CIO, Cloud, Opinion

The CIO and the Cloud: Embrace, Extend, Innovate

The word “cloud” became a hot addition to the popular lexicon a few years ago and quickly took on eye-rolling status as vendors tripped over themselves to include the new term in all of their marketing collateral. At the same time, lofty cloud promises left CIOs and IT staff sweating bullets as they worried that senior management would believe the promises and put internal staff out of their jobs. Over the ensuing years, the hype factor has worn off a bit and some very public cloud provider outages have taken some of the sheen off the rhetoric, bringing back to earth the reality of running a complex IT organization.

Skepticism is turning into opportunity

In addition, CIOs are less skeptical of cloud, and IT departments are not seeing it as the threat that they used to. People generally realize that their jobs remain relatively safe (for now), particularly as views of the cloud have evolved. No longer is the cloud seen as an immediate replacement for IT. Instead, the cloud is seen as one more arrow in the CIO’s ever-expanding quiver. It’s a formidable arrow, capable of unlocking new kinds of innovation that simply isn’t possible or feasible in the traditional on-premises data center model.

The cloud as a compute tier: Innovative business models

One important and emerging use case for the cloud is provided by Big Data analytics. Previously, meeting the significant processing and storage challenges inherent with Big Data may have required CIOs to make significant infrastructure investments designed to accommodate peak load scenarios. Today, CIOs can build systems that push the analytical work into the cloud – which has basically unlimited compute power – and bring back on-premise just the results. Under this model, the CIO pays for resources on-demand rather than constantly paying for excess capacity. This enables nimbleness than was heretofore extremely difficult to achieve on a budget that will be a fraction of the costs.

This is just one example for how the cloud can be leveraged. There are innumerable more potential use cases out there that are waiting to be discovered by an innovative CIO attempting to solve complex business problems.

Cloud is but one arrow in the quiver

While cloud is but a single arrow, CIOs have at their disposal many different providers from which to choose, including Amazon, VMware, HP, IBM, Joyent, Savvis, OpenStack providers, and more. Different providers will have different sets of skills and services, and it may not be possible for a CIO to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach.

In the old days, the term “server sprawl” was adopted to describe the phenomenon of physical servers spreading throughout the organization without oversight, resulting in all manners of inventory, cost, and workload difficulties. The CIOs of today and tomorrow may find it necessary to battle “cloud sprawl” as IT and various business units engage cloud providers at different levels.

To combat this situation, CIOs need to ensure that the organization’s IT governance processes are well-established and operational. Of course, some level of shadow is almost inevitable in complex organizations, so CIOs need to be proactive in engaging their peers in order to ensure that appropriate technology decisions are made. As a part of this process, the CIO, in concert with his peers and governance groups, needs to ensure that approved providers are relevant to the company’s industry and customers. This will enable a much higher level of success than doing heavy lifting with the wrong provider or providers.

Prepare teams for the future

Finally, the CIO must ensure that his team is prepared for a paradigm shift from a technology provider to a combination technology provider/technology customer. IT organizations of the future will continue to provide some services directly to the organizations while, at the same time, acting as the IT services broker in the organization. This will require different kinds of thinking for CIOs and their staff members as people move from “break/fix” to a “leveraging” mentality. In other words, rather than writing scripts to manage storage, IT staff members will be working with providers to create business solutions and will need a more business-focused mindset to be successful.

Action Item: For CIOs, the emerging reality is this: The cloud is here to stay. It’s your job to embrace it and develop strategies that will get you into the platform in a way that meets current and future business needs and then, over time, to continue to iterate while continuing to align the services provide with strategic objectives.