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Introducing the 'Shamrock Cloud'

The three layers or leaves of the cloud map perfectly onto the Shamrock

As the impact of cloud technology becomes better understood and really takes hold, organizations will need to restructure themselves to ensure they are able to take full advantage of the opportunities presented to them and as a result stay relevant and alive.

But to understand the impact of the future we need take a look back at some vital thinking that took place in the late 1980s:

we are entering an age of unreason, a time when the future in so many areas, is to be shaped by us and for us; a time when the only prediction that will hold true is that no prediction will hold true; a time, therefore, for bold imagining in private life as well as public; for thinking the unlikely and doing the unreasonable.”

So said Charles Handy in his book The Age of Unreason first published in 1989.

The quote may seem a little old, a little dated, and we are undoubtedly not entering an age of unreason, we are deeply embedded in it. What we see happening around us could never have been predicted 15 years ago, when we were all sitting around waiting for the Y2K Bug (that’s a term not heard for a while) to bite.

Handy’s book was, and still is, an important piece of work. It introduced many concepts taken for granted in today’s world, one in particular is even more important now than when Handy introduced us to it. The Shamrock Organization:

As the name suggests, the Shamrock organization is structured in 3 distinct “leaves” as shown in Figure 1 below.


Using a Shamrock as a symbolic representation of three important notions is not new. St Patrick was the first to do that some 1,500 years ago. Handy used the idea of the Shamrock as a metaphor to define the way organizations should be structured to meet the rapidly changing way in which business would be {?} carried out. Handy points out that the world of work is changing because the organizations of work are changing their ways.  At the same time, organizations have to adapt to a changing world of work. It’s a chicken and egg situation.

But one thing is clear, organizations in both the private and public sector face a much tougher world – one in which they are judged more harshly and more quickly than ever before. Handy’s insight is nothing short of extraordinary. He predicted, without really saying it, today’s instant on-line world where there is nowhere to hide and nowhere to run.

But let’s go back to basics for a moment and look at a couple of factors which will always hold true. The first rule of business is money. The majority of organizations come into being on the back of an idea for making money. There’s nothing altruistic in being an entrepreneur, investments are made and managed risks are taken simply to generate wealth for those who believed in the founders and stumped up resources of time and cash to make it happen. Of course you can argue that this is not always the case; Charities and Not for Profit bodies come into being to support worthy causes, but by and large and as a general rule of thumb, businesses are created for wealth generation. The second rule of business is ensuring that the business is a going concern and generates sufficient income to support the day to day costs of the business and provide a return to the investors. So cost control is of paramount importance.

Take those two rules and apply them to the way we do business today, business driven by the globalization of markets, extreme competition and the Great Recession, consequently companies now seek radical changes in the ways they organize work and conduct business.

The new way of competing demands a sharper focus on customers, cost management, quality and constant adaptability.

At stake is nothing less than survival.

One way of ensuring that survival is to take the ideas outlined by Handy and new advances in information technology – and bring together the ideas behind the Shamrock thinking and the cloud.

As mentioned above, the  Shamrock analogy comprises three “leaves”. At the centre of the Shamrock are the Core Workers. This Core comprises well-qualified professionals and technicians. These guys are the organization. They are passionate, committed and typically work long hours to “make it happen”. They define the Organization, but the Organization also defines them. In short, they see themselves as partners and want to be recognized as such.

The Contractual Fringe is an interesting area. The Fringe can be individuals or organizations and will often have its own Shamrocks. In the interconnected world we live in, all of us are likely to occupy this space at some stage in our careers. In a recent blog post Shane Snow gave 6 compelling reasons as to why there is much activity in the area we define as the Contractual fringe.  His reasons came down to:

  • Work is no longer a place – especially in knowledge work. The Internet can bring the work to the worker, rather than the worker to work.
  • The biggest friction point for businesses is finding, vetting, and hiring workers, and online talent exchanges remove that friction.
  • The web lets you find the most appropriate resource do anything anywhere.
  • Those born around the start of the 21st century, the Millennials will be 75% of the workforce in 11.5 years. The Facebook generation is quite comfortable with working via the Internet.
  • The internet opens up long-tail specialization. Thereby providing access to the wide world of talent, not just the limited pool in a given location.
  • · The economics can work for both sides.

The scope for radical change is massive, and you can already see this happening wherever you look. With the rise and rise of the freelance culture, zero hour employment contracts, outsourcing, off shoring – the list goes on. Those that use your services and products have no idea how big you are as an organization, where your people are located or where the goods are made and shipped from. Today’s business environments are more about brains and far less about muscles. The interconnected world, with fast ubiquitous access, means you can put a university educated individual on any desktop, anywhere in the world for less than $30,000 per year. When the resource is no longer required, you simply turn it off.

