CIOs in the Clouds
Accepting 'the cloud' contains many definitions of itself, for the purpose of this article we define it as:
'A set of technologies and methods that deliver scalable infrastructure and application services on demand, often on a pay-by-use basis. A cloud services provider, whether internal or external, will typically use industrial-strength virtualisation of the physical environment including a high-capacity, secure and resilient network architecture.'
CIOs view the cloud with different perspectives related to their personal style, experience and contribution to the business they serve (see this Harvard Business Review blog that references Gartner's four types of CIO - Butler, Grinder, Entrepreneur and Team Player).
The Butler CIO typically supports an established technology-savvy business community and will find increasing pressure from colleagues to adopt cloud applications in order to make the business appear more agile and up-to-date.
For example a media production business that is not delivering output on multiple channels within months of new devices and formats becoming available will not be seen to be ahead of the game. The marketing and sales departments will often adopt cloud CRM (e.g. salesforce.com) in frustration at the inability of the IT department to adapt quickly enough to their aspirations.
A big challenge for the Butler CIO will be keeping control over the accuracy and currency of important corporate information residing in the cloud(s). Establishing/enforcing reasonable disciplines around data management and security will be a major concern as 'knowledgeable' users usually ignore processes related to joiners, leavers and legal compliance.
The Grinder CIO typically supports large communities of users (e.g. government) who are not independently-minded in terms of their technology and services; they use what they are given and expect it all to work day-in, day-out.
The key business drivers are reliability, cost-containment and risk avoidance. In this context the cloud is seen as a concept worthy of debate, often with pilots being used to test principles and methods, but with mainstream adoption still some years down the road.
The Grinder CIO normally has a number of outsourced contracts to manage and although the supplier community is full of promise over their cloud offerings, in practice they are short on experience and struggle to adopt the lean commercial model of the pure-play cloud providers (Amazon, Google, Force etc.).
Handling the issues around the legacy estate, inter-operability, data consolidation and end-to-end security are non-trivial on a large scale using multiple service providers and the main cloud service providers are currently limited in what they can offer in these areas.
The Entrepreneur CIO typically provides IT services that underpin the success of one or more emerging consumer-driven business units. Here the priority is agility plus user engagement and trust; often a tricky balance between robust security and ease of use.
The proprietary cloud approach (as provided by Apple mobile devices) will be a tempting model as it preserves a degree of control, whilst removing some of the platform and infrastructure risks.
Integration with social media is a given, presenting significant integration boundary challenges for enterprises - such as banks and telecom providers with large internal, relatively traditional, 'clouds' (aka mainframes!). Risk and Compliance are always snapping at the heels of the more adventurous and cavalier Entrepreneur CIO.
The Team Player CIO is typically part of a smaller enterprise with a less formal management structure. He or she may manage a very small technical team and modest capital budget, so the 'pay-as-you-go' offerings from external cloud providers are attractive. In some instances they will join sector initiatives (for example charities operating internationally) that can exploit synergies from relatively standard, accessible and ubiquitous cloud services. Shared community information can be hosted in the cloud, subject to the usual challenges over data protection.
As ever the future of technology as a business enabler is a heady mix of pitfalls and opportunities, to which the cloud just adds another set of options. Wise CIOs will explore the limits of what the cloud can offer and present themselves as brokers of best of breed services, knowing where to draw the line between use of external and internal technology provision.
CEOs will need to seek out the type of IT leader they wish to join their senior management team, ensuring that they can help the business balance the clear attractions of new ways of exploiting technology with established best practice. A new market in 'cloud brokerages' may well replace some of the old-style 'your mess for less' providers of outsourced services.