Owning All Clouds

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By Doug Harr

As part of my career as an IT executive for the last dozen plus years, I’ve led several companies through a process of migrating their business application portfolio to the cloud.  At Portal Software, that meant deploying SuccessFactors for HR performance reviews, and OpenAir for Professional Services Automation.  At Ingres that meant deploying Intacct for Financials, Salesforce for CRM, and lots of other cloud solutions. The approach for me reached its zenith at Splunk, where we had a 100% cloud business application portfolio, and where 50% of our compute and store capacity was at Amazon. With so much functionality in the cloud the question of roles and responsibilities became a focus for the company. In this very cloud-friendly shop, what should IT’s focus be? What level of administration of these solutions could actually be owned and delivered by departmental owners, such as Sales Operations, Customer Support Operations or HR administration?

As one example, both at VMware, where I was program manager for their Salesforce implementation, and at Splunk, where I was the CIO, we had very strong sales operations teams, and fairly complex Salesforce environments. In those environments Sales Op’s began to take ownership of more functionality in the Salesforce suite. This included user administration, assignment of roles to users, territories to reps, and just about all reporting. This grew to include modifying page layouts, and other configuration capabilities normally owned and controlled by IT. In my view the idea of enabling the Sales Op’s team was attractive for several reasons: (1) they wanted the power to do these things (2) they were not waiting for IT on the things they felt were high priority (3) they were closer to the sales teams who actually worked inside the tool, and so they were good at interpreting issues and acting – as good certainly as an IT Business Analyst, or even someone with fairly good technical skills. In these scenarios it freed IT to work on deeper technical issues, level 3 incidents, environment management, integration, reliability, etc.

In another example, at Splunk we made wide use of Amazon EC2 for compute and storage capacity. In these cases, IT System Admins were not needed – environments were spun up and used directly by personnel in Engineering and Customer Support. This was an amazing success, and it freed IT to work on monitoring usage, working deals on cost, and managing the overall vendor relationship.

Not every department has a team or individual ready to own or take a major role in the management of a SaaS or IaaS platform. For every HR department that manages Workday, there’s a finance department that does not manage Netsuite. It depends on the tool, and the personnel. What I’ve found is it can also depend on the CFO and management of a business function – some execs are happy to have these resources placed in the business, some are more afraid of  “shadow IT spend” or they’re caught up suggesting that IT can’t deliver and granting this power is a cop-out. Actually, I had a moment like this at Splunk, where I had not adequately updated two peer execs on our intent to get more deep IT skills hired into Sales Op’s, and had to sort that one out, to make sure everyone understood this was not a shadow operation! So there can be bumps in the road, but in my view adopting this approach is inevitable really, as software platforms and micro apps are becoming widespread, and so is the ability and desire by departmental teams to be more involved in the direction of how those tools, platforms, and apps are rolled out and used.

All this speaks to the future role of IT, and I for one have lived that future, as least in part. It’s one where IT is more strategic, focused on vendor/portfolio management, integration and security. To be sure some functions that are broadly used across all departments, and some that are task specific, still accrue to IT in most cases, or to partners that offer elements of typical IT as a service (think Help Desk). But done well, each department owns more of its technology, feels more in charge of its future, its technology adoption, its responsible use, along with other benefits. And, IT focuses less on being everything to everybody, maintaining disparate queues of backlogged work, and more focused on higher level matters, transforming the business for the digital age, and accompanying delivery of more complex technical solutions.

Right where we should want to be.

@douglasharr

StratraFusion – Values

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The pace and evolution of enterprise technology more than ever calls for strategic advice on how best to use this technology to optimize your business.

We formed The StrataFusion Group as a unique technology and business consulting practice based on knowledge gleaned from practitioners and their years of in-house “hands on” leadership and experience. Our Partners have driven technology and business strategies in disruptive Fortune 500 companies and fast-growing enterprises and firms, and they bring years of practical knowledge into solving each opportunity in its complexities and challenges.

We advise and assist our clients on how to leverage their technology investments to increase revenue, and improve customer satisfaction while reducing risk and cost.

