How to close the cloud chasm between executives and IT

Cloud computing discussions abound these days, but there is a growing gap between executives and IT when it comes to assessing cloud’s potential.

Based on our experience working with enterprise and mid-size organizations on a variety of cloud models, we take a look at cloud thinking from both sides of the table. We also offer a few pointers on how best to close this divide and focus the organization on the ultimate prize: a successful cloud deployment that reaps healthy returns for the company and its employees at every level of the organization.

Executives expect fast returns

Most of today’s executives have read positive cloud case studies. They may have heard how well public cloud services operate, especially in the areas of CRM, sales, human resources and finance.  And naturally they wonder if they could realize the same results. If they hesitate and don’t leverage cloud services soon enough, will a competitor gain market share? Exactly what do they risk by acting or not acting with public cloud services? These are important questions. And, cloud providers often have ready answers, such as:

• More successful, comparative use case examples

• Promising claims of fast ROI

• Capabilities that address executives’ key challenges

• Ability to offer cloud services now at a reasonable, per-use price.

Given that, it’s no surprise executives might want to take advantage of the promised deployment speed and potential favorable cost structures.

Even business unit leaders, struggling to manage pressing initiatives, are increasingly tempted to bypass their own IT organizations. Many even contract with outside cloud services to create their own shadow IT function in a bid for fast results. According to a Brocade 2012 survey, over one-third of respondents indicated cloud services had already been deployed by business units without IT involvement.

Unfortunately, such services may later cause compliance and risk management issues for the organization.

IT: Gatekeeper of digital value or cloud naysayer?  

IT teams have also read a lot about cloud computing, and many are a bit overwhelmed by the pitches from all of the emerging cloud vendors (and there are a lot of them).

Despite this growing cloud fatigue, IT teams are still interested in extracting and applying what’s good about cloud services to their internal operations. After all, it’s a service orientation many aspire to achieve. It supports greater agility, responsiveness, and scaling, as well as a per-service cost model that’s easier on budgets. Only now, all those features are wrapped in a cloud service paradigm, on steroids.

Unfortunately, such higher goals have to be balanced against the cold, hard reality of most IT organizations today: short-staffed, stretched budgets, and the challenge of attending to the requirements of day-to-day operations while carrying out transformational initiatives. Despite how much they’d like to devote time to strategic initiatives like cloud, the truth is that many IT teams don’t have a lot of time to allocate to this endeavor.

Transforming to cloud in short order is difficult. IT teams will want to use their prior background and best practices to evaluate the risks and benefits of outside cloud services in the same way they would vet any new project or any potential new vendor’s hardware or software. This includes evaluating the impact of the service for areas like potential upgrades or future business changes.

As one of the main gatekeepers of their company’s sensitive data, they also will want to make sure company data remains secure, compliant, and effectively protected from data loss. IT teams will want to confirm the following with third-party providers:

• Appropriate access or security protocols surrounding data and cloud-based applications

• How such a service complies with corporate or government data/customer privacy rules

• How the data will be protected from data loss

• Specific safeguards in the provider’s service level agreement (SLA), including exit plans if the company wants to move its data to another provider.

Transitioning to cloud is transformational in nature. As a result IT teams will need help transitioning to a cloud computing, whether that entails becoming an IT cloud services broker using a public provider or from the company’s own, internal cloud.

Coming together

Here are a few tips that may help close the chasm between executives and IT when it comes to the cloud:

• What do you both want? Many IT teams and executives will find shared goals to focus on first, specifically associated with meeting business needs most effectively. In the meantime, many may be able to find ways to take the best of the cloud—agility, rapid deployment, rapid ROI, better cost models—and apply it to ongoing IT functions.

• Think of IT as a service first, with technology second. Spend time working together on the processes needed to address top business challenges. Then, look at how different public, private or, hybrid cloud service delivery models can best meet those needs.

• Take advantage of IT team skills. Many IT team members are quite good at analyzing and assessing risks, benefits, and building successful use cases. Determine how to use these skills to help your organization evaluate prospective cloud service offerings.

• Avail yourself of expert advice. Impartial cloud experts and advisory organizations can help bridge this gap as well. This includes defining how to best transition current IT operations to a more agile, cloud-friendly paradigm.

• Put virtualization to work in the data center. Many IT teams may have already begun their transition to cloud computing through initial steps to virtualize the data center’s storage, networks and/or servers. Taking the steps to fully virtualize the data center now can reap short-term ROI while better positioning the organization to migrate to cloud later.

• Test the cloud with quick, risk-minimal projects. Advisors can help here, with indicating the least risky, early use cases for cloud services. Cloud-based development and testing, for example, may be one place to expect big returns with minimal risk.

• Reward innovation: A corporate culture that cultivates and rewards change and innovation within all departments may be needed. This encompasses everyone from executives to IT employees who manage data backups.

There’s no doubt that cloud will be one of the most transformational IT moves organizations will encounter. Successfully moving to cloud in any of its forms means the evolution of everything, from processes to technologies to people. Such a transformation will require business leaders and IT to collaborate extensively. If successful, organizations can move their businesses forward and gain significant competitive advantage.

Lidsky is President and CEO of Datalink, a publicly-held data center solutions and services provider for Fortune 500 and mid-tier enterprises.  Datalink transforms data centers so they become more efficient, manageable and responsive to changing business needs. For more information visit www.datalink.com.

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