Last week, I was dismayed when I read an article from a cloud vendor that I considered to be extremely disrespectful of CIOs. In short, the article implied that all CIOs are simply anachronistic remnants of the past in every organization because not all CIOs are rushing out and simply throwing every aspect of the IT organization to the cloud and heading home. In these organizations, the author implies, the CIO and the IT department in general are apparently universally reviled by their business counterparts because of IT’s lack of understanding of the business and unwillingness to simply take orders from every individual business unit.
It’s unfortunate that vendors continue to work in this way, although it’s understandable. For years, vendors have attempted to do end runs around IT, but the cost of entry was generally quite high and, somewhere along the line, IT had to be brought into the mix as a part of the organizational approval process.
Recently, I was told, “These days, services can be bought with a credit card, so why involve IT?” There are a number of reasons that simply cutting IT from critical service acquisition discussions is not good thinking in the long term. Sure, in the short term, it might look like a business unit can get what it wants for a song, but there are long-term implications that must be considered.
Most organizations want to maintain some semblance of order to their technology operations. But this is not order just for order’s sake. Rather, it is through a defined enterprise architecture that organizations can rely upon to do business. Business workflows are defined based on the systems at hand, for example. A carefully crafted enterprise architecture will always have the ability to be extended. After all, a business is an evolving entity and it’s important that the technology environment be able to evolve along with the business. The enterprise architecture should have the ability to leverage cloud services in a consistent way so that these services can in turn be leveraged by business units when it’s appropriate and when there is broad agreement through an organization’s governance structures that a business unit can go forward with a cloud service or other technology acquisition. This governance process will necessarily include a discussion of what IT can and cannot do.
At some point, there may arise such a compelling service that the enterprise architecture needs to be rethought in order to accommodate the initiative, but such a change should not be forced on the organization through the misguided actions of a lone business unit.
Data is king and it is continuing to rise in importance. I’ve written before about how important it is for organization’s to carefully manage their data assets in order to ensure a single version of the truth and to prevent miniature data islands from appearing in an organization’s data portfolio.
As more and more services are acquired, it becomes increasingly important that they fall within a reasonable information management structure that ensures that the overall quality and consistency of the information remains high and that the introduction of a new service does not negatively impact other business units. For example, does the new service disrupt a process upon which another unit depends?
To be blunt, I don’t believe that individual business units are equipped to answer the big technology risk questions that come up in vendor discussions and I don’t believe that many vendors—particularly many newer “cloud” vendors—are holistic enough to look out for a customer’s best interests—the entire customer, not just their contact—in the potential transaction. Further, for the capable vendors, as much as a vendor may wish they did, they do not have deep insight into a company’s operations and may not have enough information in order to make an accurate risk assessment.
This may seem like a pretty negative statement, but based on a number of stories I’ve seen, it’s more than apparent that some cloud providers do end runs around IT in order to avoid reality. Many companies will insist on IT involvement and that’s a good thing. The CIO and the IT department have been and remain extremely well-positioned to work with business counterparts to evaluate new technology services. As a part of the evaluation, there are a number of risk factors that must be considered, from the obvious potential for security issues to some of the items described in this article—ability to integrate with existing business processes and ability to avoid the introduction of data islands.
The technology portfolio
I believe that an organization’s technology assets should be deployed in a way that is similar to an organization’s financial assets. In this regard, you won’t see a business unit rushing out to spend money that has not been authorized. In most organizations, there is some kind of a budgeting process that occurs to ensure that financial resources are applied to items that are critical for the companies operations and at those agreed upon initiatives that are necessary to meet strategic goals. While budget managers may have some discretionary funds, it’s not common to see vast piles of money sitting in budgets with no defined purpose.
So, why would another tangible, scarce resource—an organization’s IT assets—be treated differently? IT is a recognized driver of growth and efficiency, but only when it’s applied in a way that is consistent with an organization’s goals. It’s all too common to see poor portfolio management lead an organization into attempting to do too much IT with too few resources. When there is a clear governance-based technology prioritization process, the outcomes should necessarily apply to the whole organization—the entire business—and not just those that decide to agree.
Cloud has a place and it’s growing
I hope that the material in this article is not construed as “anti-cloud” or something else that it’s not. Nothing could be further from the truth. I happen to believe that businesses must engage in strategic outsourcing—and, let’s facing it, this is a form of outsourcing—in order to enjoy the fullest benefits of their efforts.
The CIO is key
This does not mean that organizations should immediately pursue an “all cloud” agenda. Note that the preceding paragraph uses the phrase “strategic outsourcing.” This was an intentional choice of words.
Instead, I encourage CIOs to look inwardly at the services that they are providing with a careful focus on the 70% of the work that is ongoing maintenance. Is there a provider that can handle some of these items in a way that maintains high standards while reducing your overhead? For those services, consider outsourcing, but look at things on a service-by-service basis.
Personally, in my most recent CIO role, I outsourced management of our printer fleet and moved one of the organization’s mission-critical applications to a cloud provider. Neither of these decisions was a slam-dunk, particularly moving a mission-critical app. For that service, I carefully weighed all options before making the call. At the end of the day, the cloud provider could support it better and cheaper that we could internally. That left my IT staff with a focus on supporting the application rather than the servers that ran it. However, the staff still spent considerable time fully integrating the service into the environment so that it was made a seamless part of our workflows and appeared to end user in a way that was consistent with other provided services.
Although I want cloud vendors to treat CIOs and IT departments with respect, I also realize that cloud services are the way of the future in many ways, so if you’ve so far eschewed these vendors, start giving them a look.
Cloud vendors can do better
And cloud vendors… now is the time to change your ways, too. Some of you do it right and engage the whole customer, but too many of you still use the line, “And you don’t even need to engage your internal IT!” as a part of your sales pitch. In 100% of the cases I’ve lived through so far, that line has been patently false. If you do happen to engage a business unit directly, encourage them to work with their internal IT department to ensure that your service can be supported and integrated into the environment.
Yes, I understand that there are a few truly backward IT departments out there that are simply command and control environments that have forgotten their role in the organization. However, in most cases, even that IT department that you look at as doing “too much IT and too little business” is yearning for ways to do better. Your end runs don’t help the situation and, frankly, they make it worse.
Consider your client’s CIO as a strategic partner in your sales effort and explain how your service can benefit the whole organization, which includes the IT department.