The cloud backlash could be deep

The easy answer is rarely the right answer, which is a hard truth about life in general. In this case, I think it applies to the cloud marketplace. I’m concerned that we are overselling a very good set of solutions (which I will loosely define as “Cloud” options) as some sort of magic pill that will solve their business and IT woes.

Customers have come to understand the potential of having an agile IT environment, but by and large most of them don’t fully understand what that means for their current IT model or organization and legacy environments. I fear that we are heading to a point in the next 12 months where we will see a strong customer backlash in the form of brake lights or return to sender notes.

If your solution can stand the light of day, then you shouldn’t have any trouble helping your potential customers better understand what the adoption of said technology, when done correctly, might mean. You must be willing to make it clear that buying an engine, even a really good one, isn’t buying a car. If we continue to sell engines to mechanics, we must give them the knowledge to build the car. We at least need to help them understand that the engine alone isn’t enough. They need the rest of the car.

Here be dragons

There are several challenges I see developing in this marketplace that will help fuel the backlash such as:

  • Too many vendors who are all trying to gain a foothold before the money runs out or the customer gets wiser, whichever comes first
  • Vendors and service providers that really don’t understand corporate IT and can’t explain in strategic terms how cloud will and should affect the IT group and enable the business at large

There is more to building an agile or fluid IT environment that just creating faster provisioning and or reducing your capex spend and replacing much of it with operational expenditures

  • Confusing messages about what is or isn’t a cloud
  • Large, big box players are attempting to demonstrate their relevance in the new cloudier markets
  • A clear understanding of the links between agile infrastructure and process or organizational change requirements is missing

The challenges here among others lead to a lack of understanding among buyers who then either don’t buy or buy without thinking through the downstream impacts or roadblocks to realizing real benefits.

Help your customer to help yourself

So how to avoid the backlash? Remember that you aren’t selling disk, CPU, or a piece of software anymore. You’re selling a strategic opportunity to your customers and you need to staff up accordingly. Your team needs experience with organizational design and a greater understanding of what business trigger is better advanced by an agile IT environment.

You also need to incent the sales team correctly. Most sales organizations don’t emphasize a long-term strategic customer focus, but rather the effort is on “how much can I sell in the shortest sales cycle or by quarter end”. This tactic for sales might work in the short term, but won’t make you any long-term friends.

Create sales and consulting strategies that take into account the “two ITs” that will continue to exist for the next 7-10 years. A sale to a startup or small business will be very different from a sale to a large established business or an enterprise. The small business doesn’t have the legacy process, infrastructure, and staffing, so their ability to quickly adopt and realize the benefit of agile IT is more obvious. With an enterprise the wrong adoption process will get the CIO fired and could put the business at risk. Doing things more quickly is great, but only if you have the people and process to guarantee that the ‘”correct” things are happening quickly.

Finally, look for the right partners and don’t try to be everything to all people. While most would agree that Amazon (s amzn) has the most feature-rich cloud solution, it offers little if anything in the form of support for how your organization should adopt and integrate agile IT. Other IT team incentives and strategies for making the agile IT change in your organization can be found here.

We read it in every guide for sales and business relationships, “the supplier needs to act as a partner”. If you’re acting as a partner to your agile IT buyer, then you should participate in preparing them to be successful. In no part of the IT market is this any more important than in the cloud space.

Customers must act too.

And customers, I’m not letting you off the hook either. Stop looking at cloud as the “why” and start looking at how an agile IT environment will allow you to deliver greater business value to your customer “whys”. Engage your service provider partner in discussions at the correct levels of leadership (on both sides). Identify third parties that can add value to the mix. In other words, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

This isn’t just a new set of hardware, it’s a change in mindset about how IT serves the business. If we want people to buy into that, we have to educate them, support them and tell them the truth. Then maybe we can avoid this trough of disillusionment.

Mark Thiele is executive VP of Data Center Tech at Switch, the operator of the SuperNAP data center in Las Vegas. Thiele blogs at SwitchScribe and at Data Center Pulse, where is also president and founder. He can be found on Twitter at @mthiele10.