Sony Playstation is Corralling the Cloud

How Sony PlayStation’s Linda Martino is rounding up the company’s cloud applications, and her plan for keeping the technology from going astray in the future.

With greater flexibility, scalability, virtualization, and agility, it’s hard to resist the undeniable and captivating appeal of cloud capability. But, like any wonder drug promising immediate gratification, this new wave of technology has mesmerized users acting independently and without much consideration for the long-term repercussions. New research from Netskope and Ponemon uncovered that within US companies on average, only 22.5 percent of business-critical apps and 35 percent of cloud data operate under the radar of the IT department.

Because the marketplace began with point-solution, best-of-breed (BoB) architecture, the remaining landscape comprises a multitude of uncommunicative stovepipe systems. Despite being founded on the best of intentions, the improvident actions of well-meaning employees propagate a host of issues. A decrease of organization-wide efficiency and productivity are two critical fallouts. Now, IT departments are scrambling to launch cloud consolidation countermeasures.

Last year, Linda Martino found herself in such a situation when taking on the vice president of IT role at Sony Computer Entertainment America, better known by the moniker Sony PlayStation. To complicate matters further, the company was at the tail end of several major efforts: a three-year headquarters construction project, the off-site data-center relocation to a collocated facility, and a massive Oracle 12 reimplementation. These efforts required Martino’s predecessor’s full attention. So while he had little time for peripheral needs, two thousand employees had carte blanche to shop cloud-service offerings. And shop they did, weaving an ever-growing tangle of systems with each additional application.


The Challenge
To prevent further SaaS sprawl, Linda Martino needed a way to educate Sony PlayStation’s staff on the ongoing IT solutions while curbing the ability for business units to purchase outside services without the guidance of IT. Though Martino and her team are striving for an intuitive user experience, she realizes not every employee will proceed through the changes without complication.

The Partner
As the gateway to the people, Sony PlayStation’s HR team had the reach and connection to provide Martino a pipeline to the workforce. The HR department itself had several SaaS programs prime for amalgamation and could easily communicate the value of the consolidation.

The Solution
IT works closely with HR to develop training and communication materials. Using e-mail, articles on the internal web, and PowerPoint, the joint venture sends out company-wide information on a quarterly basis, along with ad-hoc announcements for when the IT department is rolling out new offerings. Martino also gives internal training that covers new technology and tools, as well as tips and tricks to increase efficacy and efficiency. Though still in the initial phases, communication and education efforts have been well received by the workforce.

Martino, a CIO magazine’s 2011 “Ones to Watch” recipient, possesses more than twenty years of experience in IT, with a preference for high tech. Vice president of IT positions at Sun Microsystems and Clorox, in addition to ten years with IBM, equipped her to untangle the web waiting for her at Sony PlayStation.

Initial meetings revealed two fundamental issues. First, the mind-numbing amount of user IDs, passwords, and application locations required for daily tasks. Second, the lack of data flow between systems that created reporting issues and resulted in having to merge multiple reports to portray a full view of a project.

These problems, which spawned from each business unit’s particular needs and a lack of end-user points of view, resulted in the acquisition of BoB tools bent on optimizing siloed operations without consulting each other. The lack of cooperation fostered a disjointed proliferation of software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions. “[SaaS solutions] are very quick and easy to deploy, so everybody loves them at first, but then they realize the limitations if they’re not integrated to the rest of the portfolio,” Martino says. Several years and twelve passwords later, juggling multiple platforms that didn’t sync, Sony PlayStation was ready for a change. “From an end-user perspective, it was very chaotic.”

Rebuilding and Restructuring the Team

Taking the helm, Martino changed directions and rolled out the department’s new administration. Doing this parallel to addressing the cloud consolidation project gave priority to enterprise architecture and project portfolio management. “We needed to get a little better organized inside IT, so we are more efficient and more effective,” she says.

In addition to the department’s recent and significant software changes, Martino’s application and infrastructure teams sat in different buildings. The lack of collaboration and communication created several challenges: without consulting each other, decisions were made and toes were stepped on. At one point, each group created its own single-sign-on solution, inadvertently pinning the teams against one another.

This structure simply wasn’t feasible for addressing IT needs for the present or future. To foster better relationships, Martino moved the entire staff to a remodeled, free-roaming bullpen area, where universal, open workstations replaced cubicles. Project teams were able to meet in one space, work, and then break off to separate corners, if so desired. The areas are decorated with gaming décor, which has been the primary factor for the favorable response to this restructuring and relinquishment of appointed personal space.

After creating a more connected team, Martino went to work on rebuilding the culture: namely its communication style with other departments. Admittedly, to parties outside the tech circle, IT jargon is extremely complicated and often requires its own translator. But rather than requiring all of Sony PlayStation to assimilate with IT, Martino focused on retraining the whole department to adopt an end-user point of view with every effort.

A top-down approach began with Martino coaching IT senior management. Then, when a nearly finished department service catalog crossed her desk, it became clear the conversation needed to include the remaining IT employees. Replete with an IT-centric focus and techno babble incomprehensible to the average layperson, the document proved the perfect training tool to demonstrate her initiative. Martino stopped the project and asked the team to start again. The second time around, she instituted a “What would Dottie think?” approach to give employees an ideal target audience. Endearingly named for a senior administrative assistant with little tech knowledge, the approach served as the litmus test to ensure universal comprehension.

“Turning that thinking around was quite a learning experience for my team,” Martino says. Fortunately, social skills weren’t her staff’s issue. They just needed to focus on simple, respectful language when explaining a technical situation. Now all service or feature content uses plain, straightforward language that doesn’t leave Dottie scratching her head.

