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It's Time for the Cloud to Talk Business


On the eve of AWS re:Invent, it’s good to take a moment and look around at the faces.

More and more, the hardcore technologists, developers and programmers who have streamed through past shows are making way for C-level execs, and even the occasional CEO. It’s a natural evolution. The cloud market is mainstreaming and the C-suite is eager to capitalize on the potential. Now that they’re here, the burning question is: Will they find all the answers they are seeking?

In a word: No. My belief is that we as an industry have a lot more work to do to make a clear and compelling business case for the cloud — articulated, most importantly, in the language of business. Our messages are often generic and heavy on the tech jargon. A recent article in GigaOM warned that buyers might soon look at all this as “interchangeable IT” — bought and sold like commodities.

This is why I so dislike the term “broker” when it comes to any discussion of cloud management services.

To be more effective in telling the story of the cloud revolution, we should keep in mind that while cloud economics are critical, the real business story is about how cloud underwrites innovation and agility for the enterprise.

The innovation story

Business success depends on innovation. Growth does not occur without innovation. Innovation feeds on investment and talent, but where do those resources come from?

It turns out that many companies have the resources in-house. They have great talent and they have budget. You just don’t see it, because those resources are locked up — they are managing old systems, using old processes, with antiquated tools.

I’ve said this many times in the past. Your resources are trapped — with a significant part of of IT budgets keeping the old stuff running — and your ability to innovate is held hostage. Our message to C-level executives should be simple: These resources can be freed up by moving to the cloud, thus making your organization faster, more agile — more innovative.

Consider the three freedoms that cloud can underwrite:

  • 1. Freedom to experiment. The cloud allows you to run more pilots — think of it as lower costs per idea. One of my clients just held an internal hackathon — 150 attendees for two days — leveraging Amazon as the compute. These were employees, contractors and Accenture — working 48 hours straight — coding nearly two dozen new ideas for management to judge. Without the cloud — this wouldn’t have been possible. These concepts are more than simply PowerPoint. They are real code demonstrations that, without cloud, would be impossible to create.
  • 2. Freedom to fail (quickly). To celebrate innovation, you need to embrace failure — but you need to speed the path to failure. Risk is a measure of time and uncertainty. By reducing the time to certainty — you avoid putting too much emphasis on one “big” idea. You get to iterate, push code, find out what works and, conversely, what doesn’t. This approach is well-understood in the venture-backed startup world, but not fully embraced in the enterprise. Cloud allows organizations to behave more like startups with a lot less risk — in a lot less time.
  • 3. Freedom to be agile. Agility is a largely overused and oft-misunderstood term in most enterprises. At the heart of agility is an ability to create an environment of continuous improvement. To get to this new state — systems, processes and people — must be free to be, well, agile. Cloud embodies the very essence of agility. It’s on-demand. You can turn it on when you need it, and turn it off when you don’t. You can pick the configuration or machine type that you need, when you need it. You can scale as the demand requires. But it’s so much more than just compute. It’s how you work, how you design, and how you operate. Cloud removes friction and latency from your work — allowing you and your org to continuously improve what you do. But it requires a change in your mentality — your culture needs to embrace an “as a service” model across your infrastructure, platforms and software. And “as a service” implies a number of key fundamentals. It’s self-service. It’s automated. And it’s “pay as you go.”

Devil in the details

To embrace cloud and educate the business — we must let go of the status quo — various organizational constructs and age-old sacred cows. In the cloud, we don’t separate the application from the infrastructure — they are conjoined, integrated. We must also separate the complexity from the experience. It must appear simple and straightforward to the business. And while certain aspects of cloud remain opaque, the ability to govern, manage and control cloud services must be fully transparent. The key word is “operate.”

While I can’t underscore enough the complexities of operating in the cloud, the cloud doesn’t need to be complex. In other words, it’s a good idea to shift the complexities of the cloud so that it appears simple and dynamic. For most organizations, this requires the help of a partner who is experienced with operating in the cloud. As an industry, we need to do a better job of explaining these complexities, but then making the management of the complexities straightforward … letting someone else manage the risk.

One critical truth is that the transition to public cloud requires maintaining a balance with private cloud. Vendors are lining up to serve either side, and sometimes both — depending on their heritage. This yin and yang requires strategic thinking. It’s clear that in order for enterprise adoption of public cloud to accelerate and flourish, the industry must acknowledge that both public and private clouds are here to stay — and we’ll be living in a hybrid world for the foreseeable future.

What’s most needed now by our customers is consistency and structure across both public and private computing environments. In other words, the experience and approach to hybrid should be nearly identical, regardless of public or private — rendering the rate and pace of the shift irrelevant and subject to workload requirements.

From my perspective, the great business case around the cloud has yet to be communicated in a way that can help business leaders really understand the art of the possible. Here’s hoping that this is a major message at AWS re:Invent. Accenture will certainly be making this case, with new services and partnerships to announce, the latest version of Accenture Cloud Platform to showcase, and hints about our own innovations that will lead the next stage of the cloud revolution.

And, of course, we’ll be in listening mode. We want to hear from you — what are your experiences with cloud, and your aspirations for what cloud can and should be doing for you? After all, this is your future. We’re here to help you realize it. Come visit us on the show floor at booth 425.

Michael Liebow is global managing director, Accenture Cloud Platform. Reach him @AccentureCloud.

This article originally appeared on

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