We originally conceptualized and founded The StrataFusion Group to provide expertise ”for CIO and CTOs, by CIOs and CTOs.” The practice has, unlike many other technology consultancies, continued to emphasize the personal operational experience of our Partners. This expertise is then applied directly to your problems and issues by our Partners — not inexperienced stand-ins. You receive our personal attention and commitment to efficient and effective engagement management.

Our passion is to empower companies to be business innovators by combining leading-edge insights with significant experience-based knowledge of markets, technologies and industries. We focus on adding client value, delivering ultimate professionalism, applying team cohesion to expand experience and focus success, with respect for individual values and goals. We truly seek to earn the “Trusted Advisor” status. When you have a serious technology problem we want you to think of StrataFusion, not Ghostbusters!

We offer proven solutions for the most difficult business challenges, focusing on these practice areas:

StrataFusion Practice Areas

  • CIO / CTO Advisory
  • Information Security
  • Digital Transformation
  • Big Data / Cloud Analytics

As we go forward and continue to build on our consulting practice areas, how we were formed, our foundation and core values continue to drive how we approach each company with their unique set of of challenges. Underlying all of our work is our set of guiding principles:

StrataFusion Guiding Principles

  • We challenge and reinvent the vision
  • We create through teamwork
  • We nurture the independent, entrepreneurial spirit
  • Our personal and operational competence and professionalism is clear and at our clients’ disposal

We look forward to working with you.

John Dick, Partner and Co-Founder, StrataFusion

The Cloud – All In

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By Doug Harr

This post will be the first of several outlining my passion for moving IT software and services to the cloud, articulating the exponential value this move provides.

My journey began in early 2000’s when I was VP of IT at Portal Software; there, we moved the function of doing performance reviews out of our data center and into the SaaS / cloud service, Successfactors. This change cut costs in half; this kind of savings we saw almost every time we moved another software package or custom written application off site and into the cloud. Success with this model led me to take the helm at two other high tech companies (most recently at Splunk) where we ran virtually all of our business software and half of our infrastructure in the cloud, via services like Netsuite (financials), Salesforce (CRM), and Amazon EC2 (servers, storage).

These experiences were so positive and influential on my outlook that I’ve been espousing the “all cloud” IT sourcing strategy for some time now. Finally, and most recently, both Microsoft and Google have made it possible to go “the last mile,” to move your corporate domain, which houses the identity of all your employees, along with their organizations and access rights, into the cloud. This positions new companies and more aggressive existing companies to get to the point where you’ll find two fat pipes to the internet as the only technology installed at the company’s offices. The pipes terminate in a set of wireless access points, which themselves can now be managed via a cloud service!

Why is this all nirvana to me?  What does it mean for IT?  It means a lot. In almost every case I’ve seen service improve, both in terms of the time it takes to get things done, and the ability to focus on higher-level concerns, while more control accrues to the business. The focus of the CIO and IT Management team then changes – setting up a strategy, sourcing these cloud services, managing the vendor relationships, monitoring the services, integrating and securing them. We get to the ultimate goal of IT – maximizing the effective use of these systems, and harnessing the information that can be extracted and analyzed from those services. Not too shabby, right?  Sounds like a busy and more enabling, productive IT department, even if the roles have changed.

In future posts, we’ll address how the move to the cloud changes the nature of what resources each department needs to hire in order to effectively run the cloud applications. With sales operations, customer support operations, HR operations, etc., there is the ability for internal corporate employees to be more directly involved in optimizing, running and supporting the applications they use.

More to come.

Introducing the New Merritt College Applications and Infrastructure Security Program

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Merritt College Information Security Students Place 2nd in 2015 National Cyber League Competition

The frequency and virility of cyber security attacks, and the damage they cause to a number of industries, with millions of dollars lost, and with threats to personal safety, is something that bombards us in the news weekly.  Security is top of mind today; everybody is worried about security. I’ve made it part of my professional and personal mission to help companies protect their critical assets, and also teach information security best practices.

