Guest Author: Leo Peay

Managing an Ecosystem of Cloud Services

Cloud services are now so mature and well adopted that surely it is time to start discussions and make plans about how to manage and tune the cloud services that your company may have purchased.

If that sounded a bit sarcastic and presumptive, well, it was meant to be. I am willing to bet, however, that most organizations that are pursuing and/or already using some form of cloud services do not have sufficient mechanisms and metrics in place to manage the cloud services they are contracting. Some IT organizations view cloud services as a threat to their survival and are working hard to “catch up” with cloud offerings so that their internal services can compete with those offerings. I believe it is safe to say that no one cloud service offering, no matter how you define cloud services, will satisfy all the IT needs of a business. The more likely scenario will be heterogeneous blends of cloud offerings. These clouds will be public, private, and hybrids in between that may vary across teams within business units, as well as business processes spanning business units and supply chains. This is the existing and evolving world of cloud services.

Business teams and leaders in larger enterprises are increasingly looking at cloud services. Often, without their IT support teams. There are plenty of reasons why this is happening. The following story represents one example. See if this sounds familiar.


Recently, while at a global manufacturing company, I observed a local business team collecting supply chain information from multiple external information providers. These information providers are essential partners in what I refer to here as this business team’s information ecosystem. The team integrated and analyzed this information creating a valuable executive dashboard. Valuable enough that it warranted becoming a product offering. Innovation was alive and well here. The business unit wanted to move out fast on this great idea once it realized the product’s potential. In this particular situation the IT group was approached, though did not have sufficient labor resources to support the business unit in a timely fashion. This businesses team, perhaps like many, did not want to wait and took action by retaining a system integrator who led the project and began rapid design activities. It then became apparent that the internal IT team was also unable to rapidly deploy the programming and computing environment necessary for the integrator to move forward.

Hello cloud services.

Cloud services provided a rapid development and prototype environment. It might have even been the production environment for the new product. An initial prototype was created using information that the business team had already obtained from its supplier. Moving the tool off of a local desktop to a cloud environment occurred very quickly. Automating the information feeds from the ecosystem of suppliers came next. These suppliers were already under contract with the business team and they were obliged to direct their feeds to a new destination that was now based “in the cloud.” There were very few technical challenges involved beyond informing the suppliers how to connect to the cloud service and having their respective IT teams configure the data feeds. The result was a really slick business solution that was delivered with almost no internal IT involvement and relatively little friction from existing external information providers. Great results. Fast. Low cost. Impactful. A cloud services success story.

Does this sound familiar? In many ways I truly hope your respective companies have success stories like this. It was a great idea and a resourceful use of people, processes and technology. Cloud technology was an enabler for this business unit to take an existing tool and rapidly turn the tool into a conceptual product. I view this project as a success because there were great results and there was constructive communication between the ecosystem partners during the project. It was a great example of where IT specifically got out of the way and did not inhibit a business unit for taking their business concept to the next level. It is also an example of where the business team, the IT team and ecosystem partners recognized that there would need to be “catch up” work to follow so that the “ilities” (maintainability, scalability, secure-ability, etc) would get addressed.

Being in a “catch up” mode may not be a preferred situation, but it is not necessarily bad. An Information Technology team being in “catch up” mode is more common than many would like and is not unique to using cloud services. The challenge is to make sure you do have “catch up” situations when the business is moving fast and, ideally, you can continuously improve your service offerings so there is less catching up to do in the future.


How do you “catch up”? The quick answer is to cycle back around and apply your company’s preferred System Development Life Cycle (SDLC) methodology to a project like the one above. That may be obvious, though I do recommend that you leverage Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) practices to your existing IT services with a focus on your company’s evolving ecosystem of cloud service providers. “Catch up” events are actually good fuel for evolving your services. Here are a few thoughts and suggestions on approaching and reducing the number of “catch up” events.

