Achieving IT Operational Excellence with Cloud Hosting

Tim Porzio, VP-Operations & Infrastructure, IS&T, Sodexo North America
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The Trend and the Challenge

Companies today are utilizing an ever increasing array of cloud services and the pace of change is increasing. If you are in an enterprise with a large on premise application hosting footprint and you are embracing what the cloud has to offer, you are likely faced with new challenges in delivering IT operational excellence for your business. Traditional on premise methods to monitor the health of systems, manage incidents, schedule jobs, perform transactions across systems, manage system changes, ensure security, and plan for disaster recovery are just some of the IT duties that become increasingly difficult in a multi-vendor hosting environment. All too often we see IT and business decision makers contribute erroneous thinking that in the cloud world they don’t have to worry about these things. Frankly, all of these services still have to work well together and in this model it is quite a challenge to deliver IT operational services at the level that your stakeholders have come to expect. Existing policies, procedures, tools and operational norms need to adjust as your shift into cloud hosting becomes more of the norm. Your method to deliver application hosting services across operating environments will have to evolve quickly to ensure IT operational excellence.

The cloud has a dizzying array of options to choose from, however, it’s still up to the IT team to pull it all together into an enterprise class OE program to deliver high quality operational services. This is a tremendous opportunity to be proactive and it’s up to you to define what an exceptional experience and partnership with your cloud partners should look like. Otherwise, you are essentially just hosting somewhere else and your data and disaster preparedness are at the mercy of your providers who are all in a different place for capability and maturity.

  Make sure that your OE processes are documented and functioning well in synergy between your company and your key outsourcing partners 

Defining Operational Excellence

Defining what IT Operational Excellence means to you before moving critical workload to the cloud is essential. Create a Cloud Services framework; it will be far easier to embrace the cloud trend. Essential to this framework is to define the elements of a successful OE program including what you expect from cloud providers. The framework needs to indicate the tiers of service within the program and the essential services that you will provide. Sort your applications by tier according to business criticality. Not all applications require the same level of service or service offering. Without a framework and service levels your stakeholders may expect all of the same services that they have on premise despite the fact that service accountabilities have dramatically shifted in the cloud model and each vendor partner brings with it a different challenge.

In an ecosystem with integrated systems and complex business processes, the overall OE program needs to include standardized processes. This will ensure effective system and business process monitoring, incident management, problem escalation, change management, and program governance to name the major elements. Define and document clear roles and responsibilities for IS&T, business application owners, and vendor partners. These must be agreed to prior to business contract signature.

Create partnerships to deliver OE

Line up a CTO to CTO conversation between your firm and the vendor partner firm, to review the principles of your IT Operational excellence program. Each side needs to agree on the fundamentals of the OE program and to resolve differences in approach and expected outcome. In order for you to extend your ability to manage your IT operation across a multi-vendor hosting scenario it requires a mutual commitment with partners to deliver excellence across each of the program tenants. Together you need to define mutual processes, bi-directional communication norms, contract terms, governance, and performance KPIs. Each CTO needs to have a willingness to not allow an existing or pending contract to be the barrier to defining “what an exceptional program looks like” and to define a mutual path to the target state of delivering on OE.

Ongoing Program Governance

An overall governance process is essential to ensuring that all parties are formally meeting on an agreed frequency to monitor the health of the services being provided and that service delivery is in line with contracted terms. Use a scorecard to rate each partner regarding the services that they are providing. I always prefer to see a monthly or quarterly meeting to review the scorecard, discuss deficiencies, and what the partner is doing to address them. Ask to review the vendor’s continuous improvement roadmap to ensure that the partner is heading in the right direction to meet your future needs and that they are serious about solving current deficiencies. Most importantly, be sure to reiterate your expectations around problem and incident management processes and ensure that the reaction to customer issues has the right urgency and is highly participative. Remember, you cannot just call someone at home to fix a problem as you were previously able to do.

The Business as a Partner

Your business stakeholders likely have expectations for defining operational excellence and their needs must be considered in your OE program. Do they want to see the output of periodic governance reporting? Better yet invite them to join the governance process so their needs can be heard and they can help to advance the partnerships. Your business should see record of the system health and IT value KPIs so they transparently see what they are paying for.

My reminder to you is that even though you have outsourced workload, you are still accountable for operational excellence in service to your business. Ensure that you have strong partnerships and agreements in place and although KPIs are important so are long term solid relationships. Make sure that your OE processes are documented and functioning well in synergy between your company and your key outsourcing partners. As an IT leader you will need to adjust quickly and manage differently as you move forward into the cloud.

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