Category Archives: Opinion

SaaS for SMBs: The main meal, not the side salad

Door to new opportunityWe know that telcos are well-placed to sell cloud services to small and medium-sized businesses. Even if they don’t always know it yet, the business customers they provide telecoms services to need to embrace digital services to succeed, and telecoms providers are trusted to deliver technology that meets their stated needs. Cloud is very much at the forefront of most telcos’ thinking, in terms of how it can be used to serve their own operational requirements, but also as a delivery mechanism and opportunity for providing business customers with a range of additional services. They are increasingly offering a catalogue of cloud applications that can provide business customers with efficient tools to help run their organisations without the cost and complexity of buying, running and maintaining software from myriad, discrete providers.

But while this is good in theory, the practice is somewhat different. In the last two to three years, there has been a lot of talk about the opportunity that exists, but for most this opportunity has not resulted in a significant new revenue stream. And building new revenue streams are vital for operators.

Voice and data revenues are declining so portfolio diversity is necessary if operators are to remain profitable. Providing cloud services remains one of the most obvious routes to diversity – which makes its current stagnation a bit of a worry.

Through a number of interviews and workshops, BCSG has identified some of the key factors that have stopped telcos from making the most of the opportunity.

Getting it wrong

Unfortunately, selling cloud services as “just another add on” doesn’t work as it might with other services for small businesses. The telco may be a natural provider of these services, but to reach the mass market customers need to be educated on how the solutions can bring value and why the telco should be considered as the vendor – it is, after all, a service of the type that the business may have previously acquired from elsewhere.

Many telcos are failing to making it clear why businesses should buy from them – the value of these joined-up digital solutions (alongside existing services, for example a device, a 4G connection and the ability to access their business files on the move) are not being communicated to the customer.

Additionally, many telcos are not communicating in an effective way, preferring a ‘big bang, product push’ approach to marketing – all products, all channels, all customers, all at once. This untargeted approach is not winning business.

Getting it right

To be successful, telcos need to understand their own customers better. What would they most benefit from? How well do they understand their own needs? How can they get a busy business owner to stop and take time to consider how to become more efficient with a new application? How could the business grow as a result of a new cloud marketing solution?

Without understanding how to take a customer on the journey, knowing what education they will need, and having a clear idea of the barriers they will face, customers won’t adopt the services or reach the point where they are getting good value, a must for any SaaS product. Developing this customer understanding enables providers to deliver a targeted approach that personalises the engagement. Once that baseline of customer understanding is established, telcos can begin the education process that underpins a path to purchase and ongoing use. At this point, targeted marketing must take customers on a journey that builds understanding of, comfort with, and desire for the services available. Telcos could help businesses understand, for example, how a mobile device can be combined with cloud-based software that creates online forms to save time completing admin outside of working hours or how a tablet and email marketing app can be used together to create the next campaign to find new customers in dead time waiting for a flight in an airport.

Working with the software vendors (ISVs) to provide insight about customers and their products is critical – they are, after all, the experts on their product. ISVs already sell their products through a number of channels and so should have the resources and expertise on hand to help with the sales process. There is no need to build something from scratch. While it might seem obvious, our analysis shows these key elements of the customer journey and marketing process are rarely followed.

Finally, once the understanding, education, customer journey and value is understood, telcos need to execute effectively. This means using the right marketing tools in the right way to reach the right customers at the right time. Taking a measured, staged approach to rolling out new services, using each opportunity to test, learn and scale, reduces risk and helps to avoid big bang launch, followed by re-launch 6 months later as the first approach hasn’t worked.

A lot of the steps and processes needed to create the right customer journeys can easily be automated using the right tools, such as marketing automation. These tools are also essential for the measurement and analysis of performance that helps to foster further learning about the customer.

Telcos have been told that “the time is now” for cloud services for several years, but up until now, with some exceptions, cloud services has remained a lacklustre business stream for telcos. Making cloud services the centre of attention, rather than an afterthought tacked on at the end of a sales call, will help telcos capture that all important cloud opportunity.

Written by Alan Marsh, Product and Marketing Director at BCSG

Bridging the Gap: Hybrid Cloud – blurring the lines between public and private cloud capabilities

Hybrid CloudThe public cloud is often seen as something that sits outside the enterprise. But its capabilities can be brought in-house.

The benefits of cloud are now widely known; a faster time to market, streamlined processes and flexible infrastructure costs. The public cloud model also provides rapid access to business applications or shared physical infrastructure owned and operated by a third party. It is quick to provision, and the utility billing model employed in a public cloud means companies only pay for the services they use. And, with costs spread across a number of users, costs are kept under control.

This works especially well for certain business applications that support HR, Sales, Marketing and Support.  It is also ideal for training, development and testing – where there are sporadic bursts of activity.

