3 Questions To Ask When Buying Cloud Native Innovation

Lee Razo
Consultant, CloudNativeX

The tech industry moves quickly and promises much. Our narratives paint a picture of a frictionless, stress-free future full of growth and innovation by simply adopting the latest cutting edge technology. Some vendors are even highly skilled at creating a certain kind of FOMO – “If you don’t adopt <insert bleeding edge technology here> your competitors will!”

Your company may be looking into machine learning, for instance, or considering using a blockchain. Perhaps last year you were tasked with figuring out how to move your entire data center to the cloud. How to work out if a particular technology is truly the right answer to your business problem?

Having spent a fair amount of time on both sides of the customer-vendor relationship over the years I’ve come up with a few simple questions to help me and my customers stay connected to first principles throughout the process.

1. What is the root business objective?

On the surface, it may seem we have a data or technology problem, but what precisely is the fundamental business need behind it?

  • Are we looking to cut costs and improve margins?
  • Improve product quality in the face of competition?
  • Get to market ahead of our competitors?
  • Any and all of the above?

In other words, can you clearly articulate the goal in business terms – the stronger the link to the balance sheet, the better – and then make a direct connection from the desired result to the new technology in question?

I recently worked on a project with a company developing software for autonomous vehicles, something which requires massive volumes of data to be processed rapidly using AI and deep learning techniques.

Their goal was to deliver the world’s safest self-driving cars. Given the kinds of headlines in the news recently and being the highly competitive market which it is, the business objective in this case was actually two-fold: Go to market with the world’s safest autonomous vehicles and do so faster than all of the rest of the competition.

In other words, go to market as rapidly as possible while simultaneously delivering a superior quality product, and in this case, “quality” could mean human lives. This gave a very different spin to the technical question of whether they needed higher throughput or faster random I/O performance from the data storage devices.

2. Is there a simpler (or better) way to effectively address the very same problem?

With the current pace of innovation in our midst it can be easy to forget that technology is only a means, not an end. When identifying the specific business need, it is highly worthwhile consider all of the different ways you might achieve the very same result. In many cases you may find the solution is already right in front of your nose.

This was the case in several blockchain projects I worked on a few years back when that particular technology was at the peak of the hype cycle. After identifying and clarifying the core business case it often became obvious that a simple traditional database was more than adequate to achieve the objective – and in most cases there were plenty of these already available and ready to go in the data center.

3. Where is your organization on the adoption curve?

At least as important as assessing a technology’s capabilities is to also assess your own. While a new and innovative technology may potentially unlock new possibilities, implementation of these is often a team sport.

New and cutting-edge technologies are by definition just that: new and cutting-edge. Is your organization equipped to commit to the long haul of working closely with the suppliers and subject matter experts to ensure a successful implementation? Do you have the skills and resources in house to take an active role in the design and deployment?

There are a lot of advantages to being an early adopter, but it also requires significant audience participation. a framework like Rogers’ adoption curve can be a helpful guide for assessing your own organization’s readiness to be an early adopter.

Even if you work for a larger organization there are often smaller teams and projects within a big company with eligible use cases as well as the capacity to implement bleeding edge technology. Many of the most successful, high impact projects began in just this way.

So you got the green light. What next?

Congratulations, you’ve successfully identified and qualified a new technology, linked it directly to a business need and confirmed that you have the skills and resources available to implement and deploy it. This is, of course, only the beginning of a longer journey, so here are a few more questions you may want think about as well (and each a potential topic for a future article):

  • How will it work in my environment with my use case? Some vendors are quick to supply compelling case studies and impressive “speeds-and-feeds” benchmarks. But every new workload is exactly that – a new workload, and every organization’s data is different and responds differently. This is especially true with new and bleeding edge technology use cases! It is therefore crucial to conduct proofs of concept (PoCs) on your own environment in order to better understand exactly how a solution will perform in your own domain.
  • How do I get internal buy-in? If you are in a large company or organization, you may need to convince management and others in your organization to buy in to your decision which they may deem risky. Using a similar line of logic as above will go a long way. Start by articulating the “why” – the business problem to be addressed – and move on to the “what” – the innovation itself – and the “how” – its unique features and capabilities and, of course, how they all relate directly back to the “why” of the business need.
  • What is the best financial model? Will you go for a capex model and purchase the technology outright, or an opex, subscription-based solution? Consider that the opex model provides a strong incentive for a supplier to partner closely with you for the long-term and ensure that the solution continues to provide value. Make them a part of your team! For a perspective on the topic from the sales point of view check out this excellent video by veteran industry trainer and coach Jarco Penning.

Confidently determine when (and when not) to buy innovation for your business

Keeping up with rapid pace of innovation in the tech industry can be a major challenge even for the industry experts, let alone those who have the thankless task of making critical purchasing decisions within a company on a daily basis.

Take the time to clarify and articulate your core business needs is an essential first step. Be sure to revisit these questions regularly and during every phase of the project. Staying closely connected with the business needs maintaining a direct connection to the unique capabilities of a technology solution will result in wise, value-creating investments and will earn you the confidence of your organization.