How to shift cloud metrics to measuring agility

Cloud metrics have long centered around operational cost savings, but that’s not where the actual value of the cloud is

How to shift cloud metrics to an agility measure
Gordon Wrigley (CC BY 2.0)

It’s a constantly evolving science, the ability to understand the exact business benefit of cloud computing. A few years ago, the benefit was largely conceived as “capex vs. opex,” the ability to shift to an on-demand consumption model and thus avoid the capital expenses of hardware and software.

Sometimes that works, sometimes not. When considering tax advantages, the existing hardware and software sunk costs, and the prices of cloud services, the cost advantages of shifting from capital expenses to operational ones are hit or miss. It really depends on what type of business you’re running, and your past IT strategies and spending patterns.

The real benefit of cloud computing is agility. No longer do you have to wait months to get hardware and software placed in some remote datacenter. Today, you can go to the Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure IaaS console and build or remove virtual machine instances as you need—or do not need—them. This is the real game-changer.

On average, it took enterprises with cloud deployments about five years to understand this benefit. As I’ve said before, they come to cloud for the operational cost savings but stay for the agility.

The problem is that agility is almost impossible to measure—or even explain. I’ve tried to define cloud-based business agility and measurement methods in books, speaking events, and articles at InfoWorld, and I still get blank looks.

It comes down to the metrics you use to measure the value of agility, and those depend on the enterprise’s type of business and industry. Still, here’s some guidance on creating metrics for your own enterprise:

  • Focus on what improves with cloud computing. In other words, define the as-is state and the planned to-be state with cloud, as far as agility is concerned. For example, it once took three months to get an application into production. Using an IaaS provider, the goal is between three hours and three days. What does that mean to your enterprise, in terms of value?
  • Note the complex relationships between cloud and noncloud systems. It’s not that easy to do agility metrics, considering that traditional and cloud-based systems are typically coupled. Although it takes only days versus months to place an inventory system in the cloud, the system still depends on the on-premises sales order system that takes months to expand or change platforms. These limitations need to be noted, and taken into account. 

Complex and scary stuff? Not really. There is good stuff coming as your move into cloud, and it will only accelerate the value it creates. The metrics will become less important as the results become more and more obvious.

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