As a Service, Dharma Hacker, Sense Making

Zen and the right view of cloud technologies

On the path to the cloud, just as in life (as the Buddha would have us understand), one must submit our most cherished assumptions to rigorous questioning. We would make better decisions if we were clearer about the foundations of our own thinking. Cloud technology is a vast subject and this post tackles just a few assumptions, in the spirit of the DharmaHacker.

I am not presuming to have all the right views by any means and this post is also not going to tackle all aspects of this vast subject. Just the right few based on some recent conversations 😁

Firstly there are three clouds to speak of and I will focus mainly on the one that is normally atop a pyramid or stack: Software as a Service. The other two are Platform as a Service and Infrastructure as a Service.

Do a search for more on this because there are many good views but I like this one from Giva because of its simplicity and my sympathy with their philosophy, notwithstanding the fact they accredit Rackspace with the original definition. For the sake of easy reference I’ve pasted it below:

SaaS is on the top of the stack because users interact primarily with software hosted on the cloud, and not the platform or infrastructure on which it runs. PaaS allows users to create and deploy applications. IaaS is simply the infrastructure and hardware that powers the cloud.

It also serves to make an important point I often emphasis with colleagues at the moment.

Where I work (Microsoft) there is a huge transformation underway on our journey to the cloud. There is much emphasis on our ever expanding set of cloud services that form part of Azure at Microsoft. Microsoft 365, the productivity cloud that fits into the top SaaS tier where I focus, sometimes gets short shrift because of the drive to expand usage of the underlying tiers.

I often emphasise the point made in the Rackspace definition about users.

It’s the users, stupid

Not only that, it’s the business. I don’t mean to underplay the importance of getting the foundational tiers up and running and operational for customers. This has to be properly in place.

But it is in the top tier where users are active and driving business outcomes that matter most. Whether on a pre-existing SaaS platform or on applications developed on top of the foundational tiers, you have to be focusing on what users are using, why and to what end. Everything else is secondary. Most importantly, this use in the top tier also drives use in the others.

And even when use is by a thing, as in IoT, it is still about who is using the output of all data generated in the IoT activity and to what business end is it being put that matters.

How SaaS works

A separate view I have to address is based on another conversation I had. It was in relation to digital transformation and the role parts of the business need to take in making it successful, like HR. It was also about using SaaS platforms to support the transformation and the role they played. A quote from an article was used to kickstart the conversation with someone from HR – article here, quote below: Digital Transformation is a Workforce Transformation and HR Must Assume a Leadership Role.

For digital transformation to succeed, internal processes need to follow the customer experience, not the other way around. This often results in radical changes such as the dismantling of processes and functional roles, as well as the demand for new skills and capabilities to meet evolving customer demands.

Based on the persons recent experience, their view was that:

HR processes have to squeeze into the new software configuration that due to high configuration costs can’t be modified to fit the desired process. Through implementation it becomes the tail wagging dog”.

My response, verbatim:

Firstly, in terms of the customer experience and internal processes referred to in the article, I see it as a cyclical process – captured in a doodle below.

“Then I think with cloud software (as a service) where you don’t run the software yourself, configuration (strictly speaking, its customisation) is not possible because all customers use the same version. This is opposed to when you ran an own version of the software on premise and could customise it to your hearts content to meet desired processes. That was costly and not just due to customisation effort.

The value in the cloud SaaS model is that you benefit from the feedback of many customers in frequently released versions of the software, with new features that meet the needs of most customers. Innovation can be focused on by applying technology to meet the majority of evolving business needs, instead of focusing on highly specialised solutions that take a long time to build and are costly to maintain and upgrade.

Not all clouds are viewed equally it seems. Let’s hope all generally end up with a silver lining though, whatever your view.