Accenture’s journey to the cloud
A three-year migration of our IT infrastructure to the public cloud enables Accenture to operate with agility, efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
Applying the New at Accenture has involved digitally transforming our enterprise. With offices and data centers spread across the globe, this has not been an easy task. One major initiative was a three-year cloud program to enable a more scalable, robust enterprise IT infrastructure in the public cloud. The program’s vision was to provision and operate infrastructure, application, and service workloads anywhere and anytime in the cloud with resiliency and agility to empower our digital enterprise.
Our internal IT organization recognized the significant advantages to be gained in leveraging cloud capabilities and scale efficiencies. In the beginning, these advantages were not entirely clear. In the end, however, not only did we achieve them, we also took on enabling digital services and experiences, and generating business value.
The outcome of this vision post-program is having 95 percent of Accenture’s IT infrastructure operating in the public cloud as of early 2019. Were we to take everything out of the cloud today and put it back into a data center, the cost would be at least two times compared to what Accenture now spends on cloud.
Our internal IT leaders along with business stakeholders made the strategic decision in late 2014 to establish IT operations in the cloud. By January 2015, internal IT organized and mobilized a global Cloud team in close collaboration with our go-to-market cloud offering teams, Accenture Cloud Platform and Accenture Hybrid Cloud Services to spearhead the journey designed to migrate and provision Accenture’s infrastructure to the cloud.
When we embarked on our transformation journey, there were no comprehensive cloud management solutions in the market that could handle the scale and complexity of our estate and the processes required to move to cloud. As a result, we invested in developing the Accenture Cloud Platform, an end-to-end cloud management platform that provides the tools and managed service capabilities needed to operate at scale, at speed, and in a secure way.
Accenture has continued to evolve the Accenture Cloud Platform, adding new capabilities, and infusing it with the insight garnered through our experiences as well as through helping hundreds of clients with their own transformations. The Accenture Cloud Platform is available to interested companies, enabling organizations to also reap the benefits we have pioneered in the early days of enterprise cloud transformation.
The combined Cloud team developed a comprehensive journey map to first establish the foundation through: 1) rapid cloud adoption,
2) optimization of new environments and services, and 3) focus on transformation of IT processes, responsibilities, and capabilities. The team minimized the number of changes along the way. This let them focus and move at speed.
"Cloud technologies today offer new IT potential through faster, more flexible, more resilient capabilities. We are able to open the doors for operating and delivering value in new ways significantly faster and more securely."
– MERIM BECIROVIC, Managing Director – Internal IT, Cloud Computing
The Cloud team shaped a cloud strategy and plan, which was to adopt, optimize, and transform. The focus of the first phase was to accelerate cloud adoption through 1) rapid migration of business applications out of on-premise data centers and into the cloud and 2) diligently adhering to a “cloud-first, cloud-only” strategy and principle for all new applications. All new internal IT capabilities were required to build their business applications in the cloud, unless they requested and were granted an exception. The internal IT organization did not grant any exceptions during this journey.
The first—and aggressive—target was to move from 9 to 50 percent operating in the cloud within one year. The team took the impactful approach of migrating Accenture’s highest-cost data centers in North America first, even though it represented a greater risk due to the migrations involving production environments supporting business-critical applications. The first major public platform to go into the public cloud was Accenture’s own website, Accenture.com.
For the first data center migration, the team had to overcome the challenge of not having a full solution for migrating complex enterprise applications at the desired pace. To address this, the team partnered with the Accenture Cloud Factory to test and execute new technical migration procedures using the Accenture Cloud Platform (ACP) Accelerate framework. As part of ACP’s suite of pre-integrated tools and services, Accelerate consolidates best practices and lessons learned for cloud migrations.
The team also created, standardized, and trained people on the supporting processes required to execute successfully in a highly matrixed and varied business stakeholder and application environment. What resulted was a fully tested cloud migration solution with new methodology addressing these technical and non-technical enterprise complexities that is today being offered to clients. It was used for the remaining internal IT on-premise data center migrations.
For the second data center migration, the team partnered with Accenture’s Internal IT Disaster Recovery team to migrate from a traditional capital-intensive co-location recovery data center to a cloud-based data center where recoveries can occur using a lower-cost solution. The migration was completed in eight months, and resulted in greatly reduced infrastructure cost, improved manageability, and improved recovery point objective (RPO).
Throughout the third, fourth, and fifth data center migrations, completed in 2017 and 2018, the team continued to refine processes and tools, ultimately leveraging a mature solution. Along with ongoing business application migrations, the second rung of the cloud adoption strategy, “cloud-first, cloud-only,” continued to drive cloud adoption in parallel. The strategy required all new applications to be architected and designed for the cloud, and more than 95 percent of all new infrastructure is provisioned directly in the cloud.
The other lesson the Cloud team learned quickly was a “less is more” in the public cloud. This approach focused on taking IaaS workloads and instead of migrating like for like, the team did like for less. The cloud at that point was maturing quickly and Accenture was able to immediately get savings even doing simple lift-and-shift activity.
With the technical foundation set and cloud adoption well under way, internal IT’s focus shifted to optimizing what Accenture had adopted. Optimization opportunities were first pursued in infrastructure hosting and tool automation and progressed to further focus on process streamlining and governance simplification.