Solving the Issues

A unified team and a stabilized Oracle implementation left room for Martino to move the Sony PlayStation cloud portfolio toward a more user-driven approach. To start off, she got her bearings and took inventory. With an idea of the more popular Tier 1 applications, her team then surveyed the user groups to identify any additional applications in the pipeline. Next, Martino adopted an architecture perspective, focusing on data flow. While most of the applications had some interface with Sony PlayStation’s ERP, she knew they would benefit from interfaces between each other. Most of that didn’t exist at the time, which Martino likens to getting a handle on the architecture. “[It] would be an optimal state . . . operating as though it was one unified set of systems instead of all these point-to-point solutions.”

The IT team started with a front-end revamp that addressed the business units’ number one issue: the volume of passwords and user IDs needed to jump between systems. Now in the final stage, the new single sign-on solution allows users to access all of their applications through one portal with the same user ID and password used to boot up their computers. Though the larger problem of multiple SaaS solutions still looms, this temporary fix hides any login complexity.

Making the Most of Cloud Solutions

Four questions you should ask end users to increase the effectiveness of your SaaS portfolio.

1. Have you run your ideas past the IT department?
Generally, IT takes responsibility for information security. Before the user engages with a vendor that provides SaaS, the department needs to ensure the vendor won’t jeopardize the company’s intellectual property.

2. Do you really understand the marketplace and business process you’re trying to take to the cloud?
“You want to make sure they understand the maturity and stability of the vendors available,” Martino says. For example, startups pose risks that older, more established organizations do not.

3. Will this solution need to integrate with anything else?
IT needs to help users scope their solution and decide if they really want a BoB, standalone solution or an integrated solution that latches on to a better long-term option.

4. Do you understand your cost basis? What does your business case look like?
Users need to consider all of the relevant costs associated with adopting a new solution that go beyond the initial pricing. For example, are they incurring the uptick in network traffic? If so, who is going to support that and what will it cost?

While the front end offers improved user experience, the back end still requires some attention with regard to the reporting and analytics flow. Martino’s solution combines the unique data from the cloud solutions with that of Sony PlayStation’s ERP. This allows her to mask the reporting and analytics behind the scenes. “Even though the systems don’t all talk to each other yet, at least I can pretend they talk to each other through the reporting aspect,” she says.

A tighter architecture allows IT to onboard new SaaS applications and respective reporting within a month. And, once they’re able to receive data from the new service into their big data solution, they can ascertain with what other data the users want to connect it.

“I think a lot of companies that have that BoB approach are struggling with this,” Martino says. “And I don’t know that there’s a single solution out there. The way I’m approaching it seems like a pretty reasonable solution to cause the least disruption to the users, while I buy myself some time to go through and re-architect or perhaps redesign some of these systems that are already out there.”

With the brunt of the storm at bay, Martino has time to wade into the architecture and determine the most advantageous solutions for future business demands. With hub creation as the end objective, IT has begun sorting solution by solution and identifying the users, administrators, common themes, and any shared data between systems. From that information, the department will determine the optimal consolidation points or decide to leave an application as is.
Working With Business Units Moving Forward

Combining SaaS programs, while technologically complicated, offers little friction—especially when in comparison to navigating the needs and desires of Sony PlayStation’s business units. Initially, Martino garnered overwhelming support regarding the single sign-on solution development. However, now in the consolidation process, the dialogue requires a little more consideration and finesse. “You really need to work closely with the business so they understand you’re doing this for them and not to them,” she says. “I don’t go out there and try to consolidate their solutions to make my life easier. I try to make their lives easier.”

Putting herself in the shoes of each business unit, Martino begins by figuring out their respective challenges and evaluating how a combined or integrated solution would help them. She balances constraints with usability desires by quantifying the benefits. Understandably, fact-based decisions tend to be better received when lines have to be drawn. “As with any shared service, you have to have some governance, shared prioritization, and make sure all the stakeholders are aligned,” Martino notes. “That’s the really tricky work, especially if you’re taking away a little bit of [a business unit’s] autonomy, because they owned a solution. Now you’re going to ask them to share a different solution with some other group, and that forces [business units] to work together.”

When facilitating ideal, clear feedback channels, Martino says it varies by audience—be it business unit leaders or frontline employees. “Each audience is different,” she explains. “Each business executive has his own style. IT needs to do stakeholder management by figuring out who it is they are trying to work with and what style works best for them, and then tailor the communication to fit.”

Among the IT team, Martino is pushing for the adoption of a new mind-set that has the department on the front lines, seeking out the challenges various business units face and determining the best technology solution to solve it. This attitude—paired with an increase of IT bandwidth and new, state-of-the-art facilities—has Martino feeling good about Sony PlayStation’s perception of IT. “I think [the business units] are happier overall, but I
really have to win back their trust and their business,” she says.

The Sony PlayStation IT team is making headway, but Martino cautions that the road ahead is long and challenging. Business units need to understand the rapid evolution of the SaaS marketplace; today’s BoB leader could be trailing a year from now. For this reason, it’s important look at features and functions, not the trending stars. Martino advises that IT-driven efforts will help other organizations avoid the challenge her team faced this past year and continues to address. When IT lacks decision-making authority, serving merely as an adviser, it’s easy for a company to end up with a plethora of solutions that don’t talk to one another, especially in an ever-growing SaaS environment. General education regarding a company’s cloud use can mitigate the number of future headaches, but Martino recommends a more pointed approach when working with business units most likely to take advantage of the evolution. This allows IT to address the minutiae, from picking to deploying solutions.

Moving forward, Martino hopes her constant reminders of end-user empathy continue to foster cohesion with IT across the business units. “We want to be partners,” she says. “We don’t want to be just the tech support guys . . . putting out technical solutions looking for problems. We really take our cue from what the business is struggling with. We don’t buy shiny objects anymore.”