Podcast: ADP’s Mark Chamberlain on the Public Cloud’s Complexities and Opportunities

Cloud Data Center


Mark Feffer: Welcome to People Tech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. I’m Mark Feffer. This edition of People Tech is brought to you by ADVOS. Its web platform provides the tools you need to elevate your company’s brand and amplify its message. Marketing software that works for you. Learn more at www.avos.IO. That’s www.advos.io. Today, I’m joined by Mark Chamberlain, Vice President and Global Head of Infrastructure at ADP. Mark, thanks for being here.

Mark Chamberlain: Thank you for having me, Mark.

Mark Feffer: You know, in the tech world we talk a lot about the cloud, and sometimes we talk about it so much that we’re surprised when we see that even today not every day business is in the cloud. Who isn’t there yet, and why do you think they’re lacking?

Mark Chamberlain: Well, when you look at the cloud, it’s complicated. I think that goes with technology in general. What we’re finding is that there’s a lot of opportunity and solution out there, but being able to implement it, and use it, and identify the right business case that you’re looking for is sometimes a challenge for companies.

.@ADP's Mark Chamberlain: Some companies get lost in the number of opportunities the public cloud offers. His suggestion: Start small. #HRTech #Cloud Share on X

I think that when you look at everything that the cloud has to offer, I think that there’s a lot of companies that sort of get lost with the amount of opportunity, and sometimes don’t know where to start. My suggestion a lot of times is to start small. So, being able to identify an easy way to start satisfying a business need, and going and starting to use the public cloud just for that. Don’t look for that big product and try to go and say, “We’re going to take this and go put that in the public cloud, and it’s going to save us a ton of money, or help us gain a lot of efficiencies.”

A lot of times it’s just pick that small project, identify those few people on your team that you think are comfortable to learn something new and to try something different, and identify that product that you’re okay with taking a little bit of risk on. Because it’s not going to go seamlessly the first time. I think a lot of that goes into why there are companies that are sometimes talking about going to the cloud, but are not quite out there yet.

Mark Feffer: Now, in terms of HR products and HR services, I can understand that first blush why some employers might balk. I mean, security for one thing is going to be a primary concern. What’s your reaction to security concerns and such with workforce data?

Mark Chamberlain: You’re right. When you start thinking about people information and the things that we are responsible for, that data is very important. And being able to make sure you do the right thing with it and you protect it the right way are first and foremost.

.@ADP's Mark Chamberlain: People data's is very important, and making sure you do the right thing with it and protect it the right way is first and foremost. #HRTech #Data #Cloud Share on X

But the cloud offers a lot of advantages from a security perspective when it comes to the ability to respond to vulnerabilities quickly, to be able to do things in a way where you can scale horizontally, and patch and design your software in a way that will allow you to do that. There are the concerns around what happens when your data or your product is sitting in the public cloud. What are the possibilities of things going wrong? But the cloud does provide you, in a lot of cases, a lot of flexibility and a lot of things when it comes to the security profile that will allow you to do things in a more secure fashion.

Again, it really goes back to knowing how to leverage the public cloud, and what are the things that you need to enable or disable to allow you to work in a secure fashion. It doesn’t come for free. I think a lot of companies and a lot of programmers think that working in a private data center, when you go to the public cloud, there’s a lot of magic that will happen that will allow you to get security for free. But you actually need to spend a little bit of time understanding the technology. And what are the things you need to pay attention to when it comes to your data, when it comes to access, when it comes to firewall, and when it comes to connectivity? And then set up the rules you need in order to make sure you’re doing things in a secure way, making sure your data is encrypted at rest and while it’s in flight. The cloud is excellent when it comes to those as long as you do it the right way.

Mark Feffer: The cloud obviously is growing for a reason. It offers businesses a lot of value. When it comes to HR and managing the workforce, growing the workforce, what are the values that HR cloud solutions bring?

Mark Chamberlain: Absolutely. You hit right on it. When you’re trying to grow your products when it comes to HCM, the cloud provides that fantastic avenue for being able to grow, and grow at a faster rate without having to plan ahead in a procure hardware, and put it into your private data center. You automatically get that ability to grow horizontally to allow you to be able to take on more load.

But it also gives you the ability to fail, and fail quickly as well. You might want to go try something, and you might want to work with maybe one of your beta clients that’s willing to be on the cutting edge to be able to help work with you to engineer your product for the future. So, you can test a lot easier with them, and only potentially impact them. Then if there’s a problem, you can turn them off a lot easier.

