Friday, July 18, 2014

Is Your Head in the Cloud?

By Nabil Fares
Deputy Director and Chief Information Officer
California Department of Public Health

While the cloud can bring a lot of benefits to enterprise technology, it creates several new challenges as well. During a session at this year’s 2nd AnnualConNEXTions 2014: A Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange, Nabil Fares of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) shared his experience with battling security and complexity challenges and finding business agility and sustainability in the cloud. 

Like most CIOs, Fares was faced with the challenge of managing an IT system that was overly complex, hard to maintain, and increasingly difficult to secure. 

When Fares took over his role, he inherited a system of unconsolidated, fragmented IT operations, he said. Individuals in different business units had often chosen and implemented IT solutions on their own. The end result was a mix of seven different phone systems, 14 major data networks, three email systems, 22 helpdesks, 13 LAN organizations, and 200 IT job titles, including contractors.

To cut costs and improve efficiency and security, Fares decided to put an end to that “open buffet.”

Set Limits

In many companies, employees and business units are being granted more freedom in what technology they choose to work with. However, Fares stressed the importance of setting limits to keep complexity from getting out of hand. That’s why decided to limit choices to just two solutions. Only an organization with unlimited resources would be able to manage an open buffet IT system.

While the previous CIO decentralized IT, Fares consolidated systems under one government cloud. That consolidation resulted in increased efficiency and effectiveness, as well as stronger security. 

However, achieving those benefits required significant reinvention of several key areas, Fares said, including:

· IT governance
· Procurement, finance, and facilities management
· IT staff management, and
· Communications management.

Key areas of the IT infrastructure were impacted, including application development and delivery, help desk services, data centers, web hosting, etc.

3-Phase Approach

To successfully move to a cloud-based, consolidated system, Fares took a three-phase approach over the course of 30 months:

1. For phase one, Fares appointed IT managers and identified loyal IT champions in other business units to provide support. The team consolidated line IT budgets and created IT governance processes and the groups to enforce them.

2. In phase two, the organization conducted detailed planning and took inventory of all current IT assets. Fares prepared the IT staff for the transition and offered the training they needed. The team also refined IT’s chargeback model, began implementing individual department’s consolidation plans, consolidated data centers, and negotiated shared software licenses.

3. For phase three, the implementation phase, IT upgraded its infrastructure in the cloud. The team has kept its focus on improving service delivery and measuring the results of the project.

A key part of a successful transition to a new computing environment is managing staff properly. In a consolidated, cloud-based system, people will need different skills than in the past, so they must be properly trained.

Build the Right Team  

It’s also important to attract and retain the right people, Fares said. IT staff members must be agile and ready to adapt. Fares is proud of his department’s 0.03% attrition rate. He is able to retain experts because the employees are exposed to more business lines so they learn a lot and get to see the big picture of the impact their work has on the organization.

A key challenge to this top-down, consolidated approach is getting everyone throughout the organization on the same page. That can be accomplished with effective communication and having a clear vision of what organization is hoping to accomplish. The motive and scope must be clearly defined.

When managing this difficult transition, Fares recommended CIOs:

  • Be proactive.
  • Develop selection criteria and governance models.
  • Use a business impact analysis.
  • Ensure that private cloud initiatives extend beyond virtualization.
  • Use external cloud brokers.
  • Position IT as a cloud service broker.
  • Coordinate cloud and mobile strategies.

Fares admitted that this top-down approach can be difficult for others to accept, but with his loyal deputy model, he was able to consolidate talent and systems to centralize IT. His message to other parts of the organization has been, “Let me bake so you can eat.” By that he means, the other units should let him team worry about IT so the rest of the organization is free to focus on their core work.

For more insight pulled from ConNEXTions 2014, be sure to download a copy of Frost & Sullivan’s ExecutiveMindXchange Chronicles, a collection of summaries from all of the event’s sessions.

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