The third element of the Shamrock is, what Handy called, the Flexible Workforce. They are described as those looking for part-time work where little is expected of them and where little is given. But there is another aspect of a Flexible Workforce. The flexible workforce in invaluable and has symbiotic value to the Core and the flexible worker. However there is what Handy referred to as the questionable Fourth leaf: getting your customers and suppliers to do the work for you. Ebay and Amazon do this to remarkable effect. When you shop on line with Amazon for example, the fulfilment is, more often than not, performed by a third party that uses Amazon as a store front. All communications, packaging, returns etc. are all totally transparent and look as though it comes from Amazon. This hand off to third parties is also of tremendous value and is a trend that will continue to grow.

So as you see, the world of work is changing.  We know that work is no longer a place, no longer permanent, and no longer constrained by location or time. Everything is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. These resources are just “there” when you need them at the click of a mouse or swipe of a finger.

So we have the three components of the shamrock now we need to understand how we can apply that thinking to take full advantage of what’s happening in the Information Technology arena. In particular the phenomenon that we call “The Cloud”. The high speed connectivity – where your workforce could be anywhere, in any time zone, the distribution of people, data, business processes and collaboration (social media) applications mobile access and the possibilities become seemingly limitless.

Interestingly the cloud comprises three layers or leaves and, as we shall see below, they map perfectly onto the Shamrock described above.

  • The Platform as a service (PaaS) provides the Core controls and processes needed to manage the enterprise.
  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) provides the communications and storage requirements that the team can access and use to collaborate for the duration of the project
  • The software as a Service (SaaS) makes certain tools used by the Contractors and Flexible workers.

The Shamrock Cloud structure is an essential enabler of business reinvention.  It’s not yet clear how, especially when the fog of hype muddies the true potential. After all, it turns out that there is no such “thing” as cloud computing.

  • It’s not a new technology.
  • It’s not a new architecture.
  • It’s not a new methodology.

It is, however, a new means of delivering IT resources to where they are needed, when they are needed, and that very simple statement speaks volumes.

With the complete fusion of technology into the modern enterprise, technology and business cannot be separated. Together they are needed to address the bigger world, the bigger society, in which a business must operate. And it’s that bigger world that has changed as a result of the hyper-connectivity of the Internet that, in turn, has given rise to Social Networks where the future is being discussed, debated and transformed.

So how does the Cloud enable the Shamrock Organization, how does it deliver the Shamrock Cloud?

In the book enterprise Cloud Computing[1] the authors described the key characteristics of the cloud as follows:

  • On-demand self-service. A consumer can provision computing capabilities, such as server time and network storage, as needed automatically without requiring human interaction with each service’s provider [self-provisioning of resources].
  • Ubiquitous network access. Capabilities are available over the network and accessed through standard mechanisms that promote use by heterogeneous thin or thick client platforms (e.g., mobile phones, laptops, and PDAs).
  • Location independent resource pooling. The provider’s computing resources are pooled to serve all consumers using a multi-tenant model, with different physical and virtual resources dynamically assigned and reassigned according to consumer demand. The customer generally has no control or knowledge over the exact location of the provided resources but may be able to specify location at a higher level of abstraction (e.g., country, state, or data center). Examples include storage, processing, memory, network bandwidth, and virtual machines.
  • Rapid elasticity. Capabilities can be rapidly and elastically provisioned to quickly scale up and rapidly released to quickly scale down. To the consumer, the capabilities available for provisioning often appear to be infinite [massive scalability, supercomputer power on demand] and can be purchased in any quantity at any time.
  • Measured Service. Cloud systems automatically control and optimize resource use by leveraging a metering capability at some level of abstraction appropriate to the type of service (e.g., storage, processing, bandwidth, and active user accounts). Resource usage can be monitored, controlled, and reported providing transparency for both the provider and consumer of the utilized service [a pay-as-you-go model].Note: Cloud software takes full advantage of the cloud paradigm by being service oriented with a focus on statelessness, low coupling, modularity, and semantic interoperability.


The whole concept and language used for cloud computing essentially relates to supplying “Everything as a Service.” Which is exactly what the Shamrock suggests. If we take the platform as a service to be the core business operations platform, where the key business processes and controls are managed and executed then the rest of the Shamrock Cloud falls neatly into place.

The Shamrock Cloud is there to facilitate 6 key things:

  1. It puts existing and new application software under the direct control of the Core.
  2. It facilitates communication between the Shamrock leaves
  3. It makes it easier for the Core to improve existing processes and create new ones.
  4. It enables collaboration across the entire organization—and beyond.
  5. It gives all involved in the process the real-time information on the performance of tasks.
  6. It allows organizations to bring resources into play on demand and drop off those no longer required.

The Shamrock Cloud is not one cloud. It’s a hybrid of private and public, on and off premise environments that link enterprises and individuals together “on demand” providing the elasticity required to get a job done with minimum costs and maximum flexibility.


[1] Enterprise Cloud Computing – Mulholland, Pyke, Fingar – Meghan-Kiffer Press – www.mkpress.com

The post Introducing the Shamrock Cloud appeared first on Cloud Computing Best Practices.

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