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Feature 29 September 2022 (ComputerWeekly)

Like death and taxes, customer concerns will always be with us. That said, practical room for improvement remains when it comes to customer experience of cloud services.

According to Scott Anderson, senior vice-president for product management and business operations at cloud database firm Couchbase, 36% of enterprise respondents in its survey report that the cloud services they have adopted during the past three years did not meet expectations. Concerns run the gamut from cost, availability, scalability and security.

Anderson warns that the transition to cloud often remains challenging and can be more expensive than initially thought. “Like in any transformation, it sounds like a great idea – there’s a high degree of confidence that it’s going to be good, but turns out a little bit more difficult than thought,” he says.

Anderson adds that even when cloud providers can typically deliver better services than the customer can do within their own environment and the service-level agreements (SLAs) are stringent, customers can still have concerns. Assuming customers have not been oversold to in the first place, cloud automation can help customers make better use of resources, including skillsets.

Ten years ago, customers worried about losing control of their resources and were more concerned about security in the cloud. Today, there’s more acceptance that a third-party might do the job better, he says.

However, customers often want more agility and the ability to almost independently move from one cloud to another – partly for future-proofing reasons, in that there might be a cloud-native service they desire in future from a different provider.

Too many may still get stuck in the earlier phases of the cloud implementation rather than helping customers to realise the full long-term benefits, he adds.

“There is still a very strong play for independent software vendors to provide multicloud capability,” Anderson says, noting that customers need guidance through migrations and beyond, including how to think about their processes and toolsets and how to move and re-architect or re-factor applications.

Classic IT change management – covering business processes, people, tool chains and so on – followed by ongoing, proactive management, recommendations and optimisation, with observability, is important – not only to land and move customers over, but to nurture and sustain a high level of customer experience and satisfaction. Cloud transformations, Anderson adds, are about changing “fundamental things”.

“The opportunity from a customer experience standpoint for me is how do you give visibility, how you give recommendations, because there’s this massive set of choices. If you go to various cloud service providers, how do you navigate those choices?” says Anderson.

Siloes inhibit speed

Benjamin Brial, founder and CEO at DevOps-focused hybrid cloud platform provider Cycloid, notes that even large well-resourced enterprises can be siloed in ways that mean the innovations and hoped-for transformations from cloud may not percolate down to where it is needed.

“Cloud keeps changing, and customers want to ‘do the job’ but might not know how to achieve it all. It can be a mess,” Brial says. “When we speak about devops and cloud, there is really a need for faster services.”

Central to Cycloid’s approach is provision of a self-service portal to function as a “single source of truth”, an interface covering off both traditional infrastructures and various cloud offerings, that can “democratise the DevOps” and reduce complexity from the customer’s standpoint.

Brial says customers with frustrations often do not have the time, interest or resources to develop the solution, let alone upskill their team. Going from having dev on one side, ops on the other, and moving to build their own DevOps team as a centre of excellence that can fix cloud silo, tool and automation issues and that does not result in lock-in is often a step too far. At the same time, they are rarely satisfied by the speed of cloud services provision, Brial says.

He notes that most GitHub developers are using just 5% of the view repository, and navigating between three and five repositories inside the gate. At the same time, portal development and maintenance is expensive – not least because cloud tools continue to evolve at pace.

“The skills are often not existing or are your top talent, but you don’t have 2,500 ‘top talents’. Even in the enterprise layer, you may not have the time to ramp up on the 29 tools on average around the topic of infrastructure – or more, in the Kubernetes world,” says Brial.

Jonathan Bradley, business and practice leader at public-sector cloud solution provider Granicus Experience Group (GXG) UK, points out that technology on its own cannot solve all customer-experience problems.

Covid-19 hastened moves to online services with consequent “experience debt” across cloud services – for example, when something that was a bad service offline was simply recreated as an equally bad online service, he says.

“Our customers are going back over that and trying to clean up some things done in a hurry due to Covid. Others are in a ‘digital maturity maze’, where they’re asking where to go next,” says Bradley.

Customers want increasingly to be sure they realise all the benefits from their cloud solution, including promised efficiency gains, cost savings, employment management benefits, staff morale and more.

Human-centred help

A focus on more human-centred cloud strategies is important, designed around the customers and their experiences, including accessibility and digital inclusion strategies that recognise that some people prefer to complete forms on a laptop, or a mobile device, or to call or join a chat, for instance.

Bradley notes that low or no code solutions can help customers themselves make innovations and improve their experience – whether the digital service in question is about enabling residents to request new waste bins, engaging them with communications or managing online feedback, or a service that improves healthcare service delivery.

Design thinking can and should inform strategic blueprints and success roadmaps as well as end-to-end customer journey analysis to fill in gaps and ensure that customers actually experience the cloud transformation they expected, or can at least pinpoint any issues...


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