How to discuss hybrid cloud with the board

Worried you'll lose them early? CIOs, cloud experts share advice
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Explaining hybrid cloud to your fellow IT pros isn’t always a clear-cut discussion. People and organizations may define the term differently, plus it’s easy to get lost in the technical weeds. How, then, should CIOs and their team members discuss hybrid cloud in plain terms with the board of directors and other non-technical stakeholders – the CFO comes to mind – who have a major say in your budget and your ability to drive business strategy?

It’s time to increase your level of planning. If you march into a meeting of high-level stakeholders and talk a mile a minute about workloads and microservices, you might lose your audience early. That’s not a desirable outcome, when board members and C-level decision makers might ask: “Why can’t you just do this the simplest way?” or some variation of that question.

We sought out expert advice on how to explain hybrid cloud to the board and other executives, some of whom may not even know the difference between a private and public cloud.

Emphasize business objectives

The overarching goal isn’t to give the board a CIO-level understanding of cloud and related technologies. Rather, you should strive to make hybrid cloud comprehensible in a language that business stakeholders can understand.

“The most important point generally when speaking to the board, or executives more broadly, is to frame the discussion in business terms,” says Gordon Haff, technology evangelist at Red Hat. “For example, you might present hybrid cloud as a means to achieve a digital transformation objective for improving customer retention or increasing Net Promoter score.”

[Want more on how hybrid cloud and business transformation go hand-in-hand? Read our article How hybrid cloud aids digital transformation.]

Connecting hybrid cloud – or any technology investment, for that matter – to business goals is necessary, in an era when many IT teams are being tasked to be strategic drivers of the overall business and generate revenue.

Focusing on business objectives is a priority for Peter Weis, VP and CIO of shipping and logistics company Matson, when he speaks to his board. “We didn't go to the cloud for cloud’s sake. We went to the cloud to fulfill a strategic business vision,” Weis says. “Matson has a premium brand, backed up by our number one rating in our industry three years running. Our overarching business strategy was to be able to expand globally into new markets without compromising our level of service. How do you stay the premier ocean carrier in the world, yet still expand?” Matson needed to ensure that any new market received the same high level of service, that the customer experience was consistent. “That can only be done, in my view, through the cloud.” Weis says.

Talk dollars and sense

If you can quantify your hybrid cloud plan in financial or other quantitative terms, do – and if there’s a dollar sign in front the number, all the better.

“Hybrid cloud could be a path to improved operational efficiency and reduced CAPEX,” Haff says, for example. If you can quantify a reduction in CAPEX or other savings, that speaks loudly. Similarly, if your hybrid cloud strategy is going to free up X percent of existing staff that can be redirected toward other critical business objectives, that’s a compelling argument.

“Specific numbers and milestones will help the case, as will case studies that highlight cloud successes at similar companies,” Haff says.

“If done right, cloud strategy can enable profitability, predictability, and cost containment,” says Jay Ferro, EVP, CIO & CTO at ExamWorks. “You can reduce IT personnel costs, and eliminate or reduce hardware refreshes.”

“Cloud allows best of breed security, redundancy/DR, security, scalability, speed...Even if a company could replicate the scale of Amazon, Azure, etc., why would it want to? For a fraction of the cost, I get world-class everything,” Ferro says.

Make the compliance and governance case

If you’re in an industry with significant compliance requirements – healthcare, financial, retail, and so on – explain in layperson’s terms how hybrid cloud will help, or why your organization may be better off keeping certain types of sensitive data in a private cloud, while potentially moving less-sensitive data to a public cloud environment for cost efficiencies, as an example scenario.

Connecting hybrid cloud discussions to your data protection and governance requirements, as well as your overall security strategy, makes good sense for board discussions. 

Educate about hybrid cloud management

In concert with your broader explanation of hybrid cloud, are you trying to educate the board and other executive-level stakeholders about the value of a third-party cloud management tool? Stress the business value of efficiency and agility.

“Third-party cloud management can significantly increase the return on the investment for both private and public cloud computing,” says Alessandro Perilli, Red Hat’s GM for management strategy. “On one side, it can allow the IT organization to accomplish more with the same amount of staff. On the other side, it can empower the [business] to be more independent and agile with the same infrastructure."

A third-party management tool is akin to a universal remote in your livingroom.

Perilli offers a household analogy that just about anyone can grasp: A third-party management tool is akin to a universal remote in your living room, especially given the growing array of appliances and devices – TV, cable boxes, wireless hubs, virtual personal assistants, video-game consoles, and so forth – that the living room often includes these days.

Does the universal remote completely replace the need for the native remotes and interfaces – akin to the native tools offered by various cloud platforms – that come with these different devices? No, Perelli says, but it can certainly be more efficient, especially over time.

“Cloud management, if done right, is a universal remote for your cloud engines, which speeds up the execution of the most critical tasks across them through a unified and coherent interface,” Perilli says. “It's just one tool to learn, integrate, operate, and maintain.”

Perilli also notes that a third-party tool on top of the basic management tools provided by the cloud providers can help organizations reap more wins, say by introducing a service-centric self-service provisioning portal or an automation layer.

It’s all about delivering a greater return on your hybrid cloud investment, as Perilli mentions above – and that’s a concept the board and other business stakeholders can absolutely understand.

Kevin Casey writes about technology and business for a variety of publications. He won an Azbee Award, given by the American Society of Business Publication Editors, for his story, "Are You Too Old For IT?" He's a former community choice honoree in the Small Business Influencer Awards.