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31 May 2010 | Juan Jimenez Blog
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Clouds are for Birds. Services are for Customers.
This week Juan explains why cloud services are the same as any other service with the only difference being how it arrives at the customer's computer...

  Juan Jimenez

I worry about clouds. I started worrying about them when I was 14 years old. I had applied for my first job in order to cover the costs of an education program in which I wanted to enroll. I asked my grandfather for a $75 loan for the textbooks I needed, which I fully repaid. The first day of class involved my seating in a room full of people who were all at least a decade older than me. The introduction involved an explanation of clouds and the utterly destructive effects they could have on my body.

The class was a ground school for the FAA Private Pilot certificate. It would be a few years before I could get a license, or even fly solo as a student, but I wanted to get an early start. I picked up a part-time job as the flight school’s “line boy”, refueling aircrafts, topping off the oil tanks and boy-handling the birds around the small parking area. That first session involved weather, thunderstorms and the kinds of clouds that should tell any pilot areas of the sky to be avoided, and pictures showing why that was a very good idea.

Fast forward to 2010, and 36 years later my chosen industry has its underwear tied into knots over the subject of “clouds”. However, it is a different issue. It is not about what happens when you try to fly through clouds when you should be either avoiding them or not flying at all, but rather about what happens when the source of your services moves from one place… to another. The question I have for those of you who practice ITSM with ITIL® is: “What makes you think where the services come from makes a difference?” Reduced to a single syllable for ease of comprehension, my answer is: “So?”

ITIL only makes three distinctions when it comes to sourcing of service components: internal service providers, shared service providers and external service providers. Internal service providers are typically embedded within the business units they serve because they provide services that are specific to those units. For example, assume the mythical ACME Coyote Services Co. has three business units and each one produces, respectively, rocket packs, anvils and earthquake pills. Each one has very specific IT requirements to support aerodynamics, propulsion, metallurgy and roadrunner physiology.

However, all of ACME’s business units have a need for shared services for human resources, administration, office support and payroll services, among others. These are provided by a shared services provider internal to the organization. External services, such as Internet connectivity and telephony services, are provided by an external service provider; in this case, the Toontown Best-Effort Communications Co.

Notice there is no categorization for the medium through which each of the providers deliver their services to the business units and/or the organization as a whole. That is a technology issue, and the customer generally could care less how you do that. The customer only cares about the service they receive, and the quality at which it is provided. The service is essentially an illusion created by the service provider(s) and designed to appear on their displays as a tool with which they can interact to achieve their business goals. Think of it as a magic act in which the majority of the audience is composed of children. While there is some interest in how the illusion is constructed, the applause is only given if the performance is successful and entertaining.

In my opinion, the same applies to “cloud” services. I have seen this marketing technique many times in my 35 years in the IT industry. It is very simple in nature – take something that is essentially the same as what has been done for a long time and give it a new name to make it sound new and improved. One example of this is the concept of KPO or Knowledge Process Outsourcing. Sounds new, does it not? The truth is we have been doing it as a species for thousands of years. How long has the concept of an attorney as a legal representative been around? Why do you hire a lawyer? To file the motions and argue with the judge and jury based on your strategy? Or to apply their knowledge of proper legal strategy once you have communicated the desired outcome?

Similarly, “cloud services” are exactly the same as any other service. The technology used to produce the services is exactly the same as any other, and requires exactly the same flavor or IT Service Management techniques in order to deliver them to the customer with the desired utility and warranty. The only difference between a “cloud” service and any other service is how that illusion arrives at the customer’s computer. That is merely an issue of technology and transmission medium. From the IT point of view, the good practices of ITIL’s core guidance apply just as equally as they do to any other service. Sweep the “cloud” aside and you will see that the way the illusion is created is no different. The same can be said of the need to apply best practices to the management of the illusion.

As always, the point of my blogs is to get readers to think, rather than provide ready-made answers, because I will be the first to admit I do not always have them. Feedback on my blog entries is always welcome!

(ITIL® is a Registered Trade Mark of the Office of Government Commerce in the United Kingdom and other countries.)

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