Here’s What 3 IT Professionals Have Learned Since Moving to the Cloud

There’s a technological and ideological shift occurring that’s altering the very function of IT.

Whether you like the term “cloud” or not, the evidence is mounting that on-premises technology is being passed over by thriving technology companies or ripped out and replaced by organizations preparing for a cloud-based future.
Savvy IT professionals are getting out in front of the trend, putting their careers–and their companies–in a favorable position by adopting technology that makes their companies more agile, their users more productive, and their own work more strategic.

We had the opportunity to bring in three such IT professionals for a recent online event: The 2016 State of Cloud IT Roundtable. Our 2016 State of Cloud IT Report served as the catalyst for the conversation.

 

MEET THE EXPERTS

kyle
Kyle Quinn
BetterCloud
Director of Strategic Accounts
Adam-Codega
Adam Codega
Swipely
IT Operations Leader
Ron-Sanders
Ron Sanders
Hootsuite
Systems Administrator
Mike-Mccollum
Michael Mccollum
Socialcode
VP Technical Operations

The following video and transcript are the result of our 2016 State of Cloud IT Roundtable (panel discussion begins at 31:45).

Kyle Quinn (BetterCloud)
Do you guys tend to be homogeneous, stick to one stack, or are you more heterogeneous nowadays? Adam, we’ll start with you.

Adam Codega (Swipely)
We certainly try and use all the tools that are available to us, so with Google for Work, Hangout video conferencing is really big for us, but we’re also using Slack for regular team chat. I think it all depends on the services that are out there.

Certainly I always look for services that are already integrating with Google. That’s going to be easier for people to adopt. While we’re on the same topic, what’s been really interesting for me is not only do I sometimes stand up new services for the company to use, but a lot of times there’s change-over from one service to another, a new product comes out or a certain product evolves from one thing to another. Slack is a really good example because there were some really good benefits and it kind of was a shadow IT thing for a lot of companies.

Ron Sanders (Hootsuite)
The core of what we have is going to be the Google infrastructure and the minute that infrastructure can’t provide something that we need is when we have to start piecing in extra pieces.

You can’t manage HR on Google, so you have something like Workday. You can’t do proper workflows or proper diagramming so you add Lucidchart. It’s all about figuring out what’s the best in breed for our employees and making sure that we’re able to provide those solutions and if people are using tools, making sure that they’re using the tools that will actually best help them with their job, not the tool that they think is going to be the best tool for the job.

I found that quite a bit where the shadow IT is, “This is the thing we think is the best,” and then I can show them that, “Have you seen this product?” Then all of a sudden, they’re like, “Oh, that is leaps and bounds better than the product we were using.” That’s what it is like when we run out of things for our core product to do, we supplement across the board.

Michael Mccollum (Socialcode)
It’s very much like what’s been discussed here. It’s a heterogeneous environment, that best-of-breed with the Google infrastructure being the core for us. When we make a product decision we try to look at something that will integrate into that Google infrastructure so that we can take advantage of the integrations there. If there’s a compelling need we’ll go outside of that ecosystem, but we try to have best-of-breed with Google being our core.

Kyle Quinn (BetterCloud)
What are some of your favorite tools for managing your environment? From infrastructure or SaaS applications, are there any tools out there that you really rely on to help manage that?

Michael Mccollum (Socialcode)
Clearly we use your BetterCloud tools. Other than that a lot of the things that we used to manage our infrastructure, our systems are completely managed by automation tools such as Chef or Puppet. We rely very heavily on that to manage our internal infrastructure.

Adam Codega (Swipely)
For the most part we certainly use BetterCloud for Google for Work. Other than that we’re definitely looking for services which offer a good API for either integration with our service desk or power dashboards or simply making it so that we can write applications to set up new users or take down users if they’re being offboarded.

Kyle Quinn (BetterCloud)
Does that feed into your decision as you’re trying to decide what apps to deploy in terms of integration and how easily they’ll fit into your current process of managing it?

