The Atos secrets behind a digital transformation on the hybrid cloud
Workers on the second floor of MidCity Place, London have a discernible spring in their step.
This 42,600 sq ft expanse of office floor was, earlier this year, turned into the new UK hub of Atos – and opened in April alongside a blaze of publicity, this impressive space subtly encapsulates the technology and values behind the digital transformation specialist’s growth into a €13bn force.
Thierry Breton, its CEO, has pinned Atos’ success on an inherent tenacity and Peter Pluim, head of the company’s Infrastructure and Data Management division, echoes this viewpoint from his chair at the heart of its immaculate Holborn base.
“We're an ‘and’ company,” he smiles. “We don't do this or this, we do this and that and that and that. The most pervasive philosophy at Atos is commitment. Once we commit to something, we'll get it done, no matter what.”
Atos’ culture of determination is welded to a crystal-clear vision for digital transformation, a strategy built around four high-growth pillars: its industry-leading Digital Workplace, SAP HANA integration, the development of cognitive solutions using AI and advanced analytics, and lastly cloud – the area closest to Peter realm of responsibility.
That marriage of resolve and rigour creates an unparalleled standard of service in the field of technology delivery. Operating with a client base that includes the likes of Airbus and Aviva, on top of its long-standing partnership with the Olympic & Paralympic Games, Atos is emerging as a frontrunner in the digital epoch.
IDM at Atos
Infrastructure and Data Management, or IDM, is Atos’s largest business segment, generating over half of its overall annual revenue and directly employing approximately 60,000 of its 100,000-strong global workforce.
Peter has been leading the division since April 2017, when the Dutch national made the step up from his previous role as its Chief Operating Officer. A rich and prolific career, built around a 16-year stint at IBM, has given him an authoritative voice on the strategies and challenges faced by enterprises undergoing digital transformation.
“You need a vision,” explains Peter. “In our view, that's moving to a fully integrated, hybrid cloud with a thick layer of security around it that is open and closed at the same time, but always monitored so you know what is going on. It is supported by people working in that company that have the most flexible, collaborative and easy-to-use workplace. Artificial intelligence is then layered on top of that, allowing maximum insight into the business.”
From legacy to future-ready
As a technology service provider to multi-national organisations in sectors as varied as aerospace, energy and sport, as well as the owner of public sector contracts in defence and central government, projects of enormous size and importance are Atos’ bread and butter.
Over time, these customers turn into partners, with Atos permeating every area of operations and becoming, in a sense, a very part of that company’s DNA. It often takes years for the full fruits of its labour to blossom and now more than ever, overseeing the journey from an existing legacy infrastructure to one fit for a digital-powered future is its primary test, according to Peter.
“I would start to say that the biggest challenge we have, if I look at opening up legacy and moving that to a virtualised and private or public environment, is for companies to actually know what they have,” he says. “What is the enormous spaghetti that they have married all together over the last 30 years? That is almost the hardest part.
“We approach it in two ways. One is a very simple technical discovery: you run all the tools to figure out what all the elements are that we can discover within the existing network. Every element from every firewall, every server, every piece of storage, everything.
“Then you start on the other side. You go to people sitting at their desk and ask what are the actual applications and services they use? How do they map out and work together? When we have a new client, that’s a problem. They will have multiple databases and multiple applications, often examples that are a replication of others.”
Once that initial assessment is complete, Atos begins the task of developing solutions that are both deliverable and tailored to the exact needs of the client. “Most CEOs will start by saying: ‘I just want to go to cloud’,” adds Peter. “But they need to figure out why they want to go to cloud. What do they want to do? What is the actual aim and strategy of the business? Then we break it down.”
By focussing on the four key pillars of its ‘Digital Transformation Factory’, Atos fulfils essential criteria each time – such as reliability, security and usability – as well giving the client a clear overview of its systems through a customised version of its ServiceNow service management portal and its advanced Digital Workplace.
“This portal allows a client to have a view of its legacy, private cloud and public cloud, plus all of the automation. Its own workflow, all in one place,” he says.
