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How to build a cloud center of excellence

Learn how to create an effective cloud center of excellence for your company with these steps and best practices.

Organizations that move to the cloud are presented with governance challenges that differ from their on-premises experience. This includes limited visibility into their provider's operations, cloud sprawl and cost management, and security and regulatory compliance.

A cloud center of excellence (CCoE) can address these issues.

A CCoE is a multidisciplinary team of experts within an organization. The team develops and leads a strategy to support successful, uniform cloud adoption. It also help business units implement cloud technologies that are secure, efficient and cost-effective.

Let's take a closer look at how to build a CCoE, as well as the benefits, risks and best practices associated with this approach.

The value of a CCoE

Business units often fail to share information and collaborate on cloud projects. The result is a "shadow IT" approach where each department creates its own cloud initiative and establishes separate accounts, resources and practices.

The outcome for each business unit -- and the organization overall -- is usually mixed. There can be unnecessary project delays, duplicated efforts, wasted resources and cloud costs, as well as policy and governance gaps that jeopardize the business.

A CCoE can mitigate undesirable cloud outcomes by assembling an experienced, interdisciplinary and collaborative team of experts. Business can reap three major benefits from a properly implemented CCoE.

  • Uniformity. Establish best practices, guidelines, security and governance for every business unit to adopt. A well-planned and standardized cloud strategy also supports regulatory compliance.
  • Acceleration. Jumpstart cloud projects with greater speed and success than independent trial-and-error efforts. The CCoE provides guidance, answers questions and helps departments complete projects faster than individual business units attempting to learn cloud technologies from the ground up.
  • Efficiency. Minimize cloud usage to optimize utilization and costs. Adhere to common guidelines and practices to make cloud deployments easier to understand, improve and troubleshoot.

Best practices for a successful CCoE

Results vary based on industry and organization size, but there are five overarching factors to CCoE success.

Knowledge

The CCoE needs deep understanding of the target cloud, its resources and services, performance with various workload types, monitoring, reporting, auditing mechanisms and cost optimization strategies. This detailed knowledge is essential to answer cloud questions and lead the business through successful cloud adoption.

Collaboration

Team members should reflect a broad cross-section of complementary skills and perspectives. Experts typically include representatives from the business side as well as staff with expertise in operations, infrastructure, security and applications. A CCoE should also include business leaders who can align the goals and policies for adoption with overall business plans.

A CCoE team can only succeed if it receives clear support from the organization.

Form a collaborative team that can share its specialized perspectives to drive the best cloud policies. Interdisciplinary teams are more effective and thorough than teams composed of similar skill sets.

Support

A CCoE team can only succeed if it receives clear support from the organization. Business leaders can help the team establish credibility and authority to develop cloud policy, practice and governance. Support must also come from the team's various constituents, such as department heads, employees and users.

Focus

A CCoE must have clearly scoped and well-defined project goals, especially in the early stages. Teams should start with an array of straightforward cloud projects -- such as simple lift-and-shift migrations -- to bring quick, cost-saving wins to the business. As the CCoE team gains experience and support, it can take on more complex projects and governance initiatives.

Adaptability

A successful cloud CCoE team is never static. Team members should constantly explore emerging cloud services and resources and adjust procedures to meet business needs. As the public cloud changes, the CCoE team must adapt the business to those changes. Team composition should also be adaptable, adding or changing members as needed.

Steps to build a CCoE

A business can build a CCoE based on a six-step approach.

  1. Get business sponsorship and funding. Start at the top with the C-suite, which can recognize the potential benefits of a public cloud but lacks the expertise to adopt it across the organization. Business leaders authorize the creation of a CCoE, assign an initial charter or mandate with a set of goals and provide funding to operate the team.
  2. Assemble the team. The business side identifies a technical leader and collaborates with that technology expert to recruit other team members from operations, security, infrastructure, applications and so on. Early CCoE initiatives generally don't include permanent or full-time CCoE roles. The CCoE team is made up of employees with existing roles who work on the CCoE initiative as a special project for the business.
  3. Train the team. As the team becomes organized and its cloud skills are assessed, identify knowledge gaps and fund training as needed. Couple trainings with opportunities to experiment and test cloud tasks.
  4. Set a roadmap. Provide uniform policies and guidance for the public cloud. As the team solidifies, set a vision and strategy for cloud adoption across the business. This roadmap can be broad and cover objectives such as identifying the workloads that can be migrated, implementing monitoring and reporting standards, handling disaster recovery and business continuance strategies, updating systems and configuration management practices. The roadmap can be updated to reflect a broader and more challenging mandate as the CCoE team grows.
  5. Gain credibility. Early on, the team will build its reputation and expertise by completing a variety of straightforward projects to demonstrate the value of the public cloud as well as the CCoE team. In this phase, make changes to established cloud policies and practices to optimize cloud use and governance.
  6. Set a long-term vision. Once the CCoE team establishes itself as an effective resource across the business, consider a longer-term roadmap that involves more ambitious and critical projects. This could include migrating more complex applications, or driving "cloud-first" application development and deployment.

CCoE risks and challenges

Despite the many benefits, an array of problems can reduce the effectiveness of a CCoE.

Lack of mandate

The mandate, or charter, of a CCoE defines its objectives and goals. Without one, the team lacks direction. Some organizations implement a CCoE because the business thinks they should, without understanding how it helps meet their needs and goals. Ensure your organization understands the purpose of its CCoE.

Improper scope

The public cloud is designed to be a flexible, dynamic, on-demand entity, so organizations must build a CCoE that is equally flexible and dynamic.

A mandate must match the expertise of the CCoE team. A business that expects too much too soon can overwhelm the team and compromise projects that might otherwise be simple. Start small and focus on a few achievable goals. Expand to more complex projects after the team is established.

Delays in cloud adoption

A CCoE succeeds when it drives cloud adoption, so delays can call the team's effectiveness into question. Treat delays as problems to solve, whether they require support from additional team members or budget to overcome technological barriers. Setbacks are inevitable, but avoid significant cloud project delays or cancellations.

Focus on control

Don't make the mistake of focusing on control rather than proper cloud governance. A CCoE is not designed to exert direct authority over cloud implementations -- it doesn't run cloud operations.

Provide business units with guidance and processes to maintain the cloud implementation, and advise the business as these processes change. But those business units -- not the CCoE -- have ultimate responsibility for operating and controlling cloud implementations.

Lack of flexibility

A CCoE must be free to test and experiment with emerging technologies so it understands the potential benefits. Don't take the one-size-fits-all approach to every cloud implementation. This can prevent you from successfully tackling complex projects as they arise.

Ultimately, a CCoE cannot function as a static team or department. The public cloud is designed to be a flexible, dynamic, on-demand entity, so organizations must build a CCoE that is equally flexible and dynamic to keep up with cloud innovations, emerging security threats and changing business governance requirements.

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