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Five Tips for Getting the FinOps Conversation Started

Before you can get cloud spending under control by implementing a FinOps framework, you’ll need to have corporate buy-in. Here’s how to get started.

As use of the cloud blossoms, many enterprises are finding their cloud spending spiraling out of control. For some companies, such as Basecamp, it’s become untenable to the point they quit the cloud, but are such drastic measures really the answer? There’s another way to prevent unpleasant cloud cost surprises.

For Further Reading:

Controlling Cloud Egress Costs

Proven Ways to Use AI to Cut Cloud Costs

How To Get the Upper Hand on Cloud Cost Management

FinOps, sometimes referred to as cloud cost management or cloud optimization, is defined by the FinOps Foundation as “an evolving cloud financial management discipline and cultural practice that enables organizations to get maximum business value by helping engineering, finance, technology, and business teams to collaborate on data-driven spending decisions." It’s about more than just reining in costs. It goes beyond merely reporting where money is being spent and lets teams connect the dots between cloud spending and the people, products, and processes incurring those costs.

Unfortunately, people and companies get set in their ways, and fiefdoms pop up. These traditional models of organizational leadership allow silos to flourish. The issues and challenges inherent in a siloed organization are compounded by the fact that each team (whether business, finance, or engineering) has different goals, metrics, and objectives. They use different tools, have different data sources, and get insight at different points along the product life cycle.

Consider that data engineers want to minimize the time required to ingest, process, and deliver high-quality data for analysts and data science teams to convert into insights. Data operations teams, meanwhile, monitor and troubleshoot production data pipelines and applications, while finance teams plan, monitor, and forecast cloud spending to ensure budgets are on track. With every team doing its own thing, predicting cloud usage and spending is nearly impossible to rein in and can potentially lead to the untenable position in which Basecamp found itself.

Wrangling and rightsizing corporate cloud spending requires extra effort to be sure but implementing a FinOps framework is worth the work. It took Segment multiple sources and apps to get the level of fidelity they needed to reduce their infrastructure costs by 30%in six months. However, before you can implement the framework, you’ll need to get corporate buy-in, and that requires getting the conversation started.

Don’t know where to begin? The following five suggestions can help jumpstart your FinOps conversation.

Huddle With Stakeholders

One of the biggest challenges in starting a FinOps practice is getting broad executive support. It’s not always easy to convert people who are set in their ways. The key to engendering successful corporate cultural change and heading off potential conflict is to elicit consensus from all levels and departments. To make sure you’re approaching the right (and, hopefully, receptive) audience, first research potential key stakeholders within your organization, especially those in senior positions and those regarded as early adopters. Once identified, hold one-on-one conversations with them to collect their feedback. Their thoughts and guidance can be used to formulate and shape your larger communications plan.

Know the Language

Each department, from accounting to product development, has its own language. When speaking with these team members, make sure you’re using terms and examples they understand and value. Be sure to articulate the tangible benefits that implementation of a FinOps practice would bring directly to their team. Speaking their language will work to ensure that you hold their attention longer and that they are vested in your message. This will help bring the value of FinOps home.

As Gartner explains in its 2021 How to Communicate Value in the Languages of IT, Finance and Business Outcomes, the “CIO must lead a multilingual discussion, adapting the conversation toward the audience around IT business optimization, enablement and digital transformation." The analysts advise that you talk about activities associated with positive impacts to a company’s KPIs and “consider the language your audience or stakeholders speak when discussing outcomes."

Speak to the Pain

When explaining the value of a FinOps practice, identify your company’s pain points and incorporate them into your communications. Beyond the overarching issues, identify and discuss various departments’ specific sources of pain, whether it’s overprovisioning (real or perceived), lack of accountability for cloud spending, or projects that are getting sidelined before completion or cancelled entirely due to spiraling costs.

Ask Questions

Throughout the course of your FinOps campaign, make sure you are asking questions of team leaders and other key stakeholders. What do they see as the issues? How do other teams affect their projects and work? Who do they think the big spenders are? What keeps them up at night? Equally important, be prepared with answers and concrete examples that demonstrate the value that FinOps will provide in moving the company forward (e.g., right-sized cloud spending, shared accountability) and the downsides of not implementing the practice (e.g., unplanned and unbudgeted cloud costs, risk).

Convey the Value

Constantly communicate the FinOps value proposition. Solicit input from all stakeholders when defining your company’s FinOps mission and vision statement. Start by drafting a summary of what you foresee as a successful FinOps program and how it will benefit the future organization. This road map should define the practice, lay out how it will work within your organization, list the challenges and how they will be addressed, and define the core team. From there, establish the KPIs you’ll use to measure your progress and incorporate examples of how FinOps will benefit the company and solve the inherent problems of the status quo.

Although it might seem daunting at first, the benefits FinOps practices offer are substantial. Using ideas such as the FinOps Foundation’s FinOps Framework -- with its collaborative and iterative approach to observability, optimization, and governance -- can help data teams increase the return on their modern data stack investments by proactively spotting opportunities for efficiency, adding alerts, and automating guardrails.

FinOps, when properly implemented, allows data teams to boost data performance, prioritize areas for improvement, engender self-service, and even automate financial processes to streamline the time and effort required to manage these tasks.

You have to crawl before you can walk and eventually run. Initiating a conversation within your company is the first step on your FinOps journey. The time to have the FinOps talk is now.

About the Author

Clinton Ford, DataOps champion for Unravel Data, is passionate about unifying data science, engineering, and business. He can be reached via email.

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