“Through our Digital Workplace, we provide a truly revolutionary end user experience. We will not attract the best talent if we give them just a PC and a telephone on their desk to call if they have problem – people are now much more flexible about their workplace. We are able to provide that flexibility.”
Strength in hybrid cloud
The cornerstone of Atos’ service provision is Atos Canopy, its orchestrated hybrid cloud platform that empowers clients with digital services across multiple clouds, complete with the agility, scalability and security required to serve the different needs of each business. In 2017, it developed the platform further by launching Canopy for Microsoft Azure Stack, a fully-integrated hybrid cloud service powered by the Dell EMC Cloud.
According to a recent study from the leading market intelligence firm IDC (International Data Corporation), up to 90% of enterprises will be using multiple cloud services by 2020 as a comprehensive cloud adoption strategy becomes critical across industries.
“Two or three years ago, there was almost a dogmatic view in the boardrooms of our large clients that public cloud was the way to go to,” says Peter. “They wanted to become very agile very quickly and take advantage of all the web services out there. A lot of companies tried that and have failed.”
With more and more companies now moving towards a hybrid cloud approach, Peter believes a business should have four considerations at the centre of their thinking: the consistency and size of their environment’s load, their network costs, their latency expectations and their regulatory requirements.
“You have to take your legacy, cost and public and private cloud requirements into account,” he expands. “You have much more flexibility in a private cloud. Like I’ve said before, the public cloud is the model T Ford. You get one version of it, and that’s why it’s so cheap. You exchange the lack of customisation for a very low price.
“What private offers you is that customisation when you need it. Take SLAs (service level agreements), for example. If you use a public cloud provider exclusively, they will give you a standard SLA so a client would have no flexibility on how the platform is designed. In private, you can design it in smart ways that suit your business.
“Because of all of this, I truly believe that there is no such thing as ‘one size fits all’ solution. You have standardised building blocks but you need to put them together in a way that creates a bespoke solution for each individual client. It’s like Lego blocks; Lego blocks are the same but you can make infinite creations. That’s why we support hybrid cloud.”
In order to offer its best-in-class hybrid cloud service, Atos still manages a significant mainframe operation and has developed close relationships with the three major public cloud providers: AWS (Amazon Web Services), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform (GCP).
Traditionally, clients would have managed their public cloud solution directly with the provider. Now, Atos acts as a go-between, offering complete integration and dissemination through its ServiceNow portal. As Peter explains, this greatly enhances the relationships with its customers.
“If the platform breaks down, who do you call? If somebody's sitting at their desk and they can't do their work, that’s when the problem starts. We provide the service integration at that point,” he explains. “You just call us and we'll figure out where the problem is and fix it for you. That is a very important thing for most companies. You don't want to be the one doing the triage if you're just focused on selling healthcare materials or selling insurance. You just want somebody to go and fix that for you. That is one of the key services we provide.”
Advancing in analytics
In April, Atos revealed a new global partnership with GCP, making GCP its preferred public cloud partner. The relationship will run far deeper than just cloud provision, however, as Atos turns to GCP’s market strength and expertise in a host of different areas in order to improve its digital transformation service.
Combined with its own efforts to harness data opportunities through Atos Codex – its family of analytics assets, capabilities and skills, including its high-performance platform and consulting service – Peter says Atos’ relationship with Google will see its implementation of machine learning and advanced analytics taken to the next level through the leveraging of GCP’s ML APIs, creating industry-specific solutions.
“We're developing a lot of services together that go beyond just one simple layer,” he notes. “The key reason we chose to go with GCP is because we feel that, from an analytics point of view, it has the highest level and the deepest form of AI-based engine out there. I think we all experience it on a daily basis, whenever you use one of Google’s services.
“It's that kind of analytics that we also want to drive into our clients, to understand them and to understand the key breakages they have in their processes. It’s about how they can optimise and how they can maximise transactions and revenues based on as many pieces of information as possible.”
As companies find themselves rapidly integrating digital touchpoints, increasing automation and consequently generating a raft of data, Atos – which has already partnered with Siemens to marry its MindSphere platform with Codex – sees its work in this area as increasingly vital. Through successful delivery, it opens up the potential for major cost and efficiency savings for its clients.
