Air Liquide & The Cloud

Alain Larousse, Group CIO, Air Liquide




Alain Larousse is the Group CIO for Air Liquide, the world leader in industrial gases. It seems fitting, then, that he is embracing cloud – and using it to create a more agile, more valuable technology organization. Alain has worked closely with the business to create a way of doing things – in the cloud and out of it. But how?

Adam Burns,

Alain Larousse is the Group CIO for Air Liquide, the world leader in industrial gases. It seems fitting, then, that he is embracing cloud – and using it to create a more agile, more valuable technology organization. But how?


Alain’s technology organization has worked closely with the business to create a way of doing things – in the cloud and out of it. In a moment, we talk about how this fundamental driver for success works. But first, challenges. Can cloud solve everything right now?


Alain Larousse, CIO, Air Liquide

My biggest concern on cloud is, as everybody, around security and I think this is where we have to be very careful and this is where the maturity of the offer and the maturity of the technology are still to grow up and our own knowledge to grow up in competency, so that we can manage it better.


Adam Burns,

Is there anything that Alain would never put in the cloud, or just not yet?


Alain Larousse, CIO, Air Liquide

We need mail, document sharing, instant messaging and things like that.  And we are very – we've not done it – and we have pilots but we are looking at Google and Microsoft Office as being a real alternative.  Why?  Because they're supplying hundreds, millions customers, where we have probably 46,000 users. Their own security budget is much higher than what we could never achieve as a _____.  So it's for me all the things more commodity product today for the ______ ___ where we are not bringing differentiation and where we can outsource easily to this kind of provider but okay, they are both American supplier, you know, the _____ types.  You know the landscape where we are today.  So there are some data, very few critical data regarding M&A, merge and acquisition, regarding some activities we have and things like that, that we may exclude from this kind of thing.


Adam Burns,

So Alain believes the cloud is largely a force for good – but how has he secured buy-in from the business, whilst – crucially – still retaining a large degree of control…


Alain Larousse, CIO, Air Liquide

Any cloud project needs to go in my office and through what we call the Resource and Investment Committee where we check the business ownership; where we check the business case; where we check the security aspect of it and everything.


Precisely, this is part of the step-by-step journey that we want to be sure that we control it so we are not resisting against it.  We believe it can bring lots of benefit to our business but we want to manage it and we want to govern.  And the business is quite happy about it because you know they want interface it.  They want to manage it well.  They want that it's bring the right part in the application landscape and in their function.  They don't want something aside.  They don't want to divert from the rest of the IT.


Adam Burns,

So he has a strong governance structure in place. But does this lead to frustrations – because one of the things we know is that cloud solutions are often sold directly into business functions – HR, finance – and can skip the CIO…


Alain Larousse, CIO, Air Liquide

So this is where you test your level of governance and how efficient you've been to convince the business that you can release for them.  You know it's a bit of crash test [laughs].  Hopefully, I think we are in a good environment.  We are in a environment where the business one, is regarding securities much better than before because we did a lot of work around it.  We are in an environment where the cost consciousness is very important and where the business understood that complexifying the architecture of the application by bringing new things but asking interfaces, asking everything afterwards, working around, doesn't work and doesn't make it very cost-efficient.  So the pressure we have on cost together, business and IT and on security enhance this governance in the right way.


The change for us now is to deliver and to demonstrate that we can introduce and manage this cloud solution as part of the global map.  But up to now, I would say there is stress from the business regarding this and the portfolio management we have regarding value and cost and everything like that is working.  So some project we say no, because we are not convinced by the business that you run the business case that put in place or we say it's too dangerous for this critical information.  Some we say yes and we try to advertise it but yes, so that's _____ we go for it.


Adam Burns,

Back to security. If the cloud is not mature in certain aspects, what needs to happen?


Alain Larousse, CIO, Air Liquide

The security paradigm is shifting, meaning going to Google or Microsoft is improving security on lots of elements, okay?  All the what we call the operational security side, they've _____ _____ because they are the most attacked people in the world.  So they've reached a level of security that we can never dream to reach, you know, the operational wise, the fact that they control the hardware, they are administrators, they are patching and that they have security monitoring of everything and things like that.  So we are quite convinced that we are improving and we are making a _____ ahead going there in term of what we call operational security.  The two elements for us that are a bit concerning is first, we have to manage interfaces with the cloud the right way, okay, because we go out; we have to make sure we encrypt communication to the cloud, that we have a good identity and access management for user, probably better than what we have today.  So – but it's good practice.  It's more opportunity to do some things that we should have done, probably, in infrastructure, but because it was inside, it was less important and not on the priority list.  So changing, a bit, the priority.


When you talk about risk management to the top management, some things we don't know and if we don't know and if we don't know and if this supplier cannot tell you we will improve you by _____ that you will know and they are not telling it, we prefer to take mitigation measures.


But once again, it's around five percent of the data we probably handle.  Meaning that for 95 percent of this data, you can go in and security can go in and ____ some agility.


Adam Burns,

The cloud is also an opportunity. To look again not just at your processes, but at your thinking and strategies. How has Alain taken this opportunity to rethink the way he delivers business value?


Alain Larousse, CIO, Air Liquide

No, we deliver more and this is what I find exciting is that you can match three objective, including agility and business value so you reduce your cost and you improve your business value.  So that's my record, somehow.  But when the supplier is really delivering as promises, which is not obvious in the cloud and you have a lot of supplier promising you viability, of course, promising you performance, something like that but not proposing you when you arrive to the contractual ______ ____ a cloud provider I will not name asking me a fixed portion for – to, of users.  I said, but it's not your ____.  You should be purely viable.  I want to be able to ____ ____ or whenever.  This is the principal of the cloud, you know?


So you have to make sure that the supplier are delivering what they promised and keep them in their business model that their sold to you but as ___ – yeah.  I think agility, we increase agility.  You know, to make the collaborative platform, unified communication, mail and everything like that working in 90 countries across the world is a real challenge.  If you take a best-of-breed approach where you take each brick of software and you try to make them work and do the maintenance and sustainability of it, it's a real nightmare for the operational teams.


If you have an integrated solution in the cloud, first you improve your network performance because you can go for hybrid network and go directly out and use the Internet bandwidth instead of your poor internal network and so ____ you have an integrated already maintained solution, where a great ______ and everything is consistent and it's always working.  So I think, you know, the first element from the business is I want it to work.  I want it to be quick.  I want it to be cheap, and I want to be able to collaborate in 90 countries much more actively than what we did before because the question is to accelerate time to market to the ____.  And the deployment phase you can do it in 18 months while probably before it was a question of 3 years, minimum, to implement the project.


So for the business, I think it's a key enhancement if is the marketing there, if the offer is there, and the first step is probably to be very carefully and deeply what people offer you and to put the fairytale out and keep the pure facts around it.


Adam Burns,

What advice does Alain have for those about to embark on their journey to cloud, or in the early stages of that journey? Here are his three things you must do… and a bonus value proposition.


Alain Larousse, CIO, Air Liquide

So I think the key point is make sure the supplier are delivering on their promises and this is difficult.  The second thing is don't dream of customizing everything if you go for this kind of solution, you go for solution that has been sized for a market much bigger than you.  Don't start to try to want your own things within this big thing, you know?  You have to accept to say, "I want to commoditize it.  I want a common platform so let's do it the right way and the third one is security.


So I think the key point for all our subsidiaries is probably this.  It's probably the ability to try small things quicker and I think it's a huge business value to be able to try it, to just do it and not spend hell of time in the preparation initiation of the project.

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