Benefits of cloud CoEs and how they bridge the talent gap in Australia

The use of cloud computing services has been growing rapidly for years, but the arrival of COVID-19 in early 2020 precipitated a growth spurt. This was most spectacular, and most evident, in the growth of cloud-based collaboration tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, but organisations of all kinds, faced with the challenges of supporting staff working remotely, turned increasingly to cloud for their internal IT requirements.

An IDC research shows that businesses prioritise investments in new cloud-enabled capabilities that help simplify and standardise new business processes for a much larger remote workforce, and with a concentrated focus on customer experience. Retaining customers during this period of disruption is paramount for a strong emergence from the crisis.

The research also identifies public cloud and software-as-a-service serve as the bedrock on which to construct highly resilient, efficient and agile digital business models that can help withstand disruptions of virtually any impact and duration.

However, cloud migration has its challenges, especially when undertaken with a degree of urgency in parallel with other disruptions like enforced remote working. It requires new skills, and staff must be trained on those skills.

One solution to these challenges is to set up an internal cloud centre of excellence. However the prerequisite for this is also one of the biggest challenges: shortage of cloud skills.

To solve this, organisations are partnering with cloud providers to form cloud guilds or relying on external cloud centres of excellence, such as that soon to be opened by NCS.

In an exclusive interview with CIO Australia, Andre Conti, Australian Head of NCS Group and Chris Fleischmann, Cloud Centre of Excellence Lead for APAC at NCS Group, examine some of the challenges organisations faced as they plan and execute cloud migration, and how they overcome these challenges. In particular they look at the training challenge and how the NCS Cloud Centre of Excellence helps organisations overcome it.

The challenges of cloud migration

There are many acknowledged challenges to cloud migration: staff training and staff shortages; cost uncertainties; difficulties in execution; security concerns. There are many assessments of the relative magnitude of these challenges.

Gartner says cloud computing is marketed as easy to adopt, but the reality of adoption is more complex. The challenge of governing cloud services, however, is that these services are not necessarily under CIO’s control, and a significant percentage of IT spending on cloud services in businesses is also outside CIO’s domain.

Business priorities, rather than IT priorities, dominate decision making, and IT cannot dictate the solution. Yet CIOs are often held accountable for the portfolio of services that they don’t take control directly.

A large scale shift to cloud will also result in a large shift in costs: from CAPEX to OPEX, which can create misleading impressions of how a business is operating unless this is fully understood.

One cloud challenge that frequently comes out on top of the list in surveys is staff training. According to Gartner, “Through 2022, insufficient cloud IaaS skills will delay half of enterprise IT organisations’ migration to the cloud by two years or more.”

Gartner makes a distinction between a simple ‘lift and shift’ approach to cloud, which make less demand on skills, and going cloud native, saying “lift-and-shift projects do not develop native-cloud skills. This is creating a market where service providers cannot train and certify people quickly enough to satisfy the need for skilled cloud professionals.”

The staff training challenge

However, such a ‘cloud-savvy’ approach requires specific cloud skills. The traditional ways organisations seek to address any kind of skills shortage are by hiring new staff or sending existing staff on training courses. Another approach that has gained favour for cloud skills is to partner with cloud service providers.

The National Australia Bank (NAB), for example, formed the NAB Cloud Guild in partnership with AWS. It was launched in April 2018 and by February 2021, it claimed to have trained more than 7,000 staff in cloud skills, with 1,300 of them being AWS certified.

However, while cloud guilds can be effective at producing a good level of cloud skill across an organisation, Andre Conti says they do not fare well at equipping an organisation with the deep-technical skills to support those business applications in the cloud.

“Cloud guilds are a good way to change the mindset of a large number of people in a company and get them to adopt more innovative thinking but if you have a complex application requiring massive changes in the way it is architected, and you want to transform this application, modernise it, make it more relevant, and more agile, or less costly to run, you need a different level of experience. That experience doesn't come through with just a few weeks of training, it comes with years of experience of having done it before.”

Cloud Centre of Excellence

Another approach is the creation of a Cloud Centre of Excellence (CCoE). Gartner describes a CCoE as the best-practice approach to drive cloud-enabled transformation, defining it as “a centralised governance function for the organisation [that] acts in a consultative role for central IT, business-unit IT and cloud service consumers in the business,” and as being “key to driving cloud-enabled IT transformation.”

However a prerequisite for a CCoE is the necessary skills. If these are not available, it is unlikely they can be acquired by either training or hiring fast enough to support the rate at which many organisations are migrating to cloud.

In this context there is much to be said for partnering with an external CCoE, such as that operated by NCS. Andre Conti said the NCS’ new CCoE will be able to draw on the company’s global expertise.

“We are getting together a group of people based in Australia to lead our Centre of Excellence for cloud, but we have a team of international experts based in different countries. With this, we will be able to draw on the innovation and the industry knowledge from different countries, from people with different backgrounds and experience. Bringing those people together in a virtual group will really help the clients we serve.”

Unlike many CCoEs, he said NCS is cloud agnostic. “Our approach to cloud is very pragmatic, centred on the business benefits of the products. We help clients pick the best of what is out there and help them achieve their business objectives. It’s different to others, which have a technology approach.”

“We pride ourselves on our ability to manage complex things and to migrate complex applications, and we have the experience to prove it.”

Learn how your organisation can deliver innovation and agility for cloud journey by partnering with NCS Group.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.