In my role as a Solution Architect, I am often engaged with organizations in deep technical conversations about how to help advance their technology infrastructure to provide competitive and business advantage. During these discussions, I always try to address “The Five Core Pillars of Modern IT” including:

  1. Compute
  2. Networking
  3. Storage
  4. Backup
  5. Cloud

Invariably, the first four pillars are extensive conversations where customers are often experts themselves. They have experience and refined skills with certain “preferred” technologies. I always keep in mind that learning curves can be difficult to overcome in the fast-paced world of IT. Everyone wants to “hit the ground running” and this often guides them to inferior technologies or causes them to continue doing what has worked in the past.

I believe this is the core reason that when I reach Pillar 5 – Cloud Computing the conversation often hits a large roadblock. Cloud is a vague, heavily overused term that makes MOST IT teams cringe. I will often be cut off in my talk track with comments like, “We looked at the cloud and the business does not see a need for it. Perhaps it’s something we will consider in the future.”

While at first, this caught me off guard. I later realized that Cloud is quite a nebulous term. I needed to dig a little deeper to get some specifics about what cloud solution they looked at and why it fell short.

This tends to be when things get interesting. Typical responses to the cloud conversation include security concerns, concerns about giving up control of the hardware, concerns about compliance, etc.

My response is typically direct. “So do you handle your own payroll and benefits?” The response is usually, “No, those are handled by such and such company.” While this often sparks a defensive stance with the IT team, it does lead to exactly the conversation I need to have with them.

I will start with an apology about putting them on the spot and then the magic happens. We sit down and have a candid conversation about the real concerns they have with Cloud. This includes a lack of experience, genuine concern about security and the list goes on and on.

That is when I can sit down as a trusted advisor and really advocate for the IT team and customer. I help assure them that the future is very cloud focused. I also tell them to relax – this is a HUGE part of why they have partnered with a team of experts.

Driving Business Value

As a cloud adviser and professional, my job is to help customer IT shops focus on three important aspects that immediately drive business value:

  1. I can help with existing infrastructures to ensure they are being utilized effectively via one of our many assessments – often free of charge. Finding value or unused features in existing technologies is a FAST way to deliver value and prove your Trusted Advisor status. Rather than just throwing new hardware at a problem, I can consult with an internal team a team of CDW experts to see if a solution is hidden within the existing infrastructure?
  2. I can assist in offering a comprehensive Cloud Solution portfolio. This includes point solutions like Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS). We can even find a partner that can offer what specific customers want, for example, not just Backup as a Service (BaaS) but how about BaaS on EMC Data Domain. This is extremely compelling to an existing Data Domain customer. What I hope to achieve in this phase is to build confidence in Cloud Services. Data Domain (for example) is amazing for backup and archiving data, but being able to directly hook into a Data Domain as a Service is what THIS IT Team needs. They don’t need nebulous cloud discussions. They need specific solutions for their IT infrastructure that will not break every process and procedure they have. Finding the right solution is the objective and sometimes that means cloud services should be considered (or at least presented) for review.
  3. The last thing I like to discuss with customers is what I call a “Baseline.” I ask them to “grade” themselves on critical services for the company – back-up, email, file data, block data, databases, DNS, SAP, etc. While answers vary wildly, even within the group, it allows me to engage them at their core and discuss what can be done to improve stability and availability internally. Things like engaging Microsoft Experts about Highly Available DNS, Best Practices for SQL Server and how to best integrate with existing technology like storage and replication. Maybe a review of the virtualization platform to be sure DR plans will be successful, etc.

At this point, we have discussed optimizing their existing infrastructure. I’ll typically offer an assessment service to help with that discussion. We have discussed Cloud and begun to introduce Cloud at a very specific level to the customer and we have a Baseline describing how they think they are doing to date.

I have not found many customers who did not appreciate the time and effort spent trying to help them with their business objectives and upcoming projects. As a matter of fact, I often have to immediately schedule another meeting because we have accomplished what we were asked to – we helped build momentum and excitement in the IT team. Once we have that, the sky’s the limit.