Cloud Computing and the Demise of IT and the CIO
May 1, 2012 3 Comments
I have been reading a lot about the demise of the corporate IT department and the CIO as a result of cloud computing. Since everyone can “do it themselves”, why would you need IT? Admittedly I may be a bit biased having spent my career running applications organizations in IT (I appreciate infrastructure but I love apps!), but here are some thoughts on why you might want to keep IT and the CIO around for a bit longer.
IT is a service organization. It only exists to be useful to other departments in the company; IT really has no reason to do anything for itself. Project requests don’t come from IT; they come from other places in the organization. IT may create some projects, but they are done in order to keep something running for someone else (capacity, supportability, etc.). The CIO and the IT department have no reason to prefer one organization over another; from my point of view IT should always be looking at what is best for the company as a whole (the big “C” in your Company versus all the little “c”s). That is kind of a unique point of view within your organization if you think about it. Maybe only the CEO has that same broad perspective.
The CIO and IT has accountabilities across all lines of business and business functions to deliver not only shared technology, but integrated technologies as well. Notice I said shared (and what really isn’t shared) and integrated, because those are key reasons for IT and the CIO to exist.
For technology that is commonly shared across the company, like email or file storage for instance, you certainly don’t want every department out choosing their own cloud solution; it’s going to be difficult to even guess the total cost of ownership for the service in that scenario, so who knows if you’re saving money or not. What about the policies that should exist to manage email and file retention? Legal may broker the agreement across the organization but they are not likely to enforce the policies across all the applications that should be addressed, that is the IT organizations job (another reason why people don’t like IT too much). Storage may be cheap but it isn’t free and housekeeping/compliance is good hygiene.
Then there is the functionality that allows your business to run: from marketing and sales, through order processing and fulfillment into technical support and back around again. Who’s accountable to make sure that these applications integrate together if everyone is out to “do it themselves”? Sure there are some “fit for function” capabilities that don’t impact other functions in any way, but I’ll bet they still need some data interfaced into them to work (names and IDs for example). Of course, everyone can enter this data independently into each system, but I think you all know where that would lead – inefficiencies and inconsistencies, the reason automation and IT exist in the first place.
The other thing I worry about, in using multiple SaaS solutions especially, is what I call the “choppiness” of the user experience. If a lot of independent applications or multiple applications that serve the same purpose are used to support one individual person’s workflow, what is their experience like; are they having to wait for data to interface (oops there’s that integrated need again) or doing duplicate data entry, do they have to deal with many different “looks and feels” to get their job done, or even worse the confusion of the same piece of data being called different things in different places. The impacts on enterprise reporting can be significant too; lots of different sources of data. I believe the role of IT and the CIO is to ensure the quality of the user experience and to help drive consistency across the organization where appropriate (remember that unique, broad point of view).
What about the contracts and SLAs to be managed? There are certain pitfalls to look out for in negotiating with and managing your XaaS providers. How will you ensure that the right things get considered and who do you want to do this? Perhaps your purchasing department is a good candidate, but how do they know what to look for in technology service contracts? They could get a third party with the knowledge to watch their back (more suppliers with their fingers in the pie) or perhaps you just get burned and you learn. Who keeps score on the vendors, regularly reviewing their performance? Why not allow IT and the CIO to ensure this is done knowledgably and consistently for your organization.
Finally, what about when something goes wrong? Someone still has to support the use of these cloud solutions. The provider does some of this based on those contractual SLAs mentioned earlier, but what about the configurations that are specific to your business; they know how their platform works but they don’t necessarily know your business. I guarantee there will be times when the cloud provider tells you it’s not their problem, everything is working correctly; but you still have an unexpected outcome. So somewhere you still need to have people within your organization that can figure out specifically what happened in your scenario and make sure it doesn’t happen again. That’s what IT does (stop the bleeding and then do root cause analysis) while you continue to run the business.
Every person in every company interacts with technology on a daily basis; it is the road that your organization runs on. I know I prefer someone else to build the roads and do the maintenance; I just like to drive (fast). In the cloud (or not), I think the CIO and IT will continue to have a part to play in your business.
© Ellen Terwilliger 2012