Underpinning the business with hybrid IT
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Underpinning the business with hybrid IT

Clare Simmons – November 2015
NetApp CIO Cynthia Stoddard on how IT leaders are striking the optimal balance between cloud and traditional IT models to deliver value across the business.

The adoption of many cloud solutions may well be driven by the increased involvement in IT by the rest of the leadership team, but when it comes to balancing traditional IT models with new technologies, the CIO should still take the lead, says Cynthia Stoddard, CIO at data storage company NetApp.

Ahead of her keynote speech at Fujitsu Forum 2015 in Munich on November 18, Stoddard discusses the challenges posed by the collision of traditional IT and growing cloud adoption, and advises on how the CIO can unlock the benefits of cloud to add value across the business. As Stoddard explains, a smooth journey to hybrid IT is as much about people skills and change management as it is technical planning and strategic IT leadership.

I-CIO: What challenges does the new world of hybrid IT pose for the CIO, as they seek to balance cloud and traditional legacy IT delivery models?

Cynthia Stoddard (CS): At NetApp IT we’ve made a lot of progress on the journey from a traditional IT organization to one that is services-based. This began about three and a half years ago and we now operate in a truly hybrid environment — we employ a combination of traditional and agile methods for IT delivery, which positions us to do things cautiously, or very quickly if we need to.
Cynthia Stoddard, CIO, NetApp

It’s important when you embark on this journey to really focus on the business and your customer, i.e. the business user. In fact, one of the biggest challenges for the CIO isn’t the technology — it’s the people. People are emotionally tied to how they feel comfortable doing things, so the CIO needs to help users to cross that change chasm. It’s vital to show them that cloud isn’t going to render their skills outdated; it’s going to add to their existing toolkit and make them more valuable to the business.

Three and a half years ago, when cloud wasn’t very well defined, people wanted to move everything to the cloud without planning or considering its suitability. But cloud or hybrid IT isn’t always the right solution. The CIO must help the business user understand which use cases cloud works for and which it doesn’t, and show them how it helps deliver business value to an organization. Every organization will have different criteria or a different weighting on those criteria; you have to consider your organization’s needs, risk appetite and priorities, and take emotion out of the equation.

I-CIO: How does the CIO ensure they take the rest of the business with them on the journey to cloud?

CS: Taking the rest of the business on the journey to cloud is all about communication. At NetApp we created a cloud decision framework that takes the emotion out of the decision-making process by looking at factors such as the lifespan, security, use of data and the purpose of each application. This determines where that application should reside, whether it’s a strong candidate for SaaS, our internal infrastructure or external cloud.

When creating this framework, we reviewed the components and criteria with our business users to ensure they were on board and invested from both a business and technical standpoint. This means they’re not tempted to choose an environment without considering the ramifications for data security, response times or any of the other criteria.

Our cloud decision framework started life as a spreadsheet, completed manually, but it’s now evolved into a self-service portal. So if you want to provision resources internally within NetApp, you simply access the portal — what we call ‘the door to IT’ — and a behind-the-scenes rules engine determines the resources required.

I-CIO: What potential benefits does a hybrid model offer to the IT team and to the rest of the organization?

CS: We’ve achieved several benefits since moving to a hybrid model. The first was eliminating, or at least corralling, shadow IT, which in turn delivered savings. This also improved our relationship with the business users, because we helped them create departmental applications and to avoid having to wait in line for particular services. So the initial benefit was twofold.

We’re now seeing that cloud also gives us the ability to burst elastically within our infrastructure. We’ve put the most critical applications in our data center to cope with our base level workloads, and cloud now adds elasticity to that. This means improved use of internal IT resource and, in some areas, strengthened disaster recovery capabilities.

In this sense, the benefits amount to true lifecycle management. We’re able to choose the right location for each application, scale resources up and down, provide cost savings and agility, and then back that application up in the cloud as it ages.


I-CIO: Are the technical barriers for the co-existence of cloud and non-cloud systems coming down, or are these still typically discrete environments?

CS: People only see technical barriers if they don’t have a plan in place for the architecture, which can result in having different environments without the appropriate links to connect or manage them. We took a fairly conservative approach to putting that architecture roadmap in place, looking three years ahead but then building out the cloud capabilities over a six- to nine-month period.

This has given us the visibility to put the right technology in place and watch it evolve, in order to keep our framework and infrastructure growing in the right manner. So we’ve built a very strong cloud orchestration framework and made use of the NetApp Data Fabric framework to link all those components together.

I-CIO: Which leadership styles are best suited to leading a technology team in this new digital landscape, and how can the CIO lead the digital education of the wider business?

CS: The CIO should absolutely lead the digital education of the business, by inspiring, energizing and motivating the users. A key aspect of adopting any new technology is change management and ensuring people understand how best to use it.

The ideal CIO also needs to have a certain amount of curiosity and a degree of appetite for risk. They should be open to ideas from the users and help them understand how taking small risks can allow the business to progress quickly. Digital leadership is now about using softer skills to help motivate and understand your staff. You’ve got to put yourself in their shoes and understand how the digital world can help solve their challenges, rather than getting stuck inside of your headquarters mindset.

I-CIO: Thanks to the digitization of business, there is growing engagement in technology among the rest of the leadership team. Does interest from other senior executives, such as the chief marketing officer, and the emergence of new roles, such as chief digital officer, challenge or support the role of the CIO?

CS: My viewpoint is that CIOs have to build relationships with all the counterparts within the business because, these days, technology does not stop at the walls of the IT organization. You have to work in partnership with the other key executives in order to get the best value out of that technology. So whether that’s the CMO or the CDO, you need to understand their pain points to identify their technology needs and help them bring the right solutions to bear. Depending on the size of the organization, in some cases the CIO could play multiple C-suite roles, also acting as the chief data officer for instance, since data is the lifeblood of IT.

“Technology is so pervasive now that the business and IT are becoming inseparable.”

I-CIO: In light of digital disruption and the digitization of business, does the CIO need to adapt in terms of ways of working to maintain their relevance to whole-business objectives?

CS: Absolutely. A few years ago, the CIO had responsibility for back-office IT and making sure the data centers were running OK. Today, the CIO needs to be in among the business users, rather than back in the data center with their own team. Technology is so pervasive now that the business and IT are becoming inseparable — at NetApp the IT group is very closely aligned to corporate goals and objectives. We’ve built programs called ‘NetApp on NetApp’ and ‘Customer-1,’ working with our engineering group, product development group and customer support group to get very close to our users, customers and partners. The CIO role is no longer transactional — it’s becoming much more strategic.

We also have a small innovation group that reports into my enterprise architecture group and functions as a bit of a think tank to look at new technologies. That’s where our whole cloud journey was born, in fact. And although it’s a separate team, anyone in the organization can participate in and contribute ideas to the innovation group. It’s all about getting closer to the business and understanding how new technologies can deliver real business value.

• To explore the challenges and paybacks of taking a strategic approach to hybrid IT, go to Hybrid Hive.
First published November 2015
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