This past year I have spent a lot of time building up a new program to train the next generation of cyber security professionals. Working with Merritt College in Oakland, CA, we have designed a two-year associate’s degree in Information Security that includes a fully accredited degree.

The program covers all aspects of security, and students can major in application security or infrastructure security. Our first class of students will graduate this May. And the students from this class also recently placed 2nd in the 2015 National Cyber League Competition, beating out 125 other colleges and universities across the country, applying what they’ve learned in the classroom and internships with local companies.

We are looking for jobs for these students, and if you’re looking for security staff, we are here to help. Email me to connect with these students to learn more.

Mark Egan

follow me on Twitter: @markeegan

Silicon Valley: Where Are the ERP Cloud Solutions?

By Reed Kingston

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At StrataFusion, we are big proponents of cloud infrastructure and applications for all of the obvious reasons: cost, flexibility, security, focus on the business vs. the technology, etc.

We’ve helped many clients deploy application architectures that rely extensively on cloud technology, and users can choose from a range of solutions for everything from infrastructure to applications. Everything except enterprise resource planning (ERP), that is.

In our experience, NetSuite is by far the leading cloud solution for ERP, with a broad offering of modules that can support many different types of businesses. But things get pretty thin after that. We are excited about some new offerings coming to market from Kenandy (running on the Force.com platform) and a few others, but most of these are relatively new entrants, with functionality that will be evolving. For clients seeking a true cloud ERP solution, this begs the question: “Where are all of the other big names?” And equally important: “What exactly is a ‘true’ cloud solution, and what parts of it being cloud-based create the value users are looking for?”

The pure-play cloud players differentiate themselves with multi-tenant platforms, capable of supporting multiple clients with a common code base and a shared database. And they do a great job of communicating the benefits of that approach compared to the alternative of licensing and running similar systems in-house.

Some of the big names in traditional, on-premise ERP— companies like Oracle and SAP — have had false starts at launching multi-tenant offerings. But it is possible to run those solutions through managed services providers, and by so doing tap many of same benefits that the pure play providers tout: no on-site hardware, fewer in-house technical support specialists required, access to expertise that would be hard to maintain in-house, etc. The costs may be higher than running a pure-play multi-tenant solution, but the benefits make it worthwhile for some companies.

We have done hands-on comparisons of the capabilities of the current crop of cloud solution vs. the big-name traditional ERP solutions. There is still large functionality gap between what some global companies need versus what these “pure play” cloud companies are able to provide today. The lack of options makes for a challenging decision by companies as far as which ERP to adopt that will fit their needs now, and as they grow.

It’s always good to have clear choices. The problem is, right now the choice in ERP isn’t “cloud vs. on-premise” or “subscription vs. license” or “lots of functions/features vs. not so much.” It’s all of the above.

Reed Kingston is a managing director at StrataFusion. Contact him at rkingston@stratafusion.com; follow Reed at twitter.com/reedkingston.

 

Big Data that Support Key Business Results

By Doug Harr

Word Cloud "Big Data"

CIOs have a tremendous opportunity to harness Big Data. But CIOs are also wary of buzz words and heavily marketed trends which often lead to pursuits that are secondary rather than those aligned to key results. And while it may not be clear to everyone in the executive ranks, CIOs are keenly aware that all systems (not just business systems) in an organization spew out data, much of which can be mined for useful information. When I was CIO at Splunk, we called this systems-generated data “machine data” and I had the chance to witness just how many brilliant things can be done by harnessing it. So when and where does it make sense for CIOs to embark on data driven projects? How can a CIO choose where to focus efforts?

In a typical corporation, CIOs look after everything from business applications, operations and infrastructure, security, and the infrastructure that supports their web presence. Looking across the vast portfolio of services they support, a CIO’s primary concern will be to properly implement capabilities, and then manage them in such a way that the business is effectively and efficiently supported. Taking on analytics becomes the next layer to tackle once each fundamental service is in place. Where the rubber meets the road is when you can use machine/big data to determine more than just the status of your infrastructure. That is, when you can see the opportunity to mine data for services that support the portfolio and ultimately the corporation’s key results.

