Only 15 percent of Indian CIOs currently use or plan to use the public cloud. Here's why Fortis Healthcare's CIO is one of them.n--

On New Year's Eve in December 2013, when the rest of the world was putting on their dancing shoes, Varun Sood, CIO of Fortis Healthcare, was doing something that you wouldn't really call a celebration. But it was nothing less than an adventure. 

Sood was going to shut down the company's corporate datacenter and migrate the company's entire IT onto a public cloud!

If you thought Sood is crazy, you're not alone. In fact, many people within his team and outside his organization thought he had gone off his rocker. Indian CIOs were ready to experiment with hybrid  clouds--part private and part public--but a 100 percent public cloud model was something unheard of. According to CIO India's Mid-Year Review 2014, only 15 percent of Indian CIOs currently use or are considering moving to public clouds. 

And Sood falls in that bracket. But he was unfazed. So much so that the transition to the public cloud happened in a year after he took over as Fortis' CIO.

That said, it wasn't an easy call to make. Sood had to fight many cynics, including the one within him.

Breathing Business

Fortis is one of the largest integrated healthcare delivery providers with a presence in five countries. It has 65 healthcare facilities, over 10,000 beds, 240 diagnostic centers and a staff of more than 17,000 people.

That aside, Fortis had to be on the qui vive to beat competition and do well in the fiercely competitive healthcare business. And technology had a sufficiently great role in achieving that goal.

Its eICU (electronic ICU), for instance, is a tele-medicine venture aimed at providing expert services to critically ill patients in remote locations. Launched in 2012, a time when tele-medicine was yet to gain ground in India, the system was first-of-its-kind in the country. Sitting at the Central Command Center of a Fortis hospital, specialists provide advanced consultation and care to hundreds of people who have no access to such services.

That's not it. Use of wearable devices for neonatal monitoring is another way by which Fortis ensures high-tech patient care.

IT has to support many such critical systems at Fortis, and also be able to change with the changing face of the healthcare industry in India.

The company's corporate datacenter, which was at a hosted location, wasn't actually a problem. And maintaining status quo wasn't going to take too much of Sood's energy. But Sood was not someone to be content with status quo.

But Sood's 'business DNA'--the 10 years he spent in various business functions, including M&A, business analysis and integration--craved for change. Sood and his team sat together to understand how things can be done in a better way. Also, there came a point where he had to re-invest in the infrastructure which was nearing its end of life.

"Our aim was simple--to establish a scalable and cost-effective infrastructure that meets not just the current needs but also the future needs of Fortis. Also, we as a company, were about to take up a whole host of new initiatives, which meant that the load on IT would go up further. Increasing overhead was another problem we faced. We had to be on our toes just to keep the lights on and that's not the situation I wanted my team to be in," says Sood.

Sood saw no sense in throwing more people and money at the problem. He instead decided to start with a clean slate. "We were open to all types of options---public cloud, private cloud, hosting or on-premise," says Sood.

With news of Sood scouting for cloud vendors, he quickly became the most popular CIO in town. He was approached by 19 vendors in the coming days, who opened out their long list of specs and benefits on the table. Not the one to get misled easily, Sood prepared a list of business priorities that needed to be met. Business was agnostic to the model of the cloud IT would use, says Sood. "The business wanted performance, availability, and security. From the IT point of view, we needed scalability, flexibility, and lower TCO and the public cloud met all these requirements," he says. 

Moving Out

But one question lingered on: Who in their right minds would move completely to the public cloud?

This was the same question that was bothering Sood's team members. "Tech professionals typically have a hardware-centric mindset. They don't understand why you are telling them to stop worrying about things like adding more servers or more memory. People are used to "seeing" servers and having the latest and greatest tech and the best specs. It was this belief that needed to change," he says.

Sood badly wanted the team's support as they were the ones who were eventually going to execute the project. He worked with them closely and kept them motivated. Once he won that support, Sood's confidence doubled.

Along with the hardware infrastructure, Sood and team moved the bulk of the core applications to the cloud. Fortunately, for Sood, most of the applications used by the company were already built for a virtual environment. That made the migration easier. But it certainly was not trouble-free. The support from OEMs and ISVs was a challenge.

But the results were worth all the trouble, says Sood. But ask him about how happy the end users are, Sood quickly turns into a philosopher. "User expectation is a moving target. Their benchmarks keep moving up," he says.

Today, users don't have to worry about the size of attachments while sending an e-mail or the delay in opening an app during busy hours. "But nobody notices when you turn on the switch and the room is lit up. But people do get disappointed when it does not happen," he says.

But for the IT team, the move to the public cloud was worth all the debate and effort. Sood says his team does not really spend much time on mundane tasks like capacity planning and infrastructure monitoring anymore. They are able to focus on factors that drive business and growth. The time spent on 'keeping the lights on' reduced drastically.

 The economic benefits of the public cloud were significant. With the savings achieved, IT could take up other new projects that were crying for attention--without increasing budget. Sood is able to allocate significant portion of his IT budget to newer and innovative projects now.

A team that once looked at the public cloud with disbelief now is fully is confident in the fact that there was no other way to do it.