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.
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.
“There’s a desire by digital leaders and a vision for how they transform services, but more need to take the people with them,” Bradley says.
Customers that feel more involved and can more easily talk to their own end users can also better understand pain points, help build out processes, and even take charge of a service in the cloud. This can also help head off the classic situation where a cloud service has been implemented, but end users appear resistant to change, says Bradley.
Cloud providers will also benefit from better monitoring and analysis of what’s happening at the customer end. Sourcing feedback and collecting data on what users are actually doing on a platform, including whether transactions are completed, can be crucial.
“One of our bits of kit is called Engagement HQ. It gives us a range of people to speak to feedback – the people who do complete surveys, they can continue; people who just want to leave a comment on ideas, they can; people can fill out a quick opinion poll. It’s about multi- or omni-channels, and we provide all sorts of dashboards to customers,” says Bradley.
GXC has been building a Google-type government experience cloud. Ideally, when a user goes to a website or logs on to a portal, they should be recognised and the service should adjust to the data it already holds. Of course, it means that customers have to be happy to share their data with trustworthy services providers, he adds, but it all helps to create a “virtuous circle”.
“Apply design thinking and have a heavier discover-and-planning base, asking who are the customers and about the segmentation. Then it’s about listening and actually building out the processes and the platform based on those personas, using data to manage and optimise the processes,” Bradley says. “Think about making things so customers can do something right the first time.”
Architect for innovation
Maynard Williams, UK and Ireland managing director at digital transformation consultancy Accenture Technology, highlights that “architecting well” remains important, yet sometimes it is “almost forgotten” when organisations are taking pieces of a solution from the cloud.
“The value of architecture hasn’t gone away simply because cloud providers give us so much potential to have so much of that stack from them,” Williams says.
He agrees there’s room for more innovation, and more specific innovation, from cloud providers.
Consumers of cloud want more features and functions, but the trade-off of that is complexity that must be managed and comprehended.
While many cloud providers are doing a good job, particularly in the enterprise and hyperscaler intersection, full innovation from a vision for cloud are not always realised at the customer end. His prescription is to focus on cloud operating model and agility, supporting a culture where change can happen much more quickly across an organisation.
“What we’re actually talking about is how to consume multiple clouds and make them work together. If your customer is taking cloud and using it exactly the same way as when they had very traditional pieces of it, they’re probably not getting the benefit,” says Williams.
“I’d have expectations of 24/7 ability to engage with my customers, for example, but I shouldn’t have to worry about whether I’m on Azure or Amazon Web Services.”