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New PwC cloud survey may not be asking the right folks about results

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Commentary: PwC asked the C-suite about its cloud plans and results, but it might have done better to ask developers.

Image: ART STOCK CREATIVE/Shutterstock

You can be forgiven if you found yourself confused reading through the results of PwC’s US Cloud Business Survey. For example, 93% of the CIOs surveyed see themselves as responsible for “Company-wide strategy and defining the business outcomes and value we expect” for cloud. That’s good, right? Well, probably, but I can’t quite shake the Billy Marshall adage that “the CIO is the last to know.” That is, even as the C-suite sets top-down strategy, much of the actual decision-making rests with developers and others responsible for bottom-up execution.

And, in fact, this disconnect between CIO theory and developer reality shows through later in the survey, when executives complain about the results they’re seeing from their cloud investments. “This unrealized value is significant, but it only begins to speak to cloud’s untapped potential to propel strategy,” the report authors noted. Yet nearly half of all respondents said they can’t actually measure the value of their investments, which perhaps suggests they’d do well to pay closer attention to those who can measure value because they’re closest to it: their developers.

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Getting real about cloud

Roughly 92% of the executive survey respondents say their companies are all in on cloud. And while CIOs claim the most involvement in setting their companies’ cloud strategies, pretty much everyone in the C-suite says they’re part of Team Cloud. (Weirdly, though, the chief revenue officer, which surely has some say in how their companies meet customer needs through cloud or other investments, comes in dead last among company executives in terms of defining cloud strategy, even behind the accountants responsible for tax strategy.)

Why are these executives turning to cloud? The number one reason given is to “Improve resilience and agility,” which 34% of respondents picked. But there’s a big delta between such hefty aspirations and a “substantial realization” of value (18%, in this case). A walk through the targeted outcomes and the perceived gains shows pervasive dissonance: 

  • Improve decision-making through better data analytics (34% sought this business outcome vs. 16% who say they’ve realized substantial value in this area to date).

  • Innovate our products and services (33% vs. 15%).

  • Create better customer experiences (29% vs. 12%).

  • Increase profits (23% vs. 13%).

  • Improve talent retention and recruitment (23% vs. 10%).

  • Improve employee experience (22% vs. 11%).

  • Reduce costs (21% vs. 9%).

  • Enhance brand and reputation (19% vs. 11%).

  • Ensure business continuity (19% vs. 10%).

  • Combat new industry entrants (14% vs. 5%).

  • Disrupt our own industry or other industries (12% vs. 9%).

Sounds bad, right? PwC pegs this “value realization gap” at 53%, on average. And yet…maybe PwC was simply asking the wrong people. According to the report, “almost half of business leaders (49%) see the inability to measure value as a key barrier to achieving value, and almost as many CFOs (48%) say they lack confidence in their ability to measure the return on cloud investments.”

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There are, however, people who can and do measure that value, not from spreadsheets but rather from direct experience with the workloads in question. I do not in any way mean to diminish the role of the CIO or other C-level executives in cloud decisions–though trends like open source and cloud were tools developers used to route around cumbersome bureaucracy, the C-suite is increasingly paving the way for developers to build with cloud assets in a big way. 

And yet…if you want “in the trenches” knowledge of how cloud (or data center, or any IT) is faring for a company, you can’t afford to ask questions at a 30,000-foot level and expect to get ground truth. Even where IT decisions are made top-down, it’s the bottom-up developer motion where those decisions become reality. So if you really want to know how cloud is doing, ask those closest to its implementation. 

Disclosure: I work for AWS, but the views expressed herein are mine and don’t represent those of my employer.

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