The ability to scale, to identify, to fail fast, and to roll back is it a lot easier when it comes to the software that you deploy into the public cloud … as well as the infrastructure as well. Again, you can go and be able to create groupings that will allow you to spin up horizontally, and then to spin it down. It’s called blue-green testing a lot of times. So, being able to test that new feature, or functionality, and to scale it up until you see there’s a problem. And if there’s a problem, roll it back. Or if it’s successful, roll it all the way out. You can control it in a lot of ways, which makes it nice.

And it reduces your risks too. The last thing you want to do for one of your HCM clients is go out there and introduce a new piece of software that disrupts their workflow.

Mark Feffer: You mentioned failing quickly, and that’s a term that I hear a lot. I wondered if you could give me an example of something that you’ve seen … let’s say, fail successfully. I think it’s a term that a lot of people are using now, but I’m not sure everybody really quite understands why it’s important and how it works.

Mark Chamberlain: Absolutely. I’ll go back a little bit on just what the concept and before talking to you about examples of failing quickly. The topic comes back from agile. And what companies and programming groups are doing are looking to become very agile, and being able to move very quickly, and to respond to the customer needs in a faster way. You do that by understanding the needs and to work on a solution, and get it in front of the customer. If the customer likes it, that’s great. And if they don’t, you haven’t committed months or years to designing a product. You’ve designed it for a sprint or two, which is usually … a sprint is typically two weeks in duration. You go out there, and you work on a solution, and you get it in front of the customer after a few weeks. And if it fails, you’ve only wasted a few week’s worth of effort.

Mark Feffer: To go back to talking about the public cloud and ADP, ADP obviously is committed to the public cloud. You’ve invested quite a lot of money in your own infrastructure. What’s the business thinking behind that? Why is the public cloud is so important to ADP strategy?

Mark Chamberlain: I think that’s a great question, Mark. And there’s a lot of different things that go into that. First is being able to … when you own your own data centers and the infrastructure inside your data centers, you have to predict for the worst case scenario. Which means that you need to build out the infrastructure for peak processing, or when you’re doing a peak benefit enrollment. You’re always building for the peaks.

One of the benefits of the public cloud is that you build for the common or the norm, a normal load, and then you can leverage more infrastructure to be able to scale based on what your needs are based on the business. That’s one big benefit to it.

Another one is for … we use it for development a lot of times. It’s being able to go out and use it as a development environment for developers to be able to spin up very quickly infrastructure, or a fast part of the public cloud to be able to test out an idea that the business team has brought forward and stated they want to try out, because they think there’s going to be a value to our customers.

The public cloud provides a great way to be able to go and test an idea. In the traditional way, we’d have to go out and understand what the need of the business was, and what the developer was trying to do. And then you’d have to go work with a vendor to actually procure the hardware, bring the hardware in, get it built into your data center, and make sure it’s configured with the software necessary. That’s sometimes a very long process.

By that point, the market could have moved. The business interest has moved on and you lost an opportunity. So, being able to test very quickly is also nice. Also, when you start looking at all the different options that the cloud provides … and everybody thinks a lot about the infrastructure side of it. Being able to spin up a VM type server, virtual server, or to be able to allocate storage is typically done. But then being able to put on a lot of different software packages on top of it, that will allow you to do everything from database management to a lot of big data analysis to machine learning.

A lot of that software has already been written. It’s not something you have to go and figure out how to manage on your own inside your own private data center. It’s there for you to use on a consumption based model, which makes it a lot easier as well. From an ADP perspective, we’re exploring all of that. How do you look at the public cloud from an infrastructure perspective to augment what we’re currently doing inside our private data centers?

How do you go in and allow the agility necessary in a frictionless approach for your developers to be able to go out there and try something new? Try an idea, or to work with the business team that’s thinking that they have a new idea that’s going to help our customers, and then being able to go out there and try the new tooling that’s available to be able to do something very different to solve a customer need using technology that you could figure out in the past. It would just take you a lot longer, and it’s a lot easier to do on a consumption based model when you use the public cloud.

Mark Feffer: Well, Mark Chamberlain, vice president and global head of infrastructure at ADP. Thanks for stopping by today.

Mark Chamberlain: Mark, thank you very much for taking the time. I appreciate it.

Mark Feffer: This has been People Tech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. This edition was brought to you by ADVOS, marketing software that works for you. Learn more at www.advos.io. And to keep up with the most important developments in HR technology, visit the HCM Technology Report every day. We’re the most trusted source of news in the HR tech industry. Find us at www.hcmtechnologyreport.com. I’m Mark Feffer.

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