CW500: Peter Ransom, chief information officer, Oxfam

As cloud computing become an unavoidable topic in any discussion related to IT strategy, learning from those early adopters who have first-hand experience of moving to cloud-based IT environments becomes essential. We have all heard the theories about what the cloud promises, but moving from theory into practice is where things get complicated, and this is where hearing from IT leaders with real-world experience comes in.

In this CW500 Club video, Peter Ransom talks to Computer Weekly editor in chief Bryan Glick to share his practical advice on how to move to the cloud.

Read the full transcript from this video below:

CW500 Peter Ransom chief information office, Oxfam

Bryan: Hello. Welcome to this Computer Weekly 500 Club Video.
My name is Bryan Glick, I am the Editor-in-Chief
of Computer Weekly. We are here again at our
regular monthly get-together of IT leaders. This time we
have been talking about Cloud computing and,
in particular, we have been hearing from some
IT leaders with some real life practical experience
of making the move to the Cloud, and talking about
what it is really like and what they are actually doing,
rather than having a theoretical discussion about what
the Cloud might mean. I am joined by one of our speakers
at the event today, Peter Ransom. Peter is the
Chief Information Officer at Oxfam. Peter,
thank you very much for coming and joining
us today, it is very much appreciated.

Peter Ransom: No problem.

Bryan Glick: I said that we are here to talk
about practical experiences of the Cloud.
From your perspective, Oxfam, what does
the Cloud mean to you? What are you doing
with the Cloud?

Peter Ransom: It is good, is it not? What does the Cloud mean?
It is one of the topics. It is pretty much whatever you want
it to be. For us, it was about the ability to buy expertise.
We, as an organization, obviously, an IT operation and,
therefore, one of the problems we have is difficulty
recruiting and keeping a high caliber staff, plus the
demands in the industry are significant. The other thing
we have is we have very peaky demands on our shop,
for example. We have a normal load during the normal year,
at Christmas, it goes up by 10 to a 100 times, the demand
at the shop. However, if we have a humanitarian issue,
for example, recently we had Pakistan and East Africa
at the moment is a big one, but previous to that was Haiti.
The demand can be a 1,000 times on the system that we
need, and Haiti brought down the infrastructure. There was
so much demand in it, and, of course, that means that we
were likely to lose donations, people who were trying to
donate to us could not do that. It brought our reputation
down because people just moved on to the next charity,
and those charities are competing, but we do,
we compete very much for people's money,
so we lost a lot of income.

The Cloud allows us to have that infrastructure
that can we burst. One of the most hyped elements
for a Cloud is that you can scale rapidly, and that is
what was significantly attractive to us, in that our
demand is very peaky, so stuff began, predict by
Christmas and the demand on the shops, but other times,
it could be within an hour's notice, and we have to have
the ability to bring power up, other servers up very,
very quickly.

Bryan Glick: You clearly answered some very obvious needs
that the Cloud was going to plug well into. How did you find making
that move from a predominantly in-house infrastructure into using the Cloud?

Peter Ransom: We had a mix of in-house, where we were
lucky to virtualize province, but we also had an
outside that is steadily hosting the environment.
It was challenging and has been challenging because
we have moved in an innovative way, recently. It is
challenging because it is new, it is a new set of skills.
Previously, there would be technical-only skills, now
there is very much commercial management.

We went to intent for the contract, and one
of the challenges we had is how insufficient procurement
skills to negotiate the right contract, and it became
obvious to us that we did not, so we sourced those externally.
It took us, instead of weeks to negotiate a contract,
it took us months, and we had to use scenario planning,
we had to run through 'what ifs, and we found the eventual
suppliers. We whittled them down to three, and eventually
picked one. It was new for them, as well. They are areas that
they did not know how to respond. Then that brings in writing
new contracts, writing new service perhaps, trying to
figure out where does responsibility lie, where does
accountability lie.

If a Cloud fails to provide the service because of an
exceptionally high peak because of a Haiti, let us say,
or East Africa, who is ultimately responsible? Who is accountable?
Who is going to pay what? Simple things like that, but sitting there,
and the lawyers getting involved and you can imagine most large
companies and us, it sometimes took weeks to resolve some
contractual elements. Post implementation has been
relatively smooth. We have had a number of issues but mostly
you put those alphabetically down. The first projects we
put on stream were three weeks late, on the target date. Today,
we  just issued a notice that we put 14 more applications on,
a month ahead of schedule, and the FD is very pleased. They have always
seen it they are operating faster, and in fact, it appears
we are getting all the benefits we wanted and more.

Bryan Glick: That is fantastic. You have a lot of experience with Aero,
technically and commercially, with it. For a fellow IT leader who is
starting out on the road that you have been down, what would be the
biggest piece of advice you would give to the, from your experience?
Peter Ransom: Start with the end. What is it you would really like?
Then play back. We did not go out to get a Cloud solution, we went
out to get a solution to our problem, and the Cloud was the best
solution to our problem, but it required a whole lot of services around it.
If you go down that path, you are getting into different skills.
Think about your skills in the workplace to manage service contracts,
rather than deep technical skills. The other thing is, for us, we were
not brave enough to go to a public Cloud, instead of a private Cound.
I still think the jury is out on whether the public Clouds are really the
right way to go. Think of the end in mind, have the end in mind, then
work back and try, and get a big picture.

Bryan Glick: Great. Thank you for that advice, Peter,
that was fantastic. Peter Ransom, CIO of Oxfam, thank you very
much for coming out and talking to us today. That is all we
have time for in this video. Keep an eye out on our website for videos
with the other speakers, from for tonight's events on planned computing,
and also from our previous CW500 events.

I will be back with another set of videos with house speakers
from CW500 next month.

Thank you very much. 

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