Getting Started

Select a Use Case: Focus on high-value use cases first. External-customer facing use cases are particularly well suited as first forays into data mining programs. Making the customer experience as compelling as possible is key for all organizations. Developing deeper insights into this experience has enormous potential and will garner support from your marketing team and other internal customers.

Work with Your Internal Business Partners: Meet with your internal team, and departments such as marketing and engineering, to select a use case they care about. Choose a project that will impact their external customers—typically the customers of your company. While internally focused use cases for Finance, HR, Sales or other teams can be instructive, prioritize programs that address the company’s core product or service and customer experience.

Put the Technology in Place: Don’t place all your bets on one solution. Consider your approach and look at real-time products (such as Splunk), cloud offerings, and batch-oriented systems (such as Hadoop). Before you make any purchases, do a proof-of-concept. Ensure you have support staff from the vendor working with you and try a sample set of your data in their engine.

Review the Reports: Step back and review reports from the solutions you are considering. Analyze the insights, both qualitative and quantitative. For example, if you use a customer support system for your proof-of-concept, ask questions like these:

  • How long does it take a customer to get through the online sales cycle? How much time elapses from engagement to first customer support call?
  • How long are customers spending in our systems?
  • How many orders are placed per month? What’s the typical amount of time it takes to book an order? How long does it take to book an order at month end?
  • Does it appear anyone is trying to infiltrate our systems?

Demonstrate What You Can Produce: Share your proof-of-concept results with your internal team. There’s no greater fun than giving your sales and marketing customers something they didn’t have before, something that helps them make better decisions more quickly. Note that there are some use cases you will never be able to share widely. For example, security use cases can only be shared with security personnel and auditors.

Delivering Value

Bringing Big Data programs into your company is worth the effort. These data can tell you things about your business and systems you can’t learn any other way. Chosen and managed carefully, these programs can improve customer service (internal and external) provide a qualitative view into the customer experience, offer clearer insight into the products and services, and even enable a company to better understand its own employees.

Doug Harr is a partner at StrataFusion. He has more than 25 years of technology leadership experience both as an executive-level technology practitioner and in senior leadership roles for professional services organizations. Contact him at dharr@stratafusion.com; follow Doug at twitter.com/douglasharr.

When Using the Numbers Makes for Good IT Decisions

By Reed Kingston

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In his recent blog post, Mark Tonnesen explained why he didn’t rely on traditional business case analyses, such as value case and return on investment (ROI) evaluations, to justify IT investments. I agree with Mark that these methods too often fail to support the right projects, and can fail to expose the wrong ones. I’ll put my MIT quant hat on here for a minute: if you are using tools that are prone to both false positives and false negatives, you should be looking for a new tool, or at least use the ones you have differently.

The problem is not that the financial analysis of an IT investment isn’t important—in fact, it is imperative, as it is for all investments. A good financial analysis casts light on some of the assumptions and trade-offs that are implicit in a large investment decision.

Problems arise when an investment comes off as lower profile, as happens often when reviewing IT investments. Decision making will always be biased against standalone technology investments as these are often poorly understood. How will “we’ll reduce network congestion and improve security by x%” fare in budget meetings against the sales and marketing team (“we’ll open up more markets!”), engineering (“we’ll design more products customers love!”) or operations (“we’ll lower costs with a new production process!”). That could be a pretty tough sell.

Getting to Good Decisions

Trying to justify IT investments without a business case driven by an internal customer organization can be an uphill battle. So how can CIOs and CTOs drive support for sound IT investments? Make sure important IT investments are tied to business cases that support increased revenue, reduced costs, increased customer loyalty and lower churn. Then provide financial analyses demonstrating how the proposed IT investment supports those business cases. This step defines the strategic value of the planned IT investment, making it a much easier decision for everyone to get behind.

Reed Kingston is a managing director at StrataFusion. Contact him at rkingston@stratafusion.com; follow Reed at twitter.com/reedkingston.