Need to modernise? Multi-cloud thinking is the key

Martin Hosken, Chief Technologist, Cloud Services, VMware EMEA, offers his tips for competing with more agile rivals
Martin Hosken

On the face of it, a logistics trucking company (Convoy), a self-charging gadget business (Exeger), and a restaurant food-waste app (Too Good To Go), appear to have very little in common. But what they share is a rapid execution on ideas – growing market share from established players and creating new relationships with customers in the process. 

But in the eyes of established businesses in their sector, should these younger organisations even exist? If the idea is so good, with the manpower and budgets to experiment with emerging technologies like cloud, AI, deep neural networks/deep learning, IoT and machine learning, surely larger enterprises can afford to experiment with ideas, reimagine existing processes and offer new customer experiences that surpass anything that new entrants might bring? 

Start-ups are known to be greater risk-takers when planning projects and setting their course. It’s understandable – as Don Dodge of Google explained more than ten years ago: "Start-ups play poker, big companies play chess." But while they are playing a faster game, what also separates them is their ability to use data and insights to turn an idea into a revenue opportunity. In effect, they are using data to inform their next move, akin to having a full view of their opponent's hand before launching into market with full confidence knowing they can win.

This idea that all companies have access to the same data but struggle to turn it into actionable insights as they grow, is what formed the thesis of our recent collaboration with Bayes Business School. Here, we revealed nearly three-quarters (70%) of businesses are struggling to unlock the value of their data – directly impacting their ability to innovate. Moreover, 59% believe organisations who are prioritising data-led decision making are stealing market share, with 58% fearing they will fall behind the competition if they do not make better use of their data.

Making frenemies with data

Despite businesses describing themselves as data-driven and digital-first, many large organisations are still struggling to bring ideas to market. New technologies are transforming how data is captured, analysed and used, but they’re also creating new gaps as business leaders learn how to extract value from them.

Start-ups, like Exeger and Convoy are bucking this trend. As a principle, they are open to new methods and ideas and so can produce disruptive technologies and new business models. Importantly, data drives this decision-making process. For example, in the case of Convoy – they realised freight resembled the traveling salesman problem (in which the employee is given a list of cities and has to decide the shortest possible route between them), and built software that incorporates shipment criteria, with real-time supply and demand data, to generate matches with the fewest empty miles at the lowest price. With that data-driven insight, they have been able to flip the freight business model on its head.

Keeping pace in the innovation race

Every business is fundamentally running the same race whatever the industry and no matter its size: the one to ensure they’re at the forefront of customer experiences, winning business and operating as efficiently as possible. It’s here that having the right cloud for the right app to manage, access and draw insights from data as a company scales is critical, not just for growth but also to create competitive advantages like accelerating the time to market or streamlining operations.

So how does an established business compete against its more nimble, agile, data-driven rivals? We’ve identified four tips to help businesses keep pace in the innovation race:

  • Build a multi-cloud strategy to seamlessly manage two or more public clouds, two or more private clouds or a combination of public, sovereign, private and edge clouds over which the company distributes applications and services with all the same tools.
  • Use your data in the right way. Companies need to adopt a flexible and scalable digital architecture to consolidate, share and analyse all existing information. This is the basis for informed decision-making. 
  • Pursue a range of different innovations to explore new opportunities while mitigating risks. With an unpredictable economy, rather than plan everything meticulously and focus all their resources into one big idea, successful organisations are taking a more iterative approach to innovation – adjusting along the way as needed.
  • Use partnerships, and employ external specialists to provide technologies, infrastructures, services and skills that will ensure an organisation’s digital capabilities stay cutting edge.

With so much data at hand, and the expected volume to almost double in the next three years, extracting value is a widening challenge. Businesses that want to get ahead are right to be questioning how that data is stored, managed and accessed across geographies in order to help deliver the business outcomes at the pace required.

Turning complexity into competitive advantage

To become more data-driven, organisations are turning their attention to a world of running multiple clouds, depending on the app or workload. Multi-cloud is now the default in a world where an organisation’s most valuable assets – its apps, data, workforce, and infrastructure - are no longer centralised in physical buildings but distributed anywhere and everywhere. In fact, a multi-cloud strategy must become the de-facto model for digital businesses.  It allows businesses to build at scale, and to do so quickly; reducing data, interoperability and cost issues that are more likely to occur if a business gets too dependent on a single cloud environment.

But if they want to have multiple different clouds, how do they manage that seamlessly? They need to take a cloud-smart approach – choosing the right cloud environment for the right application, choosing which applications to re-architect, which to rebuild from scratch and which to lift, shift and modernise. When the right business model proves that you have the right costs control in place, IT is empowered to innovate the business and automate workflows with benefits quickly overweighing the investments.

With this multi-cloud approach in place, enterprises can operate in much the same fashion that start-ups do. Whether you’re a business of 100 or 100,000 all it takes is the courage, effort and understanding to rethink current working practices and make them ready for the digital age. The first step, so crucial to establishing how the business will operate in the future, has to be taken with one question in mind – how we can maximise the data available to ensure we can innovate, at pace and deliver the experiences our customers want.

Written by
Martin Hosken