A key difference and opportunity in the cloud hosting model is that resources only need to pay for what they consume. Most cloud migrations get this wrong and therefore get in trouble quickly with the spend. The flexibility of cloud hosting allows applications to request more or less on demand. This means that instead of overestimating to create large contingencies, teams are enabled to react and adjust to real-life circumstances and to proactively and aggressively avoid unnecessary hosting costs.
For example, nonproduction cloud server schedules are standardized to reduce unused “uptime.” Understanding that every application and customer has different circumstances, teams are enabled to start and stop their nonproduction cloud machines on their own, without having to go through manual tickets and procedures—a step to self-service transformation. Similarly, teams have influence to actively manage the actual server size of their cloud machines. This is a major lever in controlling cost, so internal IT made it a mandatory step in our provisioning cycle. A team requesting compute had to, as part of that request, outline the actual up/down schedule that would be automated.
The cloud also offers creative solutions for hosting pricing and allocation. The Cloud team took advantage of different optimal hosting pricing models for scenarios where demand was known and consistent, as well as for demands that had a pattern of short-term spikes.
Finally, the team even identified opportunities to save by moving to dedicated cloud-hosted hardware in order to leverage existing software licenses. These opportunities enable teams to influence hosting costs and make decisions that treat efficiency as a key value driver.
Overall, continuous optimization is part of Accenture’s evolution. All of these optimizations lead to business benefits that contribute to lasting transformation.
To be better equipped for the pace of evolving cloud technology and capabilities, the Cloud team restructured into dedicated teams that adapted agile delivery methodology to deliver the transformation. This change allowed infrastructure teams to operate more like product or application teams with better stakeholder representation throughout delivery. Agile delivery is usually implemented by singular, co-located software product development teams that execute daily sync-ups, incremental development, and frequent delivery. In the Cloud team’s case, it committed to transforming toward agile principles, but needed to do so in an environment that is not traditionally agile—globally dispersed, infrastructure-focused, and with multiple technology functions and owners.
In addition to applying agile delivery principles, the team restructured into dedicated teams that focus on:
With agile delivery principles, a revised delivery model, and a thoughtful process for research, stakeholder collaboration, and enterprise standardization, the team was able to implement infrastructure and platform cloud services in production for native cloud applications serving critical business needs across Marketing, Sales, and Human Resources. Building cloud-native applications and directly consuming cloud platform services are the keys to less maintenance, more agility, and keeping pace with the platform economy.
"The long-term vision for our IT organization is to lead by deploying as-a-service capabilities more quickly as a result of being able to shift work from infrastructure management to capability development by leveraging cloud capabilities that allow for automation, machine learning, and AI," notes Becirovic. "We want to do this so that we can focus on delivering more value back to the business."
In a span of three years, Accenture saw its cloud footprint increase from 9 to 90 percent of all business applications. Numerous benefits have resulted and continue to evolve:
Reduced provisioning times
To ensure that new cloud infrastructure can be obtained quickly, the team successfully automated, consolidated, and integrated the provisioning process to maintain the integrity of the enterprise image while taking advantage of cloud technology speed. This provisioning process reengineering resulted in a reduction of cloud provisioning lead times up to 50 percent for standard environment provisioning. ACP not only allows provisioning of cloud services, but also the continuous discovery of any services provisioned in the cloud providers’ native consoles. This helps ensure complete visibility of the environment and that no services remain ungoverned.
Cloud services optimization
Capitalizing on cloud is not just about being in the cloud. It’s about optimizing utilization of services put into the cloud. In the third year of the journey, with the input from various targeted optimizations—reduced nonproduction environment schedules, monthly server resizing, and dedicated hardware model—Accenture realized $14.5 million in benefits after the third year.
Optimization of services within applications
As cloud applications evolve and consume more cloud-native platform services, the team proactively began to examine the cost footprints of these new platform services within each application. Applying the same optimization and utilization principles as the environment levels, the team was able to right-size service consumption without impacting application performance and realize an additional $3 million in annualized avoided costs.
Leverage of cloud solutions based on business scenarios
In addition, the application of adaptive hosting pricing models demonstrates a maturity in recognizing how to leverage cloud solutions based on business scenarios. For applications that have a consistent and predictable demand, the team seized the opportunity to reserve cloud instances in advance that offer a discount of up to 40 percent over a one-year term, which yielded $1 million in savings.
Cloud Service Introduction
Journeying far into the cloud allows us to focus on adopting native cloud solutions in the cloud. The team established a Service Introduction and Lifecycle process to manage and continuously introduce safe, standardized cloud-native products for applications to provision and consume. For every application request to build on new cloud-native products, the central team runs through an impact assessment to confirm security and operations controls. The requests are then enabled leveraging event-based serverless computing functions in the cloud. These functions are low cost, high efficiency, and allow for continuous introduction while keeping the environments safe and clean without human overhead. To date, there are more than 70 cloud-native services offered in this fashion.
Today, our journey to the cloud is complete. We are now focused on "living in the cloud" and what that means to the post-digital business. Stay tuned for the next chapter in this space.