Not all cloud strategies were created equal, but cloud computing is nevertheless evolving from a market disruptor to a base expectation for IT in the era of digital business transformation. As organizations adopt cloud at scale, you might need a cloud center of excellence (CCOE); make sure you know the pros and cons.
Recent research from Lydia Leong, Distinguished VP Analyst, Gartner, looks at key considerations as you weigh the fit of a CCOE — and best practices for deploying a CCOE if you choose to.
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This article recaps the key points, edited for clarity and length.
What is a cloud center of excellence?
A CCOE is a centralized enterprise architecture function that leads and governs cloud computing adoption within an organization. It provides central IT with a way to execute the organization’s cloud strategy, enable the business to choose the best solutions, provide governance through policies and cloud management tools, and uplevel skills and foster discovery and distribution of best practices.
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A CCOE governs all types of cloud service models — infrastructure-as-a-service, platform-as-a-service and software as-a-service — and provides significant input to the cross-functional operating processes related to the use of these cloud services.
Although an EA discipline, it doesn’t always live there on an organization chart. Most CCOEs are part of central IT, but business units sometimes create their own CCOE. CCOEs might also sometimes be referred to as a “cloud business office” or a “cloud innovation center,” among other names.
It’s important to note that a CCOE is distinct from a cloud strategy or advisory council. Unlike a CCOE, the latter is not a formal organization but rather a committee responsible for drafting and maintaining the cloud strategy as a living document. It provides ongoing advisory to the CCOE and is focused on addressing the “why” behind implementing cloud, rather than the “how,” which is what the CCOE exists to answer.
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Some organizations only require a cloud management office or virtual team to deploy cloud, but after more than a decade of Gartner client discussions, the CCOE has emerged as the best practice for facilitating successful cloud adoption in midsize and large enterprise organizations, regardless of the organization’s cloud strategy or structure. The three pillars of a CCOE are governance, brokerage and community.
Cloud center of excellence risks and rewards
A centralized, vendor-neutral CCOE represents the best way to ensure cloud governance while maintaining business agility. It is particularly effective in organizations where IT is distributed into the business units, but is also useful when IT is centralized. It is most important for agility-focused cloud adoption, but is also useful for cost-efficiency-focused adoption.
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A CCOE provides benefits in line with its three pillars:
- Provides expertise on cloud provider solutions
- Establishes cloud architectural standards and recommendations
- Guides the cloud strategy and determines the process for adopting cloud providers within the organization
- “Future-proofs” cloud adoption
- Establishes cloud adoption policies
- Helps manage cloud-related risks in conjunction with the security, risk management and legal/regulatory compliance functions
- Governs cloud costs and assists in forecasting cloud provider demand
- Establishes the cloud community of practice (COP) that brings together stakeholders and facilitates cloud collaboration
- Helps the organization adapt itself for cloud adoption by promoting COP member interaction and facilitating cloud-related training and skills development
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Of course, there are potential downsides of CCOEs, with the most significant one being the possibility that the CCOE will be ignored. Three root causes are most often to blame when the CCOE is being ignored, so take action to avoid these scenarios:
- The CCOE lacks a mandate. Make sure to secure executive leader buy-in and assurance from business leadership that they will adhere to the CCOE’s policies.
- The CCOE sets unrealistic standards and guidelines. Your organization may not be mature enough — in terms of resources and skills — to comply with CCOE standards. The CCOE should lay out a maturity roadmap to help the organization reach the desired future state on an incremental basis.
- The CCOE doesn’t properly “market” itself. Make sure the CCOE’s messaging is attractive to the business and its proposition focuses on business-related benefits.
Three recommendations for deploying your cloud center of excellence
No. 1: Take the lead in establishing a CCOE
Choose an EA leader or team member as the organization’s chief cloud architect and assign that person to lead it. The architect should be a change leader with a forward-thinking, collaborative style of technical leadership, as well as a strong understanding of the business.
It is useful for the architect to have some previous experience with cloud computing, but cloud training is always an option once appointed. However, don’t allow the creation of a CCOE to delay cloud adoption. Although the CCOE needs to be led internally, some organizations may benefit from engaging a cloud professional service provider to assist with CCOE foundations.
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No. 2: Drive collaboration with cloud computing stakeholders across the organization
Executive leaders should direct the chief cloud architect to chair or participate in a cross-functional cloud computing strategy or advisory council that brings together representatives who are directly involved in cloud-related uses and issues. This is one of the reasons it’s important that the architect has a good relationship with the business.
No. 3: Provide cloud brokerage and governance
The CCOE should establish policies and standards for cloud computing, gathering good practices from across the organization, with a focus on governance, not control. The CCOE should provide guidelines to foster “doing the right thing,” but also implement guardrails to limit exposure to cloud-related risks.