Apptio Addresses the Fast-Moving Target of FinOps
In answering the big question, What is FinOps? a lot of companies are eager to step up and share their perspective. In that regard, Apptio is no different. But the software provider contests that it solutions offer something different to help FinOps practitioners mount the latest challenges.
Like a lot of other solution providers in the game, Apptio considers FinOps a moving target. Make that a fast-moving target.
“What we’re seeing today is new from what we saw in 2017 and 2018,” noted Casey Doran, VP of Product, IBM Cloudability, Apptio. “You need to think about all IT spend — not just cloud.” That’s what Apptio is promising to do with Cloudability, their cloud financial management platform that aims to give teams a singular view across IT spend and labor.
So if FinOps is a fast-moving target, then Apptio is moving just as fast to keep up. In June of this year, Apptio announced its integration with Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI), extending its Cloudability product suite to Oracle cloud customers to help them understand, visualize, and optimize their cloud environments, and in October, with IBM‘s Turbonomic to facilitate deeper cost analysis and savings. (IBM completed its acquisition of Apptio in August 2023.)
More Than Just Another Product Integration
According to Doran, these integrations are part of what makes Apptio unique by helping customers think beyond just the cloud to focus on and optimize their entire IT spend. But new products and integrations aren’t always enough. Bigger picture, Doran thinks the FinOps world is ready for (and, in fact, needs) a paradigm shift.
Consider the FinOps Foundation’s 2023 State of FinOps Report, which calls out “Enabling Engineers to Take Action” as a top challenge. (Note that this challenge already spent a year in the hot seat in the foundation’s 2022 report.) In order to find a solution, Doran said it’s time to reorient around the problem: “So far, the industry has come up with solutions to solve the problem — after the fact. But how can we help engineers do better in the first place?”
Clearly, it’s always a priority to find ways to minimize waste and create a more optimal infrastructure. But instead of thinking about how to make engineers pivot, Doran stressed that FinOps teams should pivot around the engineering teams themselves. “Insights and predictive analytics — engineers want these things in their workflows,” he said. “But they’re not going to leave their existing workflow to use an external tool.”
And that’s what he claims Apptio is working on, hinting at the company’s 2024 plans to invest in more ways to make products, what he called, “stickier and more compelling” for engineers by bringing insights and tools into their regular workflows. For Doran, this is the turn the FinOps industry needs to take: “We need to be bringing engineers — not into the current paradigm — but into new paradigms that make sense in their context.”
As a top challenge in the FinOps Foundation’s annual report, the quest to enable engineers is, obviously, getting attention from more than just Apptio but from the industry at large, with whom Doran recently connected at the TBM Conference in Austin. Another topic that reigned supreme? Unit Economics. And it’s no wonder, with this challenge coming in second place in the foundation’s 2023 report.
Doran agreed unit economics is one to watch for — and jumped in to cite two ways Apptio can help FinOps practitioners make a difference. Business Metrics, he named, is one way to augment existing bill data by bringing in external, customer-provided data: “It allows you to focus on the single KPI that all teams can think about as the business grows and scales.” Meanwhile, he said Cloudability TotalCost lets teams bring in all adjacent platforms and SaaS to get a bird’s-eye view of all cloud-related costs and, in turn, a better understanding of per-unit costs — the linchpin for finding a common language between engineering and finance stakeholders and translating cloud spend into business value.
A frequent attendee of the TBM Conference, Doran reported that FinOps dominates more and more of the conversation each year, with 2023 the most cloud-centric edition yet. This is a promising sign that FinOps discourse is growing — and that more engineers are showing up and joining in.
Automation and AI Bring Challenges, Opportunities
Of course, automation and AI don’t have to make it onto any annual reports to warrant attention, so I couldn’t help but probe Doran about Apptio’s take on where the new tech fits into FinOps.
First, he pointed out two ways automation can play a role: in rate and usage. Specifically, Doran named rate as “a no-brainer to automate,” referencing Apptio’s Cloudability Savings Automation, which aims to help customers consistently achieve high commitment coverage at the lowest rate possible, as proof that automation has a place in FinOps.
The bigger debate, he said, is about automating usage. Because while automation can be handy in cleaning up cloud waste, e.g., unattached EBS volumes and old EBS snapshots, not everything is so easily “automatable,” for example, when you’re working in an industry bound by strict regulations that prohibit automatic changes.
The real burden lies with AI, where Doran said FinOps teams have their work cut out for them in addressing the cost of AI workloads: “It’s a different type of workload than we’re used to. It’s complicated — you can get charged by words generated, for example.” The challenge, then, is for teams to figure out how to account for new AI workloads and workflows.
Apparently, Apptio is already looking into how to support their customers in this early, experimental phase of AI, aiming to give them solutions to better understand the cost of AI workloads, how they can allocate these costs to their business, and determine value. While customers aren’t yet pounding at the door for a solution, Apptio anticipates this need and is already starting to lay the groundwork.
Although AI workloads may present new challenges for FinOps teams, Doran also pointed out that there are opportunities for the tech to help practitioners. Already, Apptio’s customers are keen on getting AI solutions that can help them answer thorny questions, like whether or not they’re going over budget: “Folks would love to just ask that question and get an answer back — instead of having to set up alerts.””
So, is there a FinOps virtual assistant on the horizon for Apptio? Don’t hold your breath just yet. Doran said a FinOps assistant could be a good thing to consider — but only if it’s done right: “It has to be something real and concrete — not just a bot for the sake of it.”
Bigger picture, Doran predicts the industry will begin churning out more AI tools in the next six to 18 months, largely focusing on understanding spend at first and then moving on to more advanced topics like optimization and infrastructure deployment.
It’s all about keeping up with the fast-moving target that is FinOps. From getting engineers more involved to leaning into automation and AI, keeping pace with this evolving industry isn’t always easy. Perhaps the time has come for a paradigm shift.