“In my view, it’s an evolution area,” adds Peter. “Yes, there will be some big steps that we are going to take and some great things that come out of it – but we will take it step by step. Ultimately, we are a service provider, so you can’t have that break for critical services.”
Security and GDPR
Sensitive data is produced, collated and shared everywhere within a hybrid cloud environment, and guaranteeing the protection of that information is gradually taking precedence at boardroom level within most enterprises. Subsequently, the mastering of cybersecurity has developed into a crucial objective for Atos.
The threat landscape presents challenges from every direction. According to the ‘State of Cybersecurity 2018’ report from global IT governance firm ISACA, the global IT governance firm, 80% of survey respondents indicated that it’s either likely or very likely that their businesses will experience a cyberattack this year, with 50% reporting a significant rise in cyberattacks compared to 2017.
Atos – which helps combat an average of 200 attacks per second on its Olympics infrastructure, with 380mn separate breaches attempted at the 2014 Winter Olympics alone – has a robust strategy for integrating security controls from multiple clouds into one security posture.
Based off the National Cyber Security Centre’s 10 steps of advice, it delivers critical security controls while future-proofing infrastructures so organisations can pre-empt and monitor threats as they emerge. Through the consolidation of each step into a single security lifecycle, Atos is able to implement ‘Prescriptive Security’, its technology-powered service for predicting security breaches.
“I would say that 95% of companies in the world are underinvested in security,” says Peter. “I think people tend to underestimate the complexity, the sophistication of people that want to get in nowadays. The standard prodding and poking into your systems is easily deflected but to actually notice what’s going on, which is just as important as stopping it, requires sophistication.”
Extra security hurdles have also been faced in the shape of two extensive regulatory changes introduced in 2018: the network and information systems directive, or NIS Directive, focused on increasing resilience for the providers of critical infrastructure services, and the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a directive to safeguard personal data collected by organisations.
“GDPR is a Damoclean sword hanging over all businesses,” Peter admits. “The implications for violating rules are very severe. If you are breached for personal, identifiable data, you run the risk of losing up to 4% of your global revenue as a company through fines.”
In the outsourcing world, it gets even trickier. If a company outsources its data centre to Atos, Atos becomes the data controller and the data processor under GDPR rules. That means the risk of GDPR violations transfers, in most cases, to Atos – though that doesn't mean the client’s reputation won't suffer.
“Legacy environments challenge us,” adds Peter. “As an outsourcer, if you asked us to manage a Windows 2003 server estate we’d be happy to do that, but would transfer the GDPR risk back to you as a client. We cannot take responsibility for an estate that is no longer supported with security updates. For example, support on our partner VMware’s vCloud Suite 5 is ending this year, so we are already proactively approaching all of our customers to make sure they upgrade.
“The key thing that we need to work at for the next two years, for nearly all companies we work with, is to look at the security layer. We are pushing our clients to make it a fiduciary requirement for their C-level executives to act on our advice when a part of their estate is no longer supportable under GDPR.”
The evolution of Atos
From its place at the heart of a fluid technology landscape, Atos keeps its feet firmly planted on the ground. As a company, it is honest about its purpose: to deliver a wide ranging and innovative service to its customers, but a service that is, above all, bulletproof in its reliability.
To gain the complete trust of its clients, Atos has adopted an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary approach. Operating and widely respected in all four corners of the globe, it has achieved a continually-increasing Net Promoter Score and, in June, was recognised as a leader in both the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Data Centre Outsourcing and Hybrid Infrastructure Management Services in Europe and North America.
Through long-running partnerships with the likes of Dell EMC and VMware, it is able to work in harmony with some of the world’s biggest technology companies, utilising their market share to gain insights and build solutions that ultimately come together to create a first-class client service.
“In the end, it’s a journey involving everyone,” concludes Peter. “Imagine having a perfect vision of a house but, in front of you, you only have a stack of building blocks, bricks, wood, planks and nails lying there – with no blueprint. Atos provides that blueprint, helping businesses fulfil their vision.”