Private cloud, on the other hand, offers a bespoke infrastructure dedicated to an individual business, either run on-premises or hosted within a data center run by the cloud provider. This provides most of the benefits of the cloud – an agile, scalable and efficient cloud infrastructure – but with greater levels of control and security for the business than is offered by the public cloud, and as a result, often has a slightly higher level of cost.

A private cloud is often perceived to offer the best option for mission critical applications, or those that demand a higher level of customisation – something that can be more difficult to achieve in a public cloud environment. It can also reduce latency issues, as services are accessed over internal networks rather than the internet.

Bearing these factors in mind, a private cloud tends to work well for large and complex applications or organisations and those with stricter obligations around data and regulation.

Historically, customers have been faced with the dilemma of which model to use – public or private.  They’ve had to make a decision, one application at a time. This is mainly because public and private have had very different setups. There has not been an ability to seamlessly pick up workloads and move them back and forth between the private and public cloud.  Each ‘burst’ or ‘cross-over’ from on-premise to on-cloud (or vice versa) requires different provisioning code, security profiles, network configurations, testing and automation tools. It’s just too difficult!

Fortunately, when considering the move to cloud, it doesn’t have to be an either/or decision anymore: hybrid cloud enables companies to utilise a mixture of both, and is giving organizations new strategic options. It is about providing the exact same infrastructure, security policies and toolsets, and, at the very last stage, choosing a deployment option – either on-premise or on-cloud.

One of the key benefits of operating a hybrid cloud is that it enables users to move applications and workloads between environments depending on demand, business needs and other variables. This mixed approach means businesses can rapidly respond to operational developments — for example using public cloud to quickly and cost-effectively develop and test new applications, before moving them back behind the firewall as they go into production.

It also means more (if not all) of a company’s applications are now ready to take advantage of the benefits of being deployed on a cloud – even if it’s the private cloud to start with.

This is now possible thanks to an evolution in the cloud computing space — the Public Cloud Machine — which uses the same software and hardware as the public cloud to bring the capabilities on-premise, meaning businesses can exploit the power of public cloud infrastructure while having the extra control that in-house data centers provide.

Essentially, it means organizations can address specific business or regulatory requirements, as well as those around data control and data location, while being able to tap into the perceived benefits of the public cloud: agility and pay-as-you go billing.

The hybrid cloud is set to become a business-as-usual expectation from companies.  Oracle is leading with the Public Cloud Machine, getting customers ahead of the curve.

By being able to blur the lines between where one cloud begins and another ends, companies can gain the ultimate flexibility of cloud, become more agile than their competitors and be in a better position to rapidly respond to changing needs and an increasingly competitive environment.

Written by Neil Sholay, Head of Oracle Digital, EMEA at ‎Oracle

Should Public Cloud be Synonymous with Outsourcing?

Marathon runners taking the position for the start of raceI caught an internet meme the other day that said, “The Cloud is just a computer somewhere else.”  But is that true?  Is the cloud really all about outsourcing your infrastructure to somewhere or someone else?

Popular opinion seems to indicate that’s the case.  But I would argue otherwise.

The cloud is a way of thinking.  Consider the ease with which you can swipe your credit card and walk away with a virtual infrastructure in the cloud.  Pay for what you need now, and scale out to meet your growing demands as your business or projects expand.  Who could say no to that?

In my experience as an IT leader and solutions architect, this is what the cloud is really all about.  Self-service provisioning; elastic, pay-as-you-grow infrastructure; and a service-driven operating model with all-inclusive, per-VM pricing.

If we take that perspective, we see that the cloud is not just about outsourcing.  In fact, all IT leaders should aspire to deliver the same agility, elasticity, and efficiency of the cloud model – whether their infrastructure runs on-premises or “in the cloud.”

With that said, this has not always been feasible or easy.  Traditional IT infrastructure is costly, complex, and rigid.  It simply doesn’t provide the same level of efficiency and agility as public cloud providers can deliver.  And that’s no surprise.  Early in their history, pioneering service providers and technology giants like Google, Amazon, and Facebook, discarded the old IT model and built their own infrastructure based on key design principles of software-defined, scale-out, and x86 commodity hardware.

Until now, visionary IT leaders who sought to deliver a cloud operating model on-site had little at their disposal.  But that is changing.  Breakthroughs in on-premises infrastructure like hyperconvergence are making it possible to bring the benefits of the cloud on-site, avoiding the tradeoffs of outsourcing their infrastructure and core business applications to the cloud.

In many ways, hyperconverged infrastructure delivers the same efficiency and agility of cloud.  It’s based on the same design principles noted above – x86 commodity building blocks, software-defined, and linear scalability. However, hyperconverged infrastructure also provides the performance, protection, and resiliency enterprises require – all while reducing complexity and costs.

