Virgin Atlantic IT chief David Bulman on the pros and cons of building a more flexible IT service to the business.
There’s been a lot of talk over the last five years about how enterprises should engage with cloud, but in the airline industry we have effectively been using cloud for 40 or 50 years. None of the major airlines has its own reservation system physically operating on the premises, for instance — that has always been an external environment and usually in multi-hosted fashion. So as an industry we’ve been in the cloud for a very long time.That said, today we sit at a real inflection point in terms of how companies need to view technology. Previously, if you wanted to run a piece of software you had to provide the hardware to do it. But that really is no longer the case. I’m on a very certain path to ensure that within five years Virgin Atlantic owns as little hardware as possible. We’re changing suppliers, changing the way we direct those suppliers and the way we source software to move to a service-based methodology.Service mentalityYou have to think differently when you’re procuring services. You need to put your business processes first, as you’re buying a service that’ll deliver a business function rather than purchasing a piece of hardware or software.If you can get the people in your company to start thinking in terms of the services required to operate the business, then the cloud in itself almost becomes irrelevant. Cloud technology sits in the background, allowing you to flex and change the shape of your business with much more ease than you could if you still owned the underlying computer systems.Unquestionably there are specific challenges that cloud can already be utilized to address — some that the technology team need not even bother the business with. Email is a good example: anyone who is actually still running an email server on-premise today is probably a little mad. There’s simply no need for it anymore. Moving all your email services into a shared platform outside the organization provides flexibility and reduces costs. Such decisions very definitely fall within the domain of traditional IT, and where cloud is entirely appropriate we should be able to take advantage of it.Security cross-checkWhen any technology leader is looking at the cloud, one of the biggest questions they have to ask themselves is around security.When CIOs are negotiating with cloud suppliers it’s vital to ensure data protection lies at the core of any contract. Being based in the UK we have to ensure we meet the data protection requirements of the European Union, for example. A mainstream cloud service provider can probably pull out reams of documentation to prove their security is very tight, but with smaller suppliers you have to be more cautious. I have peers who’ve worked with small start-ups that haven’t done due diligence, leaving the data vulnerable. There are dangers in moving to the cloud if you’re not cautious, and the larger providers will offer the security an enterprise requires.But you also need to make sure you’re getting the right price. Cloud offers flexibility, but if that isn’t embedded into the contract, allowing you to scale up or down, in three years’ time you could find you’re locked into a contract that doesn’t allow you to change in the way your business requires.• David Bulman was a keynote speaker at Nimbus Ninety Ignite in London.