Do not look at cloud as a ‘data centre in the sky’: Alan Flower, EVP and Head – Cloud Native and GenAI Labs, HCLTech, and HCL CTO for Cloud Native

In today’s rapidly evolving technological landscape, the nexus of cloud technologies, data, and generative AI is driving profound changes in the business world. As we navigate this transformative era, it is crucial to gain insights from industry leaders who understand the intricacies of this new digital frontier.  Alan Flower, EVP and Head – Cloud Native and GenAI Labs, HCLTech, and HCL CTO for Cloud Native,  offers a unique perspective on the prevailing trends, challenges, and opportunities in cloud technology. In this interview, Flower shares his wisdom on a wide range of topics, shedding light on the future of cloud strategies, the role of generative AI, and the imperative of continuous modernization

Some edited excerpts:
The survey results in the report indicate that most businesses plan to increase investment in cloud technologies over the next year. What do you see as the main drivers behind this trend, and how can companies ensure they’re making the most of their cloud investments?
The main drivers of this trend appear to be an increasing appetite for genuine transformation, combined with increasing innovation velocity. To ensure maximum impact from cloud investments, organisations should really seek to ensure stronger alignment between the IT function and the business. Rather than look at cloud as purely a technical investment, successful companies realise that it is key to unlocking innovation and enabling greater agility across the organization.
What are some of the obstacles identified by executives in the research that are stopping greater use of cloud capabilities? 
The research did highlight common obstacles that show up repeatedly, and our overcome by those organizations recording more impactful transformation. Perhaps top of the list, is the lack of alignment between the business and IT. If you simply regard your cloud estate as an extension to a legacy IT infrastructure, you are going to fail to take advantage of the inherent characteristics of cloud that the business appreciates. An inability to find new ways to innovate, with greater agility at higher speed will often result in business leaders who cannot detect at significant benefits. That in turn will constrain consumption and growth as the business may lack motivation to go ‘all in’ on Cloud.
How can businesses improve their utilization of cloud investments for a consistent return on investment?
 A key characteristic of successful organizations is that they realize they need to change their approach to running IT in the cloud. To receive a good ROI, it is imperative that you do not look at cloud as a ‘data centre in the sky’ and grasp the opportunity to modernize your entire approach. Cloud Native architecture and engineering, combined with modern approaches to IT Operations will enable the transformation that the business expects.
What are some of the compelling events that can drive an organization’s cloud strategy to evolve?
 When I think of compelling events that often result in genuine change, a common pattern often emerges. First, it is the realization that the business needs to take the lead, give it the opportunity to define what success means. Next, we often see the structural transformation of IT to allow it to better serve those needs of the business. Followed by a ‘Cloud Native’ mindset that can change the way that applications, data and operations are regarded in the Cloud. Finally, a key event is the realization that both skills and practices will need to change. This last point is often overlooked, but in many respects is the ultimate driver of much of the evolution we see.
The report also notes that there are both consistencies and contradictions in the survey results. Can you speak of some of the key findings that stood out to you, and what they might mean for businesses looking to evolve their cloud strategies?
 There were some very significant findings in our Cloud Evolutions report, and I would recommend any of your readers invest some time in picking through some key trends that it highlights. For me, the obvious finding was that whilst business is the key consumer of Cloud services, there is some way for IT to go before it is seen as being in-sync with the business. The survey records that the business needs solutions that help tackle the ongoing struggle to retain customers, gain market share, and enable more rapid routes to market. Yet against this demand, the survey also shows the concerns around security, lack of skills and a belief that there is much untapped potential in Cloud that needs to be unlocked by IT. Fundamentally, the survey shows that IT might be struggling to keep up with the business expectations from Cloud, and that should be a concern to any IT leader that seeks growing relevance.
Generative AI is identified as a key technology that businesses are exploring as part of their cloud strategies. What are some of the benefits and challenges of incorporating generative AI into a company’s operations, and how can the cloud play a role in using this technology effectively?
 Cloud and GenAI are a great partnership, and the inherent elasticity and innovative services offered by cloud providers enable a firm foundation on which to explore GenAI. When I think about the demonstrable benefits of GenAI, they frequently cut across all of an organization’s operations. We see great uptake in the use of GenAI to augment employee productivity, taking on the burden of those jobs  tasks that we often find a burden. GenAI within any IT engineering team is an obvious first place where we see benefits, with the use of co-pilots in software engineering as perhaps the leading domain at present.
The report emphasizes the importance of continuous modernization in order to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to technology adoption. What are some of the key strategies that companies can use to ensure they’re keeping up with the latest trends and innovations in their industry?
 Continuous Modernization, of course, has a large dependency on a desire to not stand still, continually evolve and seek greater impact from Cloud. Commons strategies that we observe are often driven by the business’ need for constant transformation and this should result in a more innovative, product-centric approach whereby IT and supporting functions frequently revisit the value delivered.
The report notes that cloud technologies can help businesses respond to massive global challenges such as geopolitical and economic events. In your opinion, how can cloud tools be used to build more resilient and adaptable organizations that are better equipped to weather these kinds of challenges?
 Ultimately, Cloud environments are the ultimate playground to experiment with and launch new products and services. As more business value chains move to cloud they also inherit that constant elasticity and resilience provided by all cloud providers. I can scale my business up, or reduce its footprint, in immediate response to demand. That ability to free an organization from the shackles of a fixed IT environment is often the ultimate benefit, giving business leaders freedom to respond as they desire.
The interplay of Data, Cloud and Generative AI is taking the world by storm. How is HCLTech positioning itself in this new era to maximize its opportunities in the new world?
 We have been active in the AI domain for two decades and are industry leaders in Cloud-enabled transformation. When combined with our existing in-depth experience in Data and Analytics, this allows us to bring the combination of these three domains into an orchestrated set of offerings that accelerate our clients’ business transformation.  You cannot do Cloud without AI, and vice-versa. And the secret to any successful AI-enabled journey is proximity to good data that has been prepared to service the needs of an LLM-dominated solution environment.  It does place HCLTech into a particularly unique position in our industry, and with our heritage of deep engineering competency, we have an unbeatable selection capability that will bring more rapid success for clients.
Alan FlowerCTOHCL Tech
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