In fact, in a recent independent study, focusing on the cost-effectiveness and three-year total cost of ownership (TCO) savings of hyperconvergence and the public cloud, hyperconvergence vendor SimpliVity was compared to public cloud vendor Amazon Web Services. The study found that SimpliVity’s hyperconverged infrastructure solution offers a TCO savings of 22% to 49% when compared to Amazon Web Services. This shows that cost is no longer a barrier to creating a private cloud. Enterprises can choose what best suits their workloads, public or private.

Overall, with hyperconvergence, enterprises can now outsource to the public cloud or decide to stay on-premises, all the while maintaining the agility, elasticity, and cost-effectiveness of the public cloud.

Written by Rich Kucharski, Vice President of Solutions Architecture at SimpliVity

What did we learn from PwC’s local government survey?

City HallPwC has recently released findings from its annual survey, The Local State We’re In, which assesses the challenges facing local government and their responses to them, as well as looking at public opinion on the organizations capabilities.

Here, we’ve pulled out four of the lessons we learnt from the report:

Data Analytics is top of the agenda for CEOs and Local Government Leaders

A healthy 91% of the Chief Execs surveyed confirmed Data Analytics was an area which they were well equipped. This in fact was the most popular answer for this specific question, as other areas such as business intelligence (59%), supply chain management (55%) and information governance & records management (40%) fared less so.

While it is encouraging the leaders are confident in their team’s ability to perform in the data analytics world, the research also stated local government’s use of structured and unstructured data varies quite considerably. 71% of the Chief Execs agreed they were using structured data (e.g. information in government controlled databases), whereas this number drops to 33% when unstructured data (e.g. social media and data generated through search engines) is the focal point of the question.

As the consumer continues its drive towards digital and the connected world, the level of insight which can be derived through unstructured data, social media in particular, will continue to increase. Back in 1998 Merrill Lynch said 80-90% of all potentially usable business information may originate in unstructured form. This rule of thumb is not based on primary or any quantitative research, but is still accepted by some in the industry. Even if this number has dropped, there is a vast amount of information and insight which is being missed by the local government.

But data driven decision making isn’t

Throughout the industry, data driven decision making has been seen as one of the hottest growing trends, and also as the prelude to the introduction of artificial intelligence.

Despite the media attention such ideas are receiving, it would appear these trends are not translating through to local government. Only 41% of the respondents said their organization is using data analytics to inform decision making and strategy. It would appear local government is quite effective (or at least confident) at managing data, but not so much at using it for insight.

Digital Device Tablet Laptop Connection Networking Technology ConceptPublic is not confident in local government’s ability to embrace digital

Although leadership within the local authorities themselves are happy with the manner in which their organization has embraced digital, this confidence is not reflected by the general public.

76% of Chief Execs who participated in the research are confident in their own digital strategies, however only 23% of the general public are confident in the council’s ability to manage the transition through to digital. This is down from 28% in the same survey during 2015 and 29% in 2014. The findings could demonstrate the rigidity of government bodies, especially at a local level, as it would appear the evolution of emerging technologies is outstripping local government’s ability to incorporate these new ideas and tools.

There is also quite a significant difference in how the public and the Chief Execs view cyber security. While only 17% of the Chief Execs believe their organization is at risk from cyber threats, 70% of the general public are not confident local government will be able to manage and share their personal information appropriately. 2016 has already seen a number of high profile data breaches which could have an impact on the opinions of the general public. If tech savvy enterprise organizations such as TalkTalk cannot defend themselves, it may be perceived that public sector organizations are less likely to do so.

However, local government does have the backing from the public to invest in digital

The general public would not appear to currently have great confidence in the local government’s current ability to embrace the digital age however they have seemingly given their blessing for the local government to continue investments.

39% of the general public who completed the survey highlighted their preference for engagement with local government would be through a digital platform, as opposed to the 24% who would prefer the telephone and 28% who would rather engage in person. Unfortunately, while digital is the most popular option for engaging, only 37% were satisfied with the current digital access to local government, down from 38% in last year’s research.

What happens to EU General Data Protection Regulation if the UK votes for a Brexit?

EuropeBusinesses warned not to give up on data reforms just because UK could quit Europe

As the UK prepares to vote on whether to leave the European Union, businesses are being warned not to give up on data reforms inspired by the forthcoming EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Businesses across the country have been studying implications of the new Regulation, due to be in force in May 2018, which aims to create a ‘one-stop shop’ for data protection across the European Union.

Some of the key aspects of the bill include huge fines for data breaches, new rules around the collection of personal data and new rights for European citizens to ask for data be deleted or edited. Many businesses will also be required to appoint a Data Protection Officer.

However, the Brexit vote opens up the possibility that the UK could be out of the EU by the time it comes into force.

John Culkin, Director of Information Management at Crown Records Management, said: “It would be tempting for businesses to think that if the UK leaves the EU this regulation would not apply. In fact, that isn’t the case. Although an independent Britain would not be a signatory of the Regulation, in reality it would still be impossible to avoid its implications.

