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Weekend Special: Is Cloud Computing as a trend over and actually deceiving CIOs?

October 21, 2011

Cloud Computing is a constant theme in the news-streams and still rated as a trend. While this suits me well as a cloud computing evangelist it makes sense to take a step back and try to understand whether it really is the transforming trend.

Let me start by recapping some of my thoughts expressed throughout my blog.

  • Cloud Computing as a term is too broad
    • At least a distinction into consumer cloud and enterprise cloud computing is needed
  • Cloud Computing is a business concept
    • Though the majority of the discussion is technology focused cloud computing remains a business approach
    • This is where Oracle sets the wrong focus in the discussion. They display what is under the hood rather than talk about the ride that is enabled.
  • Very few real private clouds are being built. The majority just use enabling technologies.
    • More or less a direct result of the technical focus of the cloud computing debate

On that foundation I’d like to get to another level of crispness. Cloud Computing is all about IT Operations in a different way. It is just another arrow in the quiver of an IT department to deliver IT. Therefore the margins are marginal and only through scale it can work economically. And in that per se it is a cost cutting approach which in itself is of limited business value.

The business value of cloud computing is elsewhere. It is in the areas enabled through cloud computing. It lies in the possibilities to create small and grow big without the restraints of investments into operations and brick. It is about enabling creativity by giving business departments the power to trial, to create and to share. The magic of software is what makes the difference and cloud computing gets software into places where it was too expensive before or other blockers were in place.

So can a CIO ignore cloud computing? I would say no but also would argue that cloud computing should not be front and center of a CIOs mind. Sounds strange to you? Think about it, cloud computing is a delivery option and therefore needs to be evaluated whenever something must be delivered. A CIO should focus the thinking around how to deliver business value. This is not a new statement and is a constant demand on CIOs for years. Nevertheless the reality makes it difficult for CIOs to live up to that demand and it will become more difficult due to cloud computing. Cloud Computing enables business departments themselves to become creators in an IT sense. The IT department is reduced to provide the technical abilities to cater for this creativity. They service the engine so to say. There are two areas though where the CIO needs to have a clear strategy

Define and manage the rails for business department developments

While cloud computing enables business departments to create themselves it is important for an overall functioning system as well as to avoid duplicate work to set guidelines and guard these. You want to avoid that anybody just creates on any platform; you would want to ensure a minimum quality and enable sharing.  It is the CIO’s job to set the rules that enable rather than stifle creativity. It is the IT department’s job to provide the foundation on which developments can happen. And it is up to the CIO and his team to tightly observe the developments. Here are some ideas to drive further value:

  • Application Store
    • Create an internal application store where business department solutions are presented and available for other departments to use.
    • Make it mandatory that all developments are open for sharing
    • Make it mandatory that the source code is openly available
  • Development Team
    • For those departments having ideas but lacking development capabilities the IT department should offer development services
    • This can also help to ensure that business departments are not creating their own programming sub groups
  • Budget Control
    • Work with the board to come up with rules on what percentage of budget a business department can spend on developing applications on their own and by when it needs to be sourced to or through the IT department
    • Also set clear rules on application maintenance and support. Who does what and who pays for it?

Collaboration internally and externally

In the past the internal collaboration was put in the desktop services group within the IT department. Let’s face it; working on desktop services is not the place to become loved by everybody. The users did not like the desktop services folks if not to say they hate them because the users never get the Apple Mac or the nice flat screen or that other mail system they prefer. With Microsoft licensing in the back and a regular need to upgrade not only the front-end but also the back-end desktop services are also a constant thornin the side of the CIO.

Why should that area be a focus of the CIO then? The reason is simply because a huge shift, a transition or if you want to call it that, a paradigm shift is taking place. It is about transforming the separated streams of communication (email, voice …) towards an integrated experience. It is about using the means of social media to improve internal collaboration.  The bits and pieces that are currently delivered under the theme desktop services need to be evaluated and either discarded for a new integrated world or if kept upgraded into the new world of collaboration.

Internal collaboration though is only half of the story. Even though an improved internal collaboration already has a long-lasting business effect combining it with external collaboration creates real business value. Actually let us call it what it is – creating the social enterprise

This is the current challenge for a CIO. Identify how a social enterprise should look like and create it with maximum force and speed. It could make the difference to your competitors if you listen to your customers where they do not. It certainly will be one of your major benefits attracting talent to your company as the next generation will expect to have the social media tools in place.

And this is where cloud computing as an enabler comes into play again. It is a viable business option for the collaboration tools needed but also you need to consider a bridge to the consumer cloud in case you customers are consumers. If your customers are business customers only you need to create bridges to their social enterprise systems, if they have any, or let them participate in yours, if they have not.

These are the challenges a CIO should focus on. Cloud Computing as a focus topic in itself is over!

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