At first, it seemed as though cloud computing might pose an existential threat to the IT outsourcing industry. If customers can rent IT capabilities over the Internet without setting up their own infrastructure, why would they need outsourced IT skills?
In truth, there is a lot of extra work associated with using cloud computing. In 2009, Gartner analyst Darryl Plummer spotted the need for a so- called “cloud broker”, a function – internal or external – that makes it easier for a business to adopt public cloud services by certifying approved cloud providers, taking care of integration, managing user identity across services, and more besides.
This is a role that IT services providers are understandably keen to fill. Indian IT outsourcer Infosys was one of the first to market with its Cloud Ecosystem Hub service, which it claims can “enable organisations to rapidly adopt, manage and govern a hybrid cloud environment”.
In the last nine months, meanwhile, outsourcing and consultancy giant Accenture has been developing its own cloud brokerage platform, which it unveiled publicly in April 2013.
The Accenture Cloud Platform is made up of a mix of software and services. Front and centre is a procurement portal that can be deployed internally or hosted in the cloud itself.
This gives IT administrators, or perhaps even business users, a single screen through which they can buy services from Accenture’s ecosystem of approved cloud providers.
They can also procure pre-built integrations – for example, from Salesforce.com to NetSuite – that are hosted on Accenture’s infrastructure and paid for on a per-transaction basis.
And thirdly, they can buy pre- configured services from Accenture. For example, the “testing-as-a-service” offering allows customers to rent testing tools on a pay-per-use basis, and spin up cloud infrastructure as a testing environment, in one fell swoop.
All of is this is paid for with a single monthly bill.
“You can look at the platform as an app store, but some of the apps have been pre-integrated,” says Jack Sepple, global senior managing director for Accenture’s cloud practice.
It is a canny idea from Accenture. The platform, the company claims, makes it easier for businesses to govern cloud usage across their organisation. “In the client-server era, there was a big decentralisation of governance for a while, and the same thing is happening with cloud and for valid business reasons,” says Sepple. “Part of the reason for adopting this platform is to help customers pull governance back into one place.”
But it also parks a shop front for Accenture’s services right in front of their IT administrators. In future, Accenture aims to even sell human labour – software testers, for example – through the cloud portal on a pay-per-use basis.
Accenture has yet to announce which suppliers make up its cloud service provider ecosystem, but it has revealed one glaring omission: cloud market- creator Amazon Web Services.
AWS is “definitely on our roadmap”, Sepple says, but for the time being it does not meet the requirements of its enterprise customers. “As a Global 2000 customer, there are certain terms and conditions you expect, and certain service level agreements you need”.
Accenture recently announced that it would be investing a further $400 million in its cloud computing capabilities. The Accenture Cloud Platform will be a part of that, but the company also plans to grow its 6,700- strong cadre of cloud experts.
Cloud computing is already a $1 billion-a-year business for Accenture, Sepple says, which equates to around 3.5% of its 2012 revenues. IDC recently estimated that the global cloud computing market will grow 245% from $40 billion in 2012 to $98 billion in 2016. Accenture expects its cloud business to match or exceed that growth.
But legacy systems are not going away, and Sepple is also confident that Accenture will find work integrating those systems will cloud environments for many years to come. “We did a study looking at how fast our customers want to move to the cloud,” he says. “Even as far out as 2020, they think that are large proportion of the workload will still be based on internal systems.”
“We see a long path ahead of us.”