“The Regulation governs the personal data of all European citizens, providing them with greater control and more rights over information held about them. So any company holding identifiable information of an EU citizen, no matter where it is based, needs to be aware. With millions of EU citizens living in the UK, too, it’s hard to imagine that many businesses here would be unaffected.

“The same applies to data breaches involving the personal data of European citizens. So it will still be vital to have a watertight information management system in place which allows businesses to know what information they have, where it is, how it can be edited and who is responsible for it.”

Even if the UK votes to leave the EU, data in Great Britain & Northern Ireland will continue to be regulated by the current Data Protection Act, which was passed in 1998.

A spokesperson for the Information Commissioners’ Office (ICO), an independent body set up to uphold information rights, said: “Although derived from an EU Directive, the Data Protection Act was passed by the UK Parliament and will remain in place after any exit, until Parliament decides to introduce a new law or amend it.

“The UK has a history of providing legal protection to consumers around their personal data. Our data protection laws precede EU legislation by more than a decade, and go beyond the current requirements set out by the EU, for instance with the power given to the ICO to issue fines.

“Having clear laws with safeguards in place is more important than ever given the growing digital economy, and is also central to the sharing of data that international trade relies on. The UK will continue to need clear and effective data protection laws, whether or not the country remains part of the EU.”

Culkin believes there is a real danger that UK businesses will defer crucial reforms of their information management systems – just in case the Brexit vote in June changes the agenda. But he warns it is a big risk.

He said: “Businesses should be thinking about the benefits of good information governance rather than hesitating because of what could happen in the future.

“There is no point putting in place systems that ignore privacy by design, for instance, when that is good procedure – no matter what happens in Europe in June. The same is true of measures to protect a business from data breaches, which have reputational as well as financial implications – no matter who imposes the fine.

“As for personal data, citizens, in the UK are only going to be more demanding about how their data is collected, stored and edited in future – the genie is out of the bottle and it’s not sensible to think that leaving the EU will change it. Preparing for a modern data world is not only about the GDPR.”

This a view shared by the ICO which will continue to ensure organisations meet their information rights obligations no matter how the UK votes.

A spokesperson said: “Ultimately, this is a decision for organisations based on their own particular circumstances. Revisiting and reassessing your data protection practices will serve you well whatever the outcome of the referendum. Investing in GDPR compliance will ensure an organisation has a high standard of data protection compliance that will enable the building of consumer trust.”

5 Questions to Ask Your VDI Vendor

Contemplate. Business concept illustrationWhether you’re a mid-sized enterprise that’s work-from-home-friendly or a large corporation based largely on remote workers, there will come a time when you’ll want to consider how to optimize your workspace technology for the way your employees work. One solution is virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), a technology that provides a consistent desktop experience across devices and locales. First introduced in the mid-2000s, VDI has expanded the definition of the office to include everything from an Uber ride to a flight.

If you’re in the market for VDI, you have several options, but know there is no one size fits all solution. I’ve worked with thousands of organizations globally and have seen the different methods companies use to select their VDI solutions. In my experience, there are a handful of questions that can help you save time and money. Here are the top five questions I recommend you ask your prospective VDI providers:

  1. How do you envision the digital modern workspace?

The golden rule for any software salesman is to “sell the problem you’re solving, not the product.” Likewise, a VDI company should demonstrate an understanding of the modern worker and the business consumer. Out of 75 IT professionals, 48 percent expected to see their companies expand BYOD policies in 2016, according to a survey by our partner Workspot. Meaning, the modern worker is expecting companies to provide a secure, fast, and easy solution to fit their work needs no matter where they’re working. VDI is a fit for many types of workers, including IT pros and designers specializing in high-end CAD, PLM, and 2-D/3-D graphics.

You’ll want to work with a vendor who understands your vision for how VDI will address challenges specific to your business. Requesting a few case studies from the vendor will give you a sense of not only what the company can deliver, but also what they perceive as the value-adds for your business. If the results they are showcasing vary widely from what you’re trying to achieve, it may be best to look elsewhere for your VDI solution.

  1. What are the top three challenges businesses want to solve in the context of the modern workspace?

Any reputable vendor should be aware of and offer realistic solutions to issues like data security, workforce connectivity and inefficiency. Asking this question will give you an additional sense of the vendor’s proficiency in enterprise operations and specific use cases.

For example, if you’re a company in a regulation-heavy space (think health care, finance, military and government) one challenge may be ensuring secure connection whether the employee is an accountant in the U.S. or a high-end designer in Asia. VDI should be as secure as physical ware, and in fact, vendors have spent the last decade perfecting the translation of hardware functionality to the virtual desktop. Make sure the vendor is familiar with processes for integrating VDI, access and network security solutions, which are essential for creating a strong, and safe, virtual workspace.

