FinOps X Takeaways: Sharpen the FOCUS™ on Standards for Cloud Cost Data

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As I settle back into the desk after the FinOps X event (the largest gathering in the FinOps community), I am left with one glaring moment of clarity: The weight and significance of FOCUS. This industry-wide initiative will establish much-needed standardization, and in doing so, it will revolutionize the way business leaders talk about, think about, and manage cloud costs.  

Before, I get into explaining what FOCUS is and why it will make such a sweeping impact, I want to say that standardization and data normalization are paramount problems – not just in cloud but across the IT services environment. It’s not just FinOps practitioners that face these problems. Telecom and mobility managers suffer from the same disease. AI and security managers are victims too.  

I have intense excitement for the FOCUS project and immense respect for the members of the Steering Committee who are taking on gargantuan issues while attempting to please an ocean of stakeholders. Once they prove themselves successful (I have full confidence they will), they will lay a foundation for data standardization that has been needed in IT for decades. It will level the playing field, serving as a democratization for our industry. Their work will become the blueprint for multi-vendor standardization across many industries to come. Thank you for this astounding field of work. 

What is FOCUS? The Cloud Solution for Big Billing Problems 

FOCUS (FinOps Cost and Usage Specification) is a project that aims to standardize the presentation and handling of cloud cost data across all vendors and across the industry. Supported by the FinOps Foundation, FOCUS is an open-source specification that defines uniform requirements for cloud and FinOps vendors to produce consistent datasets for cloud costs, billing, and usage information. With widespread adoption, FOCUS will introduce vendor-agnostic labels for cloud cost data, which will simplify and streamline processes giving clients (and cloud expense management service providers like Tangoe as well) a symmetrical view of the critical information needed to govern cloud costs.  

Dissolving a World of Inconsistencies 

Analysts are calling FOCUS a “big deal,” because this common format is in stark contrast to the realities of the day. Every major provider of cloud infrastructure services uses different billing constructs, has varied discounting models, and presents cost and usage data in different ways.   

When companies typically have at least three different providers and each invoice can contain thousands (even hundreds of thousands) of line items, it’s nearly impossible to align all the data manually, performing cross-vendor comparisons and efficiently managing expenditures. Clients are left to interpret mountains of unstructured data stemming from custom schemas and terminology. These proprietary data formats mean a world of inconsistencies that are major obstacles for cost optimization, allocations, and chargebacks.  

Data silos can’t really be bridged until all the data is speaking the same language. 

When Cost Analysis is Unattainable FinOps Maturity is Limited 

The consequence is this: FinOps practitioners waste their time trying to normalize data across different clouds, never getting to the more meaningful work of cost optimization because they can’t get past the data preparation steps needed for advanced AI analysis. Even Gartner finds that leaders fail at “regularly producing the basic deliverables for essential cloud financial management.” Thus, companies can’t mature beyond the first FinOps “Inform” phase. Native tools from IaaS providers only exacerbate this issue. Read more on that here. 

“Google, Amazon, and Microsoft bill so differently that many companies cannot achieve the benefits of a multi-cloud approach,” reports VentureBeat. “They need to compare the costs and commitments they take on from the three major providers and choose services. Except, that’s nearly impossible. They simply don’t know which provider is best for their requirements and usage.”  

FinOps FOCUS to the Rescue 

Standardizations in billing, cost, and usage data will yield much needed uniformity paving the way for simplified examination and apples-to-apples cost comparisons. It will make multi-cloud FinOps programs possible and can also help optimize the costs of private or on-premise clouds. It will also be applicable when applying FinOps cost management principles to cloud software and SaaS optimization

“Widespread adoption of FOCUS will make allocating, analyzing, monitoring, and optimizing costs across providers as easy as using a single provider,” explained Michael Flanakin, a member of the FOCUS Steering Committee and Principal Product Manager at Microsoft Cost Management. 

Additional advantages will unfold when you consider the vast number of new IaaS services and features released each quarter that should also be considered in every cost optimization evaluation.  

“This is a big deal. FOCUS will remove the complexity and overhead involved when trying to normalize various billing taxonomies and schemas when multiple cloud environments and SaaS tools become a part of the IT bill,” said Tracy Woo, Principal Analyst at Forrester

Tangoe: Now a Contributing Member of the FOCUS Project

Tangoe is now a contributing member of the FOCUS Project, which means we will help shape the development of the Specification. Having already mapped data normalization across four of the big IaaS providers, Tangoe’s thought leadership in this space means we can become a guide in helping the Steering Committee recognize the best path forward. In fact, data normalization was the topic of our speaking session at FinOps X, where we had the opportunity to collaborate with members of the Committee.  

As a contributing member, Tangoe will also formally adopt the FOCUS schema. We’re actively working to make our cloud expense management platform adhere to the Specification. Stay tuned for upcoming announcements!