Adam Codega (Swipely)
Sure, sure. If you look at the services now where you’re able to book a meeting with a salesperson by going to that salesperson’s special website, there’s a couple of different programs that do that now. The one that has the Google apps integration is going to go to the top of the list. It doesn’t mean we must use it, because that’s the same as people that say, “You must use the Windows computer,” or, “You must use the Outlook line,” but it certainly moves it to the top of the list.

Kyle (BetterCloud)
Ron, how about some of the biggest challenges that you face in relation to the Cloud and end users? Not necessarily the backend infrastructure, but just your challenges around end users, whether it be user to option, training, shadow IT?

Ron Sanders (Hootsuite)
When it comes to challenges, a lot of it is trying to make sure that we aren’t paying for four solutions for one problem and making sure that when we onboard a new software product that we properly train everybody that it exists and we roll it out in a way that IT can manage without adding twenty minutes a week to our workflow. I want to jump back to answer both questions. What’s my favorite tool and how do I use it to solve the challenges?

We use Okta as our single sign-on provider. That allows us to provision and deprovision accounts in no time and control access. In terms of getting solutions in front of people, it gives us one pane of glass with all of the solutions that we offer, so if someone’s like, “I need a tool to manage project management,” I can add them and it shows up right in front of them and they have it right away. When it comes to de-provisioning an account, I turn them off and all of the accounts turn off, so it’s very handy and saves us quite a bit of time.

Kyle Quinn (BetterCloud)
What are some of the challenges that you face with end users in terms of training, maybe shadow IT? What are some of those challenges you face at SocialCode?

Michael Mccollum (Socialcode)
I would echo what Ron said about duplicative services. That sometimes gets to be a challenge in terms of making sure that we have only one solution for a given business problem. That’s been one of our bigger challenges, but it’s also a growth challenge too, so it’s expected and something we were able to work through.

Kyle (BetterCloud)
Adam, what has been the biggest learning moment for you in this IT journey to the Cloud?

Adam Codega (Swipely)
I’d say the biggest learning moment is certainly to lean on your vendors. Don’t just treat the salespeople during the pre-evaluation process or your account manager as just phone calls that you want to dodge because the salesperson wants money. Certainly understand the relationship, what the company wants out of you. Certainly leaning on them and leaning on their support because those are important people for you to work with because it is cloud, it’s not in your company, but even if it is inside your company, you should be doing the same thing with the vendor. Yeah, I certainly stress on that kind of more so because the service isn’t always in your hands in very easy ways to access.

Michael Mccollum (Socialcode)
Our biggest learning was initially getting started on the cloud-based infrastructure to run our services, trying to figure out this “infrastructure is code,” exactly what that meant, trying to understand that ecosystem in the very beginning and then learning to really embrace it and using automation tools such as Chef to manage all the systems that we have.

We run all solutions that we built internally. That was quite a learning experience, but it was also incredibly rewarding to come out of that on the other end and have a fully automated infrastructure for things like scaling, for things like auto-provisioning, de-provisioning, things like that.

Ron Sanders (Hootsuite)
Just how important it is to have proper SaaS management in place for all of your providers. From when I started with Hootsuite to where we are now–last year was implementation of laptop management in the cloud, SaaS solutions in the cloud and just how much power that gives you and how much time and energy frees up once you’ve implemented something like that.

For instance, we use Casper for our Mac management. We run that from the cloud. I can manage a Mac anywhere on the planet just as easily as I can manage a Mac that’s sitting in front of me. When it comes to all of our SaaS solutions, I can manage their Google authentication, I can manage all of their security controls no matter where they are. That learning moment of it not really mattering anymore where someone is, that everywhere is an office, everywhere is a workspace, that learning moment for me was just amazing.

Kyle Quinn (BetterCloud)
Michael, tell me a little bit about some of the skills that you’ve had to learn or skills that you’ve had to adapt as you’ve moved from an on-premises infrastructure to more of a cloud infrastructure.

