Why is the cloud better the second time around?

Darius Jack, Vice President - IT Infrastructure and Operations, Western Union
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Darius Jack, Vice President - IT Infrastructure and Operations, Western Union

Maturity, complete buy-in on the strategy, process/governance, the willingness to shift from the traditional technology model, an acceptance to adopt self-service/DevOps and true empowerment of end-users.

Roughly two years ago here at Western Union, we had a burning desire to migrate to the public cloud, but just like most companies, we struggled identifying how to get there.

We were faced with challenges of stability, long lead times, and managing capacity. The typical process to activate any new technology lasted a minimum six to eight weeks and we were faced with a number of demands resulting from the company’s strategy shift to digital. At the time, the digital engineering team was developing at rapid speeds, while at the same time we needed to stay laser-focused on our customers and end users. In our normal course of technology evaluation, we talked to a number of cloud providers and, through that rigorous process, had identified a vendor to help support the company’s cloud strategy.

Next, we collaborated with our digital customers and jointly agreed on the direction to move the digital team’s development environment to the public cloud, a simple and a non-intrusive option to implement, thus fulfilling our strategy of self service, empowerment and improve management of cost.

  From an infrastructure perspective, we needed to get better as the public cloud was viewed by the company as a way to improve speed-to-market, self-service, and cost management. 

After weeks of challenges associated with connecting networks, we finally turned the environment over to our development staff. It did not take long to realize that without following the basics of technology 101, including defining our true requirements to justify moving to the cloud to begin with, the cost of operating in this model grew substantially and we found it was not sustainable.

During this time, the developers were building environments at a rate of seven images. We worked quickly to renegotiate a lower image price, but this alone did not solve our problem of rising costs, so we quickly eliminated this option and returned to the traditional method of on-prim.

On the infrastructure/operations side, a great deal of time was spent evaluating the challenges we faced. We highlighted the pros (self-service, empowerment, reduce lead times, agility) and cons (cost, connectivity, requirements, and new process/governance). From an infrastructure/operations perspective, we needed to get better as the public cloud was viewed by the company as a way to improve speed-to-market, self-service, and cost management.

We worked fast to leverage our lessons learned. We collaborated closely with a strategic provider to develop training for the entire Infrastructure/Operations organization. We conducted a Cloud 101 training session and I challenged the entire staff to read “The Phoenix Project.”

My aim was to address our challenges quickly.

Additionally, I appointed one of my direct reports to lead an engagement with one of our preferred vendors to develop a cloud strategy. That strategy included utilizing a direct connect versus VPN point-to-point connection, a goal to operate from a DevOps model, while building the process and governance around the public cloud.

We worked closely with critical teams within WU to make sure we had their complete buy-in with the cloud strategy and to ensure we had processes in place to move a program/project from inception to implementation. We collaborated with Information Security for security requirements, Compliance for regulations, ServiceProvider Governance for vendor and contract management support, Finance for budget support, Asset Management to validate how do we leverage our existing software agreements in the cloud, Procurement for contractual agreement, Internal Audit and finally PMO to ensure all projects in the pipeline were considered for migration to the public cloud.

Another key shift in strategy was to enact a process to inventory our applications on cloud readiness. This critical shift in strategy has placed WU in a better position to leverage all the benefits of moving to cloud and more importantly, ensured all internal organizations supported the strategy.

So, why is the Cloud better the second time around?

These technologies have allowed Western Union to move with more agility. More importantly, WU matured and got smarter as an IT organization!

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