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Who owns your Cloud Center of Excellence?

Adopting cloud technology is like learning to swim.  Nobody can do it without jumping into the water.  The first step towards cloud adoption is starting to use it.  The way cloud technology is offered to the world gives you the perfect opportunity to experiment and learn.  Proof of concepts are the best way to get started with the cloud journey.  COVID-19 has changed the playground significantly.  Since March 2020, we see that ALL our customers started to use cloud technology.  For some this was just an acceleration of an existing strategy.  For some it was “quite disruptive”.  There’s a whole range of situations we come across, but they all have one thing in common: the cloud journey is accelerating and there’s a need to put more structure behind it.  One CIO put it like this:

“We have about 6 months to be ready to manage a tsunami of cloud projects coming from our business.” 

CIO of a large multinational, headquarter in Belgium

That is exactly where a Cloud Center of Excellence (CCoE) comes into the game.  During the recent Gartner (virtual) EMEA conference, getting a CCoE up and running was called out at THE action to take.

Taking a step back, it’s quite logical what is happening.  The time of experimenting is over.  Experimenting in a cloud world will never stop, but that’s a different story.  It is however time to shift gears and get ready for “serious cloud business”.  As in mission critical cloud workloads.  And in large enterprises: a lot of them.

Let’s start by getting the definition right.  Again, going back to Gartner, this is a definition we do really like.

“A CCOE is a centralized governance function for the organization and acts in a consultative role for central IT, business-unit IT and cloud service consumers in the business.” 

Gartner (Set up your organisation for cloud adoption success)

In our 45 Degrees approach, we use 6 pillars to structure the CCoE.  In the strategy pillar we cover the topic of aligning with the business.  The people pillar covers aspects like resource management, skills and readiness management, knowledge management, …  The governance pillar is where decisions on policies and procedures, project management and organisation structure are taken.  The other 3 pillars are technical and cover “the cloud platform” in term of reference architectures, security (which we do see as a separate pillar) and finally, cloud operations.  Within those 6 pillars we have a long series of capabilities.  The idea is to have a “home” for any possible aspect of the cloud journey.

During initial conversations with customers, one of the most common question is not how we see the structure. The question is: “But who owns the Cloud Center of Excellence?”  There’s several possible answer to this question.

Answer 1: don’t outsource the cloud center of excellence!  The CCoE is a crucial function for the future of the customer.  I sometimes compare it to the old “on premise outsourcing world”. Even customers who outsourced everything, still had a couple of internal functions left.  To deal with budget and with SLAs, at least …  In a cloud world, outsourcing is a whole different scenario all together.  Outsourcing the CCoE does not fit in any scenario.  You want to stay in charge of the different functions of the CCoE.  You can outsource some aspects, like for instance Cloud Operations.  But you don’t give the key to your house to an outside partner who would come and run the CCoE “for you”.  With 45 Degrees, we help customer setting up and running their CCoE.  But it’s their CCoE.  Some of the crucial functions need to be insourced.

Answer 2: the CCoE is an Enterprise Architecture function.  But not some of the “old school” enterprise architecture, where the enterprise architect knows nothing about technology.  I recently came across a description of who leads an CCoE: it’s a cloud architect that knows how to deal with governance aspect, knows how to run large projects, knows how to deal with the people aspects and can think strategically with the business.  I rest my case 🙂 …

Answer 3: you need to dedicate some people to the CCoE.  The CCoE does not have day to day operational responsibilities.  They are not running the cloud projects.  We recommend keeping it lean and mean.  Depending on the size of your organisation is between 2 and maximum a handful of people.  In the ideal world, the CCoE lead reports into the CIO.  We do see some “variations” to this, but it’s key to have a direct reporting line into the CIO.  Reporting into the CIO is what we see in “traditional enterprises”.  In “born in the cloud” companies (like the Spotify’s of this world), we see a whole different scenario.

So, in summary:

  • This is THE moment to start setting up your CCoE.  Make sure you are ready for the tsunami that is coming.
  • Nobody should setup and run your CCoE FOR you.  Get help to setup and run the CCoE, but don’t give the keys to your cloud house to an external party.
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