Grief Counseling for the CIO | Gaining Altitude in the Cloud

Posted On February 9, 2012

The accommodation and integration of disruptive technologies into the enterprise IT ecosystem is a significant issue for IT executives. And just as distributed computing did 20 years ago, successful adoption of cloud computing in its many forms requires substantial change across the IT enterprise. The rapid pace of innovation and ability of business users to deploy cloud services without IT involvement are raising these issues much faster than past transformation waves.

At Cloud Connect in Santa Clara, CA, on February 15, I’m going to have a “fireside chat” to discuss this “keeps me awake at night” issue. While I’m sure the conversation will take some unexpected turns, I plan to navigate our talk to some of the more challenging factors enterprise IT organizations face as they embrace cloud.

  • A different mindset – To be able to fully leverage the benefits of the cloud service model, IT organizations are finding they have to adjust a number of strongly held beliefs that have served them well in supporting their current environments but constrain them as they move into the next generation cloud world. These include changing their orientation and thinking about how and when to provide customization for both applications and infrastructure, embracing the power of speed to impact by utilizing commonly available components, adjusting expectations about how security and compliance issues can be resolved…and many more. Indeed, there are a significant number of mindset adjustments that, when taken together, present a steep learning curve and cultural change requirement.
  • A new framework for IT architecture – As enterprises embrace cloud service models, they find that the existing architectures, frameworks, methods, and processes need to be adjusted, and, in some cases rethought and reinvