 1st line analysts will have to escalate more calls to the various vendors.
Larger organisations, on the other hand, may well be keen on retaining more control over their infrastructure and purchasing IT resources on-demand. With this model, the organisation still manages much of its infrastructure but at a virtual level – the vendor might provide them with hardware resources on-demand, for instance. The main advantage of this model is that it allows the existing infrastructure to be incredibly flexible and scalable, able to adapt to changing business needs. For example, building a data centre is lengthy and expensive, therefore not convenient for expansion. But by using a “virtual datacentre” provider, capacity can be increased in the space of an online card transaction, with great financial benefits – in the Cloud model only the necessary resources are paid for without investment in hardware or its maintenance.
With this second model, the change in the roles within the IT department will mainly regard an increased need, as in the other model, for vendor management skills. Monitoring KPIs, SLAs and billing will be a day-to-day task although there will still be the need for engineers to deal with the real and virtual infrastructure.
Both models generally have very little impact on the end user if the IT Service Desk has been running efficiently, as this does not disappear as a first point of contact. However, in certain cases the change might be more visible, for instance if desk-side support is eliminated – a cultural change that may need some adapting to.
All in all, change is not to be feared – with the necessary awareness, embracing Cloud services can improve IT efficiency significantly, and align it to the business. By leaving some IT support and management issues to expert providers an organisation can gain major strategic advantage, saving money and time that they can ultimately use in their search for business success.
Adrian Polley, Technical Services Director
This article appears on the National Outsourcing Association’s (NOA) online publication Sourcing Focus: http://www.sourcingfocus.com/index.php/site/featuresitem/3318/