Solving problems. Business conceptIn industries where employees often work off-site or in remote locations – like consulting or land surveying – a major challenge is keeping workers connected, while keeping it simple. One of the benefits of VDI is that it relieves IT of the tremendous burden of supporting personal devices and remote access for any employee who asks. It gives IT time back to invest in the network, after the potentially costly and lengthy process of implementation, of course. Given the possible challenges of set-up, your vendor should be able to speak to VDI’s value to technical staff – you’ll want this ammo in your bargaining arsenal.

Another issue VDI can address is productivity loss for workers in the field. For example, an insurance agent going out to accident sites will fill out several forms, and then return to the office just to fill out those forms again because the mobile form isn’t compatible with desktop. VDI lets the agent access the same form across devices. It’s helpful to ask which companies your vendor has worked with in the past to gauge their understanding of areas for productivity gain. If they have several customers in your industry, they may have more insight into the myriad of ways VDI can help your organization run more efficiently. Ask: How do you solve historical challenges around cost, complexity, and performance? Then listen for a detailed and tailored answer.

  1. What are the main challenges in deploying VDI and how do you support the organization throughout implementation?

The answer to this question is critical to your success integrating VDI technology into your business operations. Some vendors offer to deploy VDI that day, while others will expect you to wait a few months – or many months – for proof of concept. Some will promise scalability, and others will demonstrate it. Finally, some will work with you shoulder-to-shoulder, while others will take a more hands-off approach.

You should consider your preferences carefully when choosing a VDI vendor. Since problems arrive at the worst of times, I believe that VDI providers should also have experts available at any hour to ensure application delivery and troubleshoot errors. Others may feel budget or familiarity with the company are top priority. Whatever your must-have is, make sure to identify it early on. Otherwise you may feel overwhelmed by choices that in many ways look identical.

  1. What are two of the unique selling points/advantages of your biggest competitor?

This question may throw your prospective vendor off a bit, but their answer can be quite telling. If your provider can be open and honest about their competitors, they are more likely to be honest about their shortfalls. Keep in mind they’ll probably also counter with their own unique features. The best companies will have a deep understanding of other products in the sector, enabling them to evaluate and develop their own product more effectively.

  1. What is your product roadmap?

You’ll also want to ask about the company’s roadmap and how it may shift in response to competition or the company’s own goals. We’re seeing the complete transformation of the daily life of the average worker and technology is improving across the board. These changes are sure to have an impact on the VDI technology of tomorrow.

What the impact is largely depends on the company in question. Some companies are smaller and more nimble – they’ll emphasize performance and cost-effectiveness.  Others are legacy, which tend to build based on a deeply entrenched model of doing things. Whether or not the standard works for a given technology, you can be sure the legacy organization will have resources to spare.

Both big and small dogs are getting in on VDI, but the best option is largely subjective. With these questions, you’ll be able to assess what each vendor brings to the table and make the choice that will bring your workforce into the future.

Written by Ruben Spruijt, Field CTO at Atlantis Computing

Managed Cloud Storage – What’s the hold up?

Boxes on trolley in warehouseOrganisations operating in today’s highly competitive and lightning-speed world are constantly looking for new ways to deliver services to customers at reduced cost. Cloud technologies in particular are now not only being explored but are becoming widely adopted, with new Cloud Industry Forum statistics showing that 80% of UK companies are adopting cloud technology as a key part of their overall IT and business strategy.

That said, the cloud is yet to be widely accepted as the safe storage location that the industry is saying it is. There is still a great deal of apprehension, in particular from larger organisations, to entrust large volumes of data to the cloud. Indeed, for the last 20 years, storage has been defined by closed, proprietary and in many cases monolithic hardware-centric architectures, which were built for single applications, local network access, limited redundancy and highly manual operations.

Storage demands are changing

The continuous surge of data in modern society, however, now requires systems with massive scalability, local and remote accessibility, continuous uptime and great automation, with fewer resources having to manage greater capacity. The cloud is the obvious answer but there is still hesitancy.

Let’s face it though, anyone who is starting out today is unlikely to go out and buy a whole bunch of servers to deploy locally. They are much more likely to sign up for cloud-based managed services for functions like accounting, HR and expenses, and have a laptop with a big hard drive to store and share files using Gmail, Dropbox and so on. It is true to say that smaller businesses are increasingly using storage inside cloud apps, but for larger businesses, this option is not quite so simple or attractive. Many enterprises are turning to the cloud to host more and more apps but they still tend to keep the bulk of their static data on their own servers, to not only ensure safety and security but also to conduct faster analytics.

Open Door LightThe cloud storage door is only slightly ajar

With increasing data volumes and accelerated demand for scalability, you would expect many businesses to be using cloud-based managed storage already. However, the fact remains that there are still many businesses burying their heads in the sand when it comes to cloud storage. As a result, there is quite a bit of fatigue amongst the storage vendors who have been promoting cloud for some time, but not seeing the anticipated take-up. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the door the industry is pushing against is only slightly ajar.

As with most things, there are clouds and there are clouds. At the end of the day, cloud-based storage can be anything an organisation wants it to be – the devil is in the architecture. If you wanted to specify storage that incorporates encryption, a local appliance, secure high-bandwidth internet connectivity, instant access, replication, green and economical storage media – a managed cloud storage service can actually ‘do’ all of these things and indeed, is doing so for many organisations. There is take-up, just not quite as much as many storage vendors would like.

It’s all about the data

Nowadays, for most organisations it is about achieving much more than just the safe storage of data. It’s more and more common to bolt-on a range of integrated products and services to achieve a wide range of specialist goals, and it’s becoming rare that anyone wants to just store their data (they want it to work for them). Most organisations want their data to be discoverable and accessible, as well as have integrity guarantees to ensure the data will be usable in the future, automated data storage workflows and so on. Organisations want to, and need to, realise the value of their data, and are now looking at ways to capitalise on it rather than simply store it away safely.

Some organisations though, can’t use managed cloud storage for a whole raft of corporate, regulatory and geographical reasons. The on-premise alternative to a cloud solution, however, doesn’t have to be a burden on your IT, with remote management of an on-site storage deployment now a very real option. This acknowledges that storage capabilities that are specific to an industry or to an application are now complex. Add on some additional integrated functionality and it’s not something that local IT can, or wants to, deal with, manage or maintain. And who can blame them? Specialist services require a specialist managed services provider and that is where outsourcing, even if you can’t use the cloud, can add real value to your business.

What do you want to do with your data?

At the end of the day, the nature of the data you have, what you want to do with it and how you want it managed, will drive your storage direction. This includes questions around whether you have static or data that’s subject to change, whether your storage needs to be on-premise or can be in the cloud, whether you want to backup or archive your data, whether you want an accessible archive or a deep archive, whether you need it to be integrity-guaranteed or something else, long or short term. Cloud won’t always necessarily be the answer; there are trade-offs to be made and priorities to set. Critically, the storage solution you choose needs to be flexible enough to deal with these issues (and how they will shift over time) and that is the difficulty when trying to manage long-term data storage. Everything is available and you can get what you want but you need to make sure that you are moving to a managed cloud service for the right reasons.

Ever-increasing organisational data volumes will continue to relentlessly drive the data storage industry and today’s storage models need to reflect the changing nature of the way in which businesses operate. Managed storage capabilities need to be designed from the ground up to facilitate organisations in maximising the value they can get from their data and reflect how those same organisations want to access and use it both today, and more importantly, for years to come.

Written by Nik Stanbridge, VP Marketing at Arkivum

Cloud is growing, but will it be your organisation’s downfall?

competitive swimmingThe reality is that most enterprise applications are well on their way to being cloud based. We’ve seen it with simple workloads such as HR and payroll, travel and expense management, and in the last decade we’ve seen the cloud as the new normal for customer relationship management (CRM) deployments. According to Gartner[1], “Spending on public-cloud-based, vertical-specific applications is expected to significantly increase through 2017, further highlighting the growing confidence in their use for mission-critical systems.”

Upgrading your enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to the cloud means retiring your old approach to business management applications and no longer having to procure, install, maintain, and manage the infrastructure. And perhaps most compelling is to leverage the cloud to redefine your business processes and take advantage of a new era of service delivery and flexibility to enable your organisation to grow.

So what are the benefits of cloud based ERP solutions? Below are the top five reasons why moving your ERP system to the cloud will benefit your business and support business growth.

  1. Freedom of Choice

Put quite simply, not all cloud ERP systems are created equal. Specifically, very few ERP vendors respect your right to choose the deployment model that is most appropriate for you, and revise that decision down the road as your business grows or technical needs change. Your right to transition between on-premises, multi-tenant, and single tenant is an important one. It recognises that the “best” deployment model for you today might not be the best model in a few years, or even a few months. By providing the choice of Multi-Tenant (with its compelling economics and seamless upgrades) or Single Tenant (allowing more administrative control and administrative ownership), you can choose the model that works best for you.

