Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated is the largest bottler of a wide variety of Coca-Cola beverages in the United States, including the traditional fizzy soda that isfamous across the globe. To give you an idea of the scale of its operation, CCB sells 18,000 beverages per hour and uses between three to six 17,000 gallon rail cars of corn syrup per day at its Charlotte-based facility alone. I'm not here to comment on the consumption of fizzy, sugary drinks in the United States (mostly because it's probably not much better in the UK) – but needless to say, there is obviously huge demand. CCB has been bottling for decades, and like most companies that have lived through a number of technology revolutions, it is sitting on a pile of legacy infrastructure that isn't the most flexible, or the most scalable. However, this isn't stopping CIO Onyeka Nchege, who was speaking this week at Cloud World Forum in London.
Nchege told delegates that Coca Cola Bottling is heading for the cloud, and is heading there at pace, where it plans to have not only its fringe applications in the cloud in the next three to five years, but also most of its critical systems (including ERP). Initially this is going to mostly involve a private cloud strategy, but he also insists that over that period the company will be looking to incorporate public cloud into its portfolio. CCB has already begun shifting some “non-critical apps” to the cloud, including HR.
However, Nchege began discussing the company's cloud plans by pulling up a Gartner chart that listed 'the main barriers to the cloud' for any enterprise – or something along those lines. The chart illustrated that technology was at the bottom of the list of barriers, with management, culture and operational processes coming out on top. Nchege's reason for bringing the chart to our attention was that he wanted to warn others that when you pursue a cloud strategy not to rush to the technology – as one would expect those working in IT to do. Instead, he urged, CIOs and their teams should spend their time getting to know the business processes and try and get an idea of what the business actually wants, before you spring cloud apps on them.
This may seem obvious to those leading in cloud out there, but you'd be surprised how often this just doesn't happen. I've heard numerous examples in recent weeks of where new flexible and scalable systems have been sprung business users, without any prior education or understanding of the business needs, and they have flopped. What often happens is that an education process then has to begin after the systems are already live – but let's face it, this is a back to front way of doing things, and most likely a waste of money and time. Your IT team needs to become a business team focused on cloud. Nchege said:
“One of the things we found out in our transition to the cloud is that a lot of folks tend to focus on the tech, but you don't really want to focus your time on that. Culture and operational processes – this is where you want to focus your time.
“The first thing that we always want to do is rush to the technology as quickly as possible, whether it's IaaS, SaaS, PaaS. But at CCB we said we didn't want to do that just yet, let's park that, and let's just talk about things that could be useful to us going forward.”
Coca-Cola Bottling's five step processIn the spirit of 'not rushing to the technology', Nchege didn't spend very much of his time, well, talking about the technology. Instead he wanted to give others a five step plan for how to get to the cloud with the business on your side and ultimately transform your IT into a business team. I thought that his points were valid and a useful reminder for those going on a similar journey – don't forget to constantly engage with your business partners, it's a process. Here they are:
Ownership – Nchege argued that Coca Cola Bottling is a “brand organisation” and that it is important for someone to own the brand. He believes that this is also true for cloud, someone has to own the cloud brand internally. If IT 'owns' cloud and spends its time educating the business on what cloud apps are useful, which ones aren't, and why, then you have far more chance of success. But you have to understand whose job it is to undergo that education process. He said:
“Someone has to own it, if you don't, you will wake up one day with your sales team saying you have 4,000 people out there using Dropbox. Then you become a reactive IT department, we didn't want that. We wanted to own this, we wanted to help the business understand what will work in our landscape. Decide who owns it - is it you as a CIO? Is it your business partners? Someone has to.”
Collaboration – Nchege added that in reality not everything will move to the cloud and he also said that it's just not true that if you build something, the people will come. IT has to spend time with business partners really understanding the business processes, understanding how they run your organisation, which then gives you an idea of what will work in the cloud. He said:
“If you don't understand processes, you don't have a shot at building out something in the cloud. We had an instance where we did not do that, we made an assumption and moved a process to the cloud that we thought would improve the organisation. When we made the switch, our business partners did not appreciate it and did not like the experience. Did not bode well for us.
“Spend the time truly understanding what business partners want from you.”
Feedback – This is a two way street, according to Nchege. He said that you can collaborate until your hearts content, but if you aren't listening to the feedback from the business, then it's a wasted exercise. Equally, if you as the owner of cloud don't provide feedback to the business on what will work and what won't work from a technical perspective, if you don't educate them, then you are heading for pain. Nchege said:
“You have to absolutely educate your business partners. I look to our service providers to help with that education process. I live in a house with four walls, I don't generally come out of those four walls, but the service providers go to everybody else's house too and they can bring those learnings back to me.”
Adaptability – Being an organisation that is 100+ years old, Coca-Cola Bottling faces challenges in being an agile and nimble company. This is true of most companies with a similar history. However, Nchege said that this shouldn't stop a company from becoming adaptable, in terms of being able to plan for change over a shorter time frame. He said:
“The assumption is that every organisation is agile, nimble, and can change direction easily. The reality is that a 100 year old organisation is not that nimble in everything that we do. We can't always stop, change business processes, put them over there in the cloud and it be good.
“Adaptability allows you to look ahead and say: we are going to move to the cloud a year from now, start now to make necessary steps, go back to culture, educating your business partners about what the cloud is. If you don't do this you don't stand a chance.”
Execution – What it says on the tin. Engage with service providers about how you can move from an on premise, bricks and mortar organisation, to a cloud-based company. However, this should be the last and final step and only should be done when the other steps are completed. Business first, technology second.
Nchege finished by saying that this strategy is going to impact the skills he requires in his IT department, whereby he will no longer need technical people focusing on the infrastructure, but rather IT staff that can understand what the business needs. He said:
“In the future what I would expect to happen is I will ramp down the number of employees from an infrastructure perspective and then what I'm going to be looking for are IT associates that spend all of their time in core IT, understanding business process and translating that into services you can use in the cloud.”