CIO of the Cloud (or not)

Chief Information Officer is an interesting title; what is the CIO accountable for?   Here’s a definition from Gartner:

CIO (Chief Information Officer)

The person responsible for planning, choosing, buying and installing a company’s computer and information-processing operation. Originally called data-processing managers, then management information system (MIS) directors, CIOs develop the information technology (IT) vision for the company. They oversee the development of corporate standards, technology architecture, technology evaluation and transfer; sponsor the business technology planning process; manage client relations; align IT with the business; and develop IT financial management systems. They also oversee plans to reinvest in the IT infrastructure, as well as in business and technology professionals. They are responsible for leading the development of an IT governance framework that will define the working relationships and sharing of IT components among various IT groups within the corporation.

That’s pretty encompassing and I think accurately describes what I call “Enterprise IT”, or what it takes to help your business run efficiently and effectively from an internal perspective.  But what happens when your business is the business of technology?  What if your revenues are based on a cloud offering?  It’s one thing if internal operations are compromised, but it’s a whole different level if your livelihood is on the line.  This situation can still be considered your company’s computer and information-processing operations and the domain of the CIO.  However, product development and perhaps the CTO have some pretty big influence on the technology architecture; in fact they probably own those standards and decisions.  So what’s a CIO to do?   

That’s where “Cloud IT” and being CIO of the Cloud comes into play.  While the CIO may have little to say about what’s running, they may have a lot to say about how it runs.  There is still no one better equipped to understand the operational and support aspects of running IT.  And the truth of the matter is; the product people aren’t so interested in running the cloud as they are in creating the cloud.  By the way, the Gartner definition sort of neglects the operational and support aspects of the CIO role since they stopped at install.  Here is where the CIO must align IT not with “the business” as in the Gartner definition, but with the “business of the business”.  They know the IT professionals and processes it takes to run technology, the CIO should be the partner entrusted with running revenue operations. 

Are the Cloud CIO and the Enterprise CIO the same person?  I remember one time when the company I was working for was acquired, the network was being run by the product development organization.  You never knew what was going to happen when you plugged into the wall (this was a while ago obviously), would there be connectivity or not?  There is definitely segregation required between Cloud and Enterprise IT, security and access are very different between the two not to mention the application set.  There are also common skills required in both aspects of the CIO role and within the organization, the focus and priorities are very different though.  Of course, not every organization is faced with this dilemma but it is becoming more prevalent as the cloud continues to evolve and grow.

What kind of CIO are you?  What kind of IT organization are you a part of?  Which one keeps you up at night?

© Ellen Terwilliger 2012

Cloud Computing and the Demise of IT and the CIO

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.

Have you heard the expression “where the rubber meets the road”?  

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

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