  1. Compelling Cloud Economics

Despite the cloud having proven its value beyond just good financial sense, there is no doubt that for companies of all sizes the economics of cloud deployment are undeniably compelling, moving from capital to operational expenditure. Some of the more hidden economic benefits of the cloud include:

  • Not being as capital intensive as an on-premises deployment because of the subscription-based pricing model.
  • Better and more instant scalability, allowing clients to add (and sometimes remove) users to their system on demand and saving them from having to invest in hardware and software at the “high water mark”.
  • The direct and indirect costs of your infrastructure, from server to database systems to the actual hardware and replacement cycle cost.
  • The hidden costs of maintaining the servers yourself.
  • The benefit of the reduced deployment times (and corresponding improved ROI) that are typical for cloud deployments, as the necessary infrastructure is in place already.
  1. Better IT Resource Utilisation

Moving to the cloud means that your IT department will be able to deliver higher-value activities that are better aligned with your mission, and they will be able to spend less time “patching the servers and keeping the lights blinking.” At the end of the day, most IT departments are stretched pretty thin, and find themselves spending too much time on low-value (but admittedly critical) Development projectactivities such as verifying backups, applying security updates, and upgrading the infrastructure upon which your critical systems run. There is tremendous business benefit to assigning those tasks back to your ERP vendor as part of a cloud deployment, freeing up your IT department’s time to work on more strategic business projects such as creating executive dashboards, deploying mobile devices, and crafting helpful management reports.

  1. The Cloud is More Secure

Today, it’s hard to imagine a client who could possibly create a more secure operating environment than leading cloud providers. Indeed, Gartner reports[2] that “Multi-tenant services are not only highly resistant to attack, but are also a more secure starting point than most traditional in-house implementations.”

Where security once implied a locking the server room door and forcing people to use long passwords, today it means hardened electronic operating environments. You can’t claim to be secure unless you have systems and people protecting your infrastructure 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and verifying that security updates from all vendors are thoughtfully tested, then applied.

Security today is a comprehensive, end-to-end mindset that has to be built across every layer of the ERP environment from the physical network interface cards to the user passwords. It means a holistic approach to anticipating and minimising possible natural, human, and technical disruptions to your system to ensure uptime and peace of mind.

  1. Mobile and Collaborative

The modern ERP deployment landscape is full of mobile professionals, including sales and service staff operating outside the four walls of your office, who expect access to the ERP system from their handheld devices. You may also have mobile onsite staff such as shop floor operators and logistics staff that need to access your ERP from tablets and similar devices. Moving to a cloud-based system gives everyone the real-time system access they require as a routine part of their jobs while driving out the inefficiency of paper-based processes and the burden and security risk of figuring out how to deliver this yourself.

Opening up your ERP system by virtue of cloud deployment allows you to retire the poorly defined ad-hoc “integration by Excel file” workflows that might have cropped up across your organisation. In their place, you can deploy real-time integration processes that link your employees, suppliers, partners, and customers.

Cloud deployment brings the opportunity to redefine many of your legacy business processes and workflows in a way that leverages these more open, connected, instantaneous integration paths.

ERP solutions aren’t just software. They are tools that can be used to help grow your business profitably, offering flexible solutions that provide more accurate information in real-time, driving smarter, faster decision-making, and enabling customers to quickly meet changing market demands to stay ahead of their competition. The cloud increases the business benefits that ERP offers and can accompany your business on the road to successful growth.

Writes Martin Hill, Vice President Marketing, Epicor International

CIOs look to the cloud for seamless M&A

IBM speaker

Sebastian Krause, General Manager for IBM Cloud Europe

For senior CIOs, knowing how to respond to an M&A and divesture situation is key, as mergers, acquisitions and divestitures are a critical component of business strategy.

Projections for European M&A transactions show total deal values are set to rise from US$621 billion in 2014 to US$936 billion by 2017. M&A activity is likely to be bolstered by continued positive monetary policy, with additional cross-border M&A activity likely to take place as a result of a strong US dollar, primarily in Spain, Germany, and Italy.

Increasingly, businesses are using M&A to grow their organisation, achieve economies of scale, expand product portfolios, globalise and diversify.

In the intense negotiations around this business change, IT operations are likely to face dramatic reorganisation as various stakeholders analyse existing systems and look at the potential for efficiencies.

This is about survival and the IT division is likely to be under intense scrutiny during this period, under pressure to perform critical functions such as the integration or separation of critical systems and data, the provision of an uninterrupted service during the transition period, and the prompt delivery of synergy targets. IT strategy is therefore core to any successful M&A or divestiture plan and a critical contributor to its success or failure.

Increasingly, CIOs are under pressure to meet these challenges quickly and at lower cost. Their ability to do so can even impact the way analysts assess potential deals. IT dependent synergies have been found to be responsible for a large proportion (30 to 60%) of M&A benefits, but 70% of M&As fail to meet their synergy targets in the planned timeframe.

Realising these M&A and divestiture targets for enterprise IT environments is complex and requires a holistic approach that considers public, private, IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS as well as non-cloud delivery models.

Some CIOs may approach the situation by simply making adjustments to the existing IT landscape – from CRM, ERP through to office.

This can involve singling out certain components of an established Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, cloning the existing ERP environment, deploying existing systems into the acquired business asset or transferring data between differing systems with the expectation that no issues with integration will arise. These approaches have certainly worked in the past, but can be costly, challenging to implement and disruptive.

