A ‘cloud-first’ business strategy — the key to a competitive edge: CanadianCIO Roundtable

The cloud is considered a great place to be — but some Canadian IT executives wish the computing model could be a little more transparent on costs and service clauses.

That was the main takeaway from the CanadianCIO Executive Roundtable held this past Tuesday (April 26) at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto. ITWC hosted the frank peer discussion that was sponsored by Telus and Microsoft Canada.

The session — titled Why Adopt a Cloud-First Strategy? — drew senior IT executives from Canada’s banking, mining, retail, government, manufacturing and charitable sectors. The guests at the table gave a resounding answer to that question: cloud offers so many benefits that it’s now a must-have focal point of every organization’s IT strategy.

“All our future (IT) decisions will be from a cloud-first strategy going forward. It makes so much more sense. We’ve seen some incredible benefits from it already,” said an executive from the mining sector.

Some cloud benefits cited by attendees include flexibility, scalability, mobility, ease of use for employees, automatic software upgrades and lower in-house hardware and maintenance requirements.

“We’re looking over the next four or five years to move pretty much everything into the cloud. Primarily, we don’t want to be in the hardware business. The infrastructure and everything is too expensive and (cloud) also gives us the flexibility to ramp up and down as business changes,” said an attendee who heads up IT for a national charity.

CIO roundtableStill, a couple of guests suggested cloud providers could make billing and service level agreements clearer and more transparent. Deciphering monthly bills, ending their contracts, recovering their data or moving it to another provider can reveal costs or clauses they were weren’t fully aware of (or didn’t fully understand) at the outset, they said.

“It costs you nothing to get your data into the cloud but it costs you a fortune to get the data back. This is something you have to think about when you’re dealing with vendors,” said an IT executive from a major Canadian bank.

“One of the first questions to ask a cloud provider is ‘How do I get out?’ in terms of being able to get your data out and being able to work with it,” added a media industry CIO.

Steve Fast of Telus said vendors are constantly working to improve service and transparency. But he also urged customers to consider whether signing up for one cookie cutter cloud service can meet the varied and evolving needs of their business.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all with just a credit card and off you go. You really have to think about your business and where you want it to go,” said Fast, VP of managed IT services at Telus.

Various guests said their cloud package saves them money because security, backup and disaster recovery are often bundled into it. While cost efficiency is important when choosing a cloud vendor, Microsoft Canada’s Steve Heck cautioned attendees against making it their top priority.

“Cost is one factor. But if it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” said Heck, CIO of Microsoft Canada. “(It’s) also about the quality and ability of the vendor to look after and maintain privacy and security.”

That point resonated with one roundtable guest whose highly regulated government sector is subject to laws banning Canadian customer data from residing on foreign soil.

“There are legal constraints, procurement constraints, policy constraints as to where the data ends up being housed,” he said.

Microsoft’s move to open two new data centres in Canada may ease some of those concerns. The company said last month that the Toronto and Quebec City facilities will soon be available to all Canadian clients of its cloud-based Azure, Dynamics CRM and Office 365 platforms.

Telus is also leveraging that initiative for its own customers. It announced plans last December to launch a managed IaaS offering for mid-market and large enterprise clients in Canada. Telus will use its own data centre facilities as well as Microsoft’s two new locations to provide public, private and hybrid clouds. The services will run on Microsoft Azure in conjunction with Cisco Cloud Architecture.


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Christine Wong
Christine Wong
Christine Wong has been an on-air reporter for a national daily show on Rogers TV and at High Tech TV, a weekly news magazine on CTV's Ottawa affiliate. She was also an associate producer at Report On Business Television (now called BNN) and CBC's The Hour With George Stroumboulopoulos. As an associate producer at Slice TV, she helped launch two national daily talk shows, The Mom Show and Three Takes. Recently, she was a Staff Writer at ITBusiness.ca and is now a freelance contributor.

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