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‘Cloud Is’ – Part Six – Consumption Debt

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“Full stop!”

A respected leader of the team, in the middle of our presentation, shuts us down.

A big customer. Someone who knows what they’re talking about.

I get a little defensive and ask, “what’s the problem?”

He points at the screen and declares, “that’s why we failed.

I turn my head to see for myself the cause of the failure. The slide illustrates the top nine stakeholders in a cloud strategy. More importantly, it highlights the non-IT stakeholders.

See ‘Cloud Is’ – Part One – an Operating Model

“Can you tell me more about that? The reason you failed?” I ask.

“Well, we’ve had three ‘build it and they will come’ cloud strategies over the last seven years, but nobody came.”

This is consumption debt in its most demoralizing form.

Evenings, weekends, support calls, and integration headaches. Incompatibilities and version upgrades. You can call in all your favors and drill the techies on why things aren’t working. Start a groundswell of momentum over coffee, pizza and group hugs. Everyone can be organized to plan, build and run as a team to emerge victorious. It finally works!

And still, you fail if no one uses the damn thing.

Can your teams build cloud services that your organization wants or cares to try? And if you do, will these new services get used in production? There are many reasons that IT initiatives fail, but there are few things more frustrating than successfully creating a unique offering that just doesn’t get any attention or applications.

Addressing consumption debt is what is required to truly elevate your IT game above being the corporate systems integrator, or even service provider, to your organization.

There are three ways to pay off consumption debt, or avoid it altogether. The IT leader laid them out clearly when I asked what they’re doing differently to prevent future ‘Field of Nightmares’ initiatives.

1. Understand
2. Obsess
3. Engage


1. Understand your applications better than your infrastructure.

The IT leader pointed out that their historical inability to get past their technical debt forced them to become experts in their environment’s idiosyncrasies. This did not leave them with time to elevate their understanding of the application layer. Existing and new applications, and the developer process that surrounded them, did not concern them. The root of their consumption debt was not just their technical debt, but also the lack of a plan to get above it.


2. Obsess about finding and removing consumption obstacles.

What happens before that ticket is issued requesting services? Where do the developers and Lines of Business go when they are tired of waiting? More importantly, how do they consume services when they’re not using the IT group’s services? A Jenkins pipeline? A developer trial from a public cloud? A Terraform template? An API call? What did the super-smart coder do at their last company that they won’t shut up about as being better? Are the compiles slow? Are they still manually building environments? Are they chasing performance issues more than cutting code?

Obsessing about and relentlessly resolving consumption obstacles is a future proof skill set for any cloud center of excellence. It is what separates innovators from those who are merely keeping the lights on.


3. Engage (non-IT) stakeholders’ on their WIIFMs. (What’s In It For Me?)

Don’t believe the first answer in the planning meeting with 25 people. Validating what the security practice or the mission-critical apps team secretly want or need isn’t easy. Relationship building and trust are prerequisites. There is nothing more fundamental, when tackling consumption debt, than customers trusting you enough to reveal what they really want from the IT organization, publicly. Suppose the Line of Business simply wants a compliant, auto-scaling database as a service capability. If they don’t reveal their true requirements, there likely will be less resistance to them bypassing IT and going straight to the Cloud. IT never had a chance to build a competitive, cost-effective offering because they didn’t know the WIIFM in the first place.

What’s In It For Me is an even more powerful Cloud concept that ‘the first month is free’. Internal IT organizations have an unfair advantage they often don’t use. If you work for the same company, the odds are that you know your internal stakeholders’ needs better than any external provider.


Consumption debt will not go away on its own, but your team’s relevance to the rest of your organization might. Keeping the Lights On is important, but there’s a case to be made that the classical IT emphasis on ‘Plan, Build, Run’ could be replaced with Understand, Obsess, Engage.

Full stop.


We’ll discuss the second “most powerful” Cloud concept next in: Cloud Is – Part Seven – Economics

The full ‘Cloud Is’ series is available here:


Examples of VMware solutions and features that help you manage and resolve Consumption Debt:

Terraform service in vRealize Automation

DevOps with VMware Cloud Foundation

Using vRealize Automation ABX to make API calls to VMware Cloud on AWS

Native objects from Azure and AWS in Cloud Assembly

Wavefront – CloudHealth integration 




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