This is why many CIOs are looking at a move towards cloud-based applications and infrastructure, which can take the pain out of the M&A process. Broadly, the drivers for moving to cloud services are increased agility, speed, innovation and lowering costs.

They can help organisations going through mergers and acquisitions to realise synergy benefits more quickly, simplify integration and accelerate the change programme, reduce costs through efficiencies, mitigate costly migration investments and encourage financial flexibility.

Top cloud benefits for M&A:

  • Achieving synergy more quickly: Cloud enabled applications simplify portability, integration and deployment.
  • Lowering costs: The cloud can provide temporary burst capacity for the migration.
  • Increased financial flexibility: Cloud provides a flexible cost model, allowing organisations to easily move between CAPEX and OPEX to impact EBITA and cash flow.
  • Simplifying changes: Cloud simplifies the creation of APIs to hide the underlying complexity of multiple, overlapping systems.
  • When preparing for an M&A or divestiture, it’s worth considering what the future IT model will look like, which APIs are needed to simplify required activities and how applications can be cloud enabled for portability and deployment.

Developing a repeatable platform that delivers these benefits and simplifies M&A activities will greatly improve an organisation’s ability to grow and be successful. It may even open up new opportunities that might not have been possible without the cost, flexibility, and scalability benefits that cloud solutions can deliver.

With businesses already realising real benefits, the cloud’s role in M&A is only set to grow. By building a cloud model that works, organisations can avoid reorganising IT operations for each merger or acquisition and ensure a much more seamless transition.

Through implementing an approach that can speed the execution and success of these deals, CIOs can look to deliver value from the IT department that goes far beyond just support, to true business leadership.

Written by Sebastian Krause, General Manager for IBM Cloud Europe

Understanding the economics of the cloud – its more than just a money saver

Businessman drawing business planA recent survey from Spiceworks highlighted 93% of enterprise organizations are now using at least one cloud based service within their operations, but there does seem to be a general feeling within the community that the benefits are not clearly understood.

While most early adopters of such platforms, as well as other future tech, have focused on the performance capabilities which cloud can offer, the mainstream market believes the cloud is a cost reduction tool, a point which professional services giant Deloitte disagrees with.

“The image of the cloud projected by the market is sometimes that all forms of cloud are cheaper, but it is a question of using the right tool for the right job,” said Gwil Davies, Director & Cloud Lead in the EMEA IT Infrastructure at Deloitte. “What decision makers at these organizations need to realize is that the cloud is not necessarily cheaper.”

“I think it’s more important for organizations get a real understanding of how to use the cloud and perhaps not automatically assume that moving all of their current IT into cloud is going to be the cheaper solution.”

The concept of the cloud being a cheaper alternative to traditional IT is sometimes a case of a lack of understanding of the technology itself, but also the journey on which organizations need to undertake to ensure cloud computing is being used in an effective manner. Selecting a cloud provider is only a small facet of the cloud itself, a fact which can be under-appreciated by enterprise decision makers.

“Technology is a small part of the challenge, business transformation of the organization is key to the success of the cloud,” said Davies. “You have to be really clear on the why, the what and the how. Specifically you have to have a keen eye on value. Some of the most successful cloud implementation projects generate value in new ways. These decision makers have specifically identified where clear business value can be generated. If the answer is to reduce costs, the cloud is not always the right option.”

Speaking at Cloud World Expo, Davies highlighted that a successful journey to the cloud is not one which focuses on reducing CAPEX and OPEX throughout the organization, but identifies where value can be achieved through a cloud-enabled business. Identifying where the value is, but also monitoring the progress of the project can be the difference between effective investment and throwing money away.

“There are sometimes surprises – and most organisations will need to invest in some base capabilities, before a migration of systems into the cloud can begin,” said Davies. “The business case needs to be defined around what the value of the transition is to the business – huge benefits can be realised, and often it’s not just about reducing the current cost of your IT systems.”

One conclusion which can be drawn from the aforementioned survey as well as others, is the concept of cloud computing has penetrated into the mainstream market. But the question as to whether the benefits of scalability, compute power, agility, flexibility etc. have been effectively received is less clear.

“It varies very widely (whether benefits beyond cost reduction are understood), as customers are in different stages of their cloud journey,” said Davies. “In my opinion, the cloud as a technology is one of the most transformative opportunities available to enterprise organizations in recent years. The cloud is unlocking a huge amount of value throughout the organization, which wouldn’t have been possible even two years ago. There is a huge potential to reach new customers, create new opportunities and experiences, as well as become more competitive in the market place.

Different organizations are in different places though. The starting point for organizations, who are at the investigating the cloud, and haven’t identified what the cloud means to the wider business, is mostly cost saving.”