Denis Edwards and his IT team have a strategy for where cloud computing works best. For those types of applications and tasks, the question becomes, 'Why wouldn't we?'
An ideal cloud-based application is a brand-new business-to-consumer application--"those things we hope will go viral, but we aren't quite sure if they will or not," Edwards says. Manpower doesn't mind paying a per-hour rate in return for that unpredictable capacity. "Certainly for prototypes and proof of concept, we'll look to target as many of those to an elastic cloud as possible," Edwards says. He tells his IT team, "Let's get comfortable with 'Why wouldn't we do that in an elastic environment?'"
But if that app's a long-term hit, Edwards thinks it usually will make sense to bring that in-house. Manpower runs data centers in co-location facilities, with its own staff running some of the operation and an outsourcer running other parts. With that view, infrastructure-as-a-service just becomes a new end point along the outsourcing spectrum, seen as higher-priced variable capacity needed at launch, before moving to a more conventional outsourcing or in-house model at a lower long-term cost once the app is at a large but more predictable scale.
Cloud In The Budget Process
Last year, Manpower considered SaaS on a case-by-case basis as needs arose--such as implementing Salesforce for CRM. But there wasn't a guiding strategy for how and when to consider cloud. As the IT team did due diligence for those projects, it built a list of characteristics that help determine if a project or application makes sense for SaaS or cloud infrastructure.
This June, as Manpower starts its annual budgeting and planning process, it'll have a different approach to cloud. "This planning cycle, now that we have the guidelines of what makes sense from a cloud perspective or not, we'll start targeting specific pieces and go out and see if there's a cloud solution for this," Edwards says. "We didn't do that last year."
Here are some of the filters that will steer projects toward or away from cloud computing.
1. Data governance.
This is the first cut. Given that the majority of Manpower's business is outside the U.S., including about 68% from Europe, which has strict rules around security and privacy, this governance review is critical. In fact, the IT leader responsible for the stage gate review process for all IT programs also owns data privacy and governance polices.
"If we can't get comfortable with that, and I mean really comfortable with that, then we don't do it," Edwards says.
2. Scale up and tear down
A lot of what IT does is temporary—development, testing, training, data conversions are example of environments that scale up knowing they'll come down. Edwards challenge to the IT team: "Justify why we wouldn't [use an elastic, pay-per-use model]. Justify why I want to carry the assets to get those environments up and running."
3. Software as a Service
The company has grown very comfortable with SaaS models for certain applications. It uses Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite to run the Exchange environment for more than 60% of employees. Implementing Salesforce was "probably the most popular IT decision I've ever made," he says.
One major consideration (after data governance) is the extent of integration a SaaS app will need and how easy that will be. Salesforce is fairly easy for it to integrate, for example, because it's at the front end of the sales process.
If Manpower's going to custom build a new Web application, say to provide a new service or type of content to attract candidates, it'll more than likely consider a cloud infrastructure "as long as we knew we could bring it back in house if we need to." So far, they've used Amazon's infrastructure as a service, and researched Google's, and are confident they'll be able to move any app they build for those environments in-house.
Edwards warns that this takes a discipline to constantly watch the business case and governance rules: "Make sure everyone understands, just because you started it in the cloud, doesn't mean it's going to stay in the cloud." And it isn't just transactions and computing volume that change that. If an application's getting a significant new function, it must get another round of data-governance approval for that piece to go into a public cloud infrastructure.
As we survey IT pros, we're seeing a good number these days recoil at anything cloud, a backlash against the thundering hype. "It actually sickens me to hear the term 'cloud computing' being used as some new global and life changing technology," one IS manager said in our recent private cloud survey.
That's why it's important to look at how real-world IT leaders and their teams are making cloud's promise reality, while sifting out the hype. Manpower is ahead of a lot of companies, but still at an early stage of adoption. Yet what Edwards and his Manpower IT team are living through, and what they're shaping, is the evolution of how IT delivers business value.
The cloud doesn't change everything. But if it changes nothing, then IT teams will have missed a golden opportunity.
Chris Murphy is editor of InformationWeek.
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