Posted by  Hugh Cox  Published on  30 Jul 2014
  • Data Strategy

The role of CIOs is changing radically and one of the chief agents of change is cloud computing.

In its top 10 predictions for CIOs’ agendas in 2014, market analyst IDC suggests that within a couple of years 70% will increase their cloud adoption to accelerate their business agility. At the same time, it believes that 70% of CIOs will shift their focus from managing IT to becoming an innovation partner.

This correlation between between cloud adoption and innovation is no coincidence. Cloud computing presents CIOs with the opportunity to change their role: to become not only the custodians of data in the company but the people who can drive innovation from that data. But that innovation can only happen if CIOs are able to tame both their cloud and internal infrastructure.

The first problem for the cloud tamer is the business users themselves. If the IT department can’t deliver what business users want, when they want, then cloud computing gives them the power to go out and buy it for themselves, circumventing the IT team. Equally, cloud vendors hungry for business, will approach business units directly. The danger then is that individual pockets of the organization may duplicate services or create silos of information that are difficult for IT to manage.

IT has seen it all before: the advent of client-server computing in the 1990s meant departments created their own low-cost islands without the say so of the IT folk, who were busy keeping mainframes happy. Although it is not the IT department which would be managing the data in the cloud environment, it is IT which needs both to migrate the data and pick up the pieces with the cloud vendor if things go wrong.

Not an ideal situation.

In the same way that traditional outsourcing does not mean abrogating all responsibility and letting the hired hands make all the decisions, getting the most out of a cloud strategy requires a firm grip on the relationship with providers and all involved parties.

If CIOs can only be innovative if the IT cogs are turning smoothly, how can you ensure that happens with a largely cloud-based infrastructure? Here are four key steps to take:

1. Building a Solid Foundation

The starting point is to put your own house in order. Never outsource a problem. CIOs need to immerse themselves in the business so that they truly understand the internal pressure points where cloud could make the best contribution. Involving business users is critical in this process: everyone needs to buy-in to the roadmap.

2. Establish Credentials

It’s crucial that you take time to dig deep into any prospective cloud supplier’s credentials. That includes thinking about the exit strategy at the outset. While a cloud vendor may provide you with that highly-prized agility while you’re a customer, you need to ensure you are just as sprightly if you change your business strategy or want to move cloud suppliers.

Normal due diligence rules apply. You need to know who you’re doing business with, the depth of their IT experience and credentials and find out who is looking after their infrastructure, if it’s not done internally. It’s only by sifting through the detail that you’ll find the differences between the individual glossy sales pitches.

Ask a prospective supplier the same questions you would ask your internal team:

  • What security standards do they support?
  • How is application to application integration achieved?
  • How is security maintained?
  • Who will is supporting the business and how much do they understand (or are prepared to understand) your business?

3. Agree SLAs

Once you have decided on a provider, then the service level agreements need to nail down responsibility, establishing who has legal liability and who has liability for security. The more mission-critical the application, the more dotting and crossing of ‘i’s and ‘t’s is needed.

4. Compliance is Key

Compliance is a major issue and it may be necessary to keep some data on-premise in a private cloud. You need convincing answers to key three key questions: where is your data going to reside, how will it be sent to the cloud and how is the cloud vendor going to secure that data?

The Future of Cloud Management

In some ways cloud computing is business as usual: CIOs still need to manage and secure their business-critical systems.

The difference is that they may well be dispersed among multiple cloud suppliers. Most CIOs will also be managing a combination of public cloud, private clouds and legacy systems. Not an easy process – yet – to manage together, requiring different skills and tools.

For some time to come there will be a parallel environment; legacy on the one side and cloud (or hybrid – a mix of public and private cloud) environments on the other. But adopting a hybrid approach means organisations can reap the benefits of both environments: the security of on-premise data and the speed and efficiency of the new platform.

CIOs must create mandates on access control and data encryption across the entire IT environment, hybrid cloud or not. Monitoring all environments is key: ensuring that security and policies are being followed. Migrating to the cloud effects your internal staff, so CIOs need to go through each job and communicate how their role may be changing.

With the right cloud partner, the data is neatly packaged so that CIOs can access it to glean business insight, and move it easily to a new supplier if required. It also frees CIO teams from the humdrum but necessary job of upgrades and patches, creating time for CIOs and their teams to focus on more innovative and strategic endeavours.

A cloud-based environment is a different beast from a legacy environment and it may take different tools to manage, but it is can be tamed.