Two Kinds of Cloud Agility’s Bernard Golden defines cloud agility and provides examples of how cloud computing fosters business agility in the following article.

Although agility is commonly described as a key benefit of cloud computing, there are two types of agility that are real, but one of them packs more of a punch.

First, however, it is important to define cloud agility. Cloud agility is tied to the rapid provisioning of computer resources. In typical IT shops, new compute instances or storage can take weeks (or even months!), but the same provisioning process takes just minutes in cloud environments.

Work is able to commence at a rapid pace due to the dramatic shortening of the provisioning timeframe. For example, in a cloud environment submitting a request for computing resources and waiting anxiously for a fulfillment response via email does not happen. In this way, agility can be defined as “the power of moving quickly and easily; nimbleness,” and in his way it is clear how this rapid provisioning is commonly referred to advancing agility.

It is at this point that the definition of agility becomes confusing, as people often conflate both engineering resource availability and business response to changing conditions or opportunity under agility.

While both types of agility are useful, business response to changing conditions or opportunity will prove to be the more compelling type of agility. It will also come to be seen as the real agility associated with cloud computing.

The issue with this type of agility, however, is that it is a local optimization, meaning that it makes a portion of internal IT processes more agile. However this doesn’t necessarily shorten the overall application supply chain, which extends from initial prototype to production rollout.

It is, in fact, very common for cloud agility to enable developers and QA to begin their work more quickly, but for the overall delivery time to stay the same, stretched by slow handover to operations, extended shakedown time in the new production environment and poor coordination with release to the business units.

Additionally, if cloud computing comes to be seen as an internal IT optimization, with little effect on the timeliness of compute capability rolling out into mainline business processes, IT potentially may never receive the business unit support it requires to fund the shift to cloud computing. What may happen, is that cloud computing will end up like virtualization, in which in many organizations remains at 20 or 30 percent penetration, unable to gather the funding necessary to support wider implementation. Necessary funding will probably never materialize if the move to cloud computing is presented as “helps our programmers program faster.”

Now, for the second type of agility, which affects how quickly business units can roll out new offerings. This type of agility does not suffer the same problems that the first one does. Funding will not be an issue if business units can see a direct correlation between cloud computing and stealing a march on the competition. Funding is never an issue when the business benefit is clear.

The following three examples show the kind of business agility fostered by cloud computing in the world of journalism:

1. The Daily Telegraph broke  a story about a scandal regarding Members of Parliament expenses which was a huge cause celebre featuring examples of MPs seeking reimbursement of for building a duck house and other equally outrageous claims. As can be imagined, the number of expense forms was huge, and overtaxed the resources of the Telegraph available to review and analyze them. The Telegraph loaded the documents in Google Docs and allowed readers to browse them at their own will. CIO of the Telegraph Media Group, Toby Wright, used this example during a presentation at the Cloud Computing World Forum and pointed out how interesting it was to see several hundred people clicking through the spreadsheets at once.

2. The Daily Telegraph’s competitor, the Guardian, of course featured its own response to the expenses scandal. The Guardian quickly wrote an application to let people examine individual claims and identify ones that should be examined more closely. As a result, more questionable claims surfaced more quickly and allowed the situation to heat up. Simon Willison of the Guardian said of the agility that cloud computing offers, “I am working at the Guardian because I am interested in the opportunity to build rapid prototypes that go live: apps that live for two or three days.” Essentially, the agility of cloud computing enables quick rollout of short-lived applications to support the Guardian’s core business: delivery of news and insight.

3. Now, for an example from the United States. The Washington Post took static pdf files of former First Lady Hillary Clinton’s schedule and used Amazon Web Services to transform them into a searchable document format. The Washington Post then placed the documents into a database and put a simple graphic interface in place to allow members of the public to be able to click through them as well–once again, crowds-ourcing the analysis of documents to accelerate analysis.

It can be argued that these examples don’t prove the overall point of how cloud computing improves business agility–they are media businesses, after all, not “real” businesses that deal with physical objects and can’t be satisfied with a centralized publication site. This point doesn’t take into account that modern economies are shifting to become more IT-infused and digital data is becoming a key part of every business offering. The ability to turn out applications associated with the foundation business offering will be a critical differentiator in the future economy.

Customers get more value and the vendor gets competitive advantage due to this ability to surround a physical product or service with supporting applications. In order to win in the future, it is important to know how to take advantage of cloud computing to speed delivery of complimentary applications into the marketplace. As companies battle it out in the marketplace, they will be at a disadvantage if they fail to optimize the application delivery supply chain.

It is a mistake to view cloud computing as a technology that helps IT do its job quicker, and internal IT agility is necessary but not sufficient for the future. It will be more important to link the application of cloud computing to business agility, speeding business innovation to the marketplace. In summary, both types of agility are good but the latter should be the aim of cloud computing efforts.

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