Monday, March 21, 2011

Progressive Thinking Underpins State of North Carolina IT Plans

John Cowan, CEO of 6Fusion

If you have not read State of North Carolina CIO Gerald Fralick’s recent IT plans shared with the State Senate I strongly recommend it.   You can find a copy here. 

I can’t count the number of public sector IT briefings I’ve perused in my career, but I can tell you that none are quite as intriguing as this one.  It is a refreshing dose of innovation and inspiration in a time when, generally speaking, we hear more ‘bad news stories’ than not when it comes to state of public affairs.

The most prominent aspiration of the State IT plan is the creation of a State lead private IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service) cloud offering. 

I realize that cloud is all the rage right now – and because of that it might just be the most misused term in IT history as vendors and opportunists scramble to make a buck.   The truth is that too many public planning documents pay lip service to cloud, missing an opportunity to address a material reality for cloud in a meaningful way.   The State of North Carolina appears much different and you can gather this sense directly from the vision Mr. Fralick has laid out for the State’s future private cloud.

According to the document, the State will pursue:

“Deployment of an on-demand model for infrastructure provisioning which will provide immediate and dynamic visibility into customer pricing, ongoing visibility into service utilization and performance, and which will be used for the provisioning, delivery, and billing for the majority of hosting services in the future.”

Whoa.  Now this is progressive. 

Let me boil down three very important messages in the State report:

1) Visibility into customer pricing:  “Yeah, I’d love to know what this is going to cost before I actually use it….”
The State, whether purposefully or inherently, has captured one of the biggest headaches in cloud: Pricing visibility.   It is difficult, if not impossible, to offer an IaaS cloud product when you can’t help your customer audience understand what it would cost to use such a service.  It sounds kinda silly and obvious, but it just seems to be a very difficult thing for most service providers to grasp – even in the private sector. 

2) Visibility into service utilization and performance: “Knowing what the heck I’m doing so I can improve it is kinda important, wouldn’t ya say?”
Understanding service utilization and performance is not about reading your historical reports. It is about insight into how your applications perform and why.  As the old adage says, “information is power.” Well, it appears the State knows this and is committing to enabling powerful information for customer stakeholders to help them make optimal use of their forthcoming service offering. 

3) Used for the provisioning, delivery and billing for the majority of hosting services: “Ah yes, this whole cloud thing is not just a private little sandbox on the playground of IT!”
The key theme here is the reference to the majority of hosting services.  This to me says that the State   understands that cloud is about a fundamental change to the way IT is delivered and not a simple bolt-on product or service to a legacy portfolio. 

The Office of the CIO is charting a course to develop a service bureau in the purest sense.  According to the report, the State’s primary interest “is the ability to accurately and simply meter and charge its customers for actual computing resources consumed (vs. allocated) as is done in a true utility model.   This is a wise perspective because it will cast the widest possible net to public sector customers (the user community) while avoiding the pitfalls of creating yet another silo of IT service.

Further still, the report goes on to suggest that this whole initiative is not some futuristic five year ‘maybe’ either.  In refreshingly optimistic fashion the State appears to be doubling down on cloud and plans to launch something this calendar year.   

But like any aggressive plan there is risk.

Change often breeds fear.  Fear of displacement. Fear of obsolescence.  Fear of the unknown.  And fear always breeds resistance.  I’ve seen such resistance become the death knell for many ambitious initiatives.  The Office of the CIO will no doubt have to navigate some rough water before it can successfully bring the IT utility to the public sector.   This is why, as a constituent of the cloud industry, I feel compelled to support the State’s effort by doing whatever we can to help make cloud computing in our home State of North Carolina a successful reality. 

I would urge my industry peers to do the same.

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