Your IT Team Is Already In the Cloud Services Business

Recognize it and embrace it. Business users, for the most part, do not really care where their IT services are physically hosted. You are fundamentally already a type of cloud service to your users. It is up to you to define, or perhaps redefine, your IT services in the context of the cloud service offerings that are available today. Layout a service roadmap and evolve your service offerings by continuously assessing and refining your target offerings. An important aspect of this is to align your service definitions, metrics and cost management methods with what is commercially available. A strong IT business strategy and roadmap needs to identify which aspects of cloud services you want to be good at, and actively work to flesh out your service offerings leveraging both internal and external approaches to these services.

Business Unit Relationships, Communication & Portfolio Management

Recognize innovative projects and ecosystem changes earlier by improving the lines of communication across business and IT organizations. It is all about relationships and establishing trust levels and transparency so that the business, IT and ecosystem partners can work effectively together. Align portfolio management processes to at least be loosely coupled so that lessons can be shared and great ideas can be fostered and given the enterprise attention at the appropriate time. Communication and sharing is the key to early detection and reducing the impact of catch up situations. Encourage diverse teams to contribute to your company’s body of cloud services knowledge and foster collaboration more than control for these emergent projects.

Business Analysis & Solution Architect Skills

“Catch up” situations may require your team to re-engineer or reverse engineer business solutions. You will need business analyst and solution architect personnel who can characterize an end-to-end solution across a diverse services ecosystem. You will want them to define performance requirements from a user perspective and decompose the solution into logical and measurable components for your system management services. Continually grow your team’s cloud technology awareness and skills. If your IT team lacks the expertise to perform these functions then it is a good idea to find and align yourself with trusted partners that you can draw upon when you need to as an extension of your team. Prepare your own ecosystem of cloud service providers and integration partners. This will also help address the lack of resource challenges as seen in the story above.

Business Processes, Applications & Your Company’s Ecosystem

Continually seek and maintain an inventory of critical business processes, applications and ecosystem of information providers. You may find that you already have a good list of cloud providers or cloud-like providers in your company’s current inventory. The information providers in the story above were talented IT service operators in their own right and by some industry definitions these ecosystem partners might actually be “Information as a Service” cloud providers. This inventory needs to be an evergreen process unto itself and should strive to characterize those that are the most business critical and strategically important. The business value can determine the depth of characterization and subsequent measures and monitoring that may be warranted.

Systems Management & Meaningful Metrics

Business solutions will increasingly be a blend of internal services and multiple external cloud services of various flavors. These ecosystems will evolve and you should continually look to improve the measurements and the monitoring of business solutions across ecosystems. These will extend beyond your company’s walls. Minimally, start out by defining and measuring your business team’s end-to-end solution that spans an ecosystem, doing so from a user’s perspective when possible. Over time you can incrementally refine component measurements and monitoring that may be warranted. The continuous improvement practices will also have to adapt to the breadth of services as your ecosystems expand over time.

Information Security

There are many information security and compliance implications of using any cloud or hosted services. This is particularly true of increasingly complex ecosystems. Security facets are beyond the scope of this article, though I do want to mention that for ecosystems you should continually keep an eye out for emergent confidentiality. It is increasingly easy, like the story above, to integrate information through cloud services and even in cases where the individual elements of information may be semi-public and non-sensitive, the results of information aggregation may have a whole different level of sensitivity. Be vigilant.


Fast moving business units do not want to wait and have sufficient autonomy to execute external contracts for building solutions. Even in the best of circumstances there will be “catch up” situations. Expect and embrace these situations. Learn from them and keep pace with your business team needs. Better yet, recognize that your IT team is already in the cloud service business and start delivering services in that context. Make it easy for your business users to see and consume your services in that cloud services context. Strive to be more business process, application and solution aware with a focus on end-to-end performance measures for the most business critical processes and applications. Your IT business strategy should include establishing trusted partners for cloud services and system integration across cloud services. Innovation comes from building upon the great work of others. Your team can, and should, innovate like this to “catch up” and be a vital part of your company’s cloud services ecosystem.

Don’t compete with the cloud. Be the cloud.

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