Michael Mccollum (Socialcode)
As I’ve watched the evolution, there was a period of time when you had to concern yourself with the entire stack, all the way from ordering, power and cooling, racking, procurement management, shipping, all these kinds of things. A million, if not all of those things, are now things that I just don’t have to worry about and we can really focus on the strategic things in terms of how to get provisions securely and quickly and deployed so that we can solve whatever business problem we’re trying to solve quickly.

Kyle Quinn (BetterCloud)
Adam, how about you? What type of skills have you had to adapt or learn in terms of moving to the cloud?

Adam Codega (Swipely)
I’d probably say the tech side, a bit more of learning. Not necessarily learning programming, but understanding how you can interact with a web application via API, again going back to what we talked about earlier.

Outside of that, it really goes into more of the business skills, which is nice because IT wants to sit at the table, but IT also has to act as if they can sit at the table. Learning more of the business skills, contracts, sales, things like that, working with other people across the company as you manage different vendors that we work with.

Kyle Quinn (BetterCloud)
Ron, what about your skill set that you’ve had to adapt or build as you’ve moved to the cloud?

Ron Sanders (Hootsuite)
Really it’s been a lot about how I can think globally rather than locally. Learning how to configure, run, and create SSO apps, policies that affect users across the globe, having to think three steps ahead on every solution that I’m implementing so that no matter where someone is I can help them. It’s a lot harder to help someone in the middle of the night in London than it is to help someone locally, so I want to make sure everything’s rolled out correctly before we get to that point.

The other thing is just learning how to set my own expectations when it comes to cloud providers and cloud solutions because in a lot of ways with the old traditional system you would have more power to do a few more things, but once you’ve kind of moved over to the cloud, you’ve handed over a bit of your power to those third parties and you’re at the mercy of them for features, for solutions.

If you run across something that isn’t working, learning how to best explain to your end users why you’re in that scenario and what steps we can do to help, but also understanding how best to describe that to your end users and also how to talk to those vendors and make sure that they know how important that piece that you found is to you and your business.

Kyle Quinn (BetterCloud)
Michael, what’s your current cloud-related IT challenge that you’re dealing with right now?

Michael Mccollum (Socialcode)
Many of our challenges right now have just been to get things as quickly as we can in the hands of our end users and internal customers. The move to the cloud obviously, as I said earlier, strips away a lot of those worries that we traditionally had to concern ourselves with, but there’s still an ever-present need to try to deliver solutions to your customers as quickly as you can to make sure that their business needs are satisfied. We’ve worked really hard to make sure that we can do that on a daily basis.

Adam Codega (Swipely)
Yeah, so that’s interesting. I’ve kind of had the same challenge over the last two years, which is the infrastructure of monitoring and the wording. SolarWinds, companies like that, that’s one industry that hasn’t moved to cloud-based service operating model yet. There’s a couple out there and they’re really on the much, much, much larger company size, so that’s literally been a very specific pain point that we’re still trying to solve.

Basically, we want to monitor in-building infrastructure such as wireless access points, routing, and things like that, but we want to report and we want to store all that information on the cloud, not on a local server. We don’t have a server infrastructure in place for something like that.

Ron Sanders (Hootsuite)
In a lot of ways it’s starting to turn our focus from providing the applications to making sure everything is secure. Previously it mattered how secure you could make a workstation. Now it matters how secure can you make their accounts.

Just that change-over of what’s important when it comes to security and things as we chase down different certifications and different things like that. Just making sure that we’re compliant with everything and making sure that all of our infrastructure is built in such a way that it’s secure and compliant, and with that all being on the cloud, it’s really critical that we make sure that we do the right steps right away because if we make major changes with the cloud infrastructure, it’s going to affect the end users.

Before if you made a few changes in the background they wouldn’t see it, but now everything is now very out front, very out in center. The changing over for us, changing and adding in Okta, that is a major change that affects everybody and making sure that we set up and do those things correctly and securely is our big challenge for the next year. How do we expand that infrastructure to add more SaaS applications, to add more pieces to that puzzle. That is our main challenge and just focusing down on how we can use our partners best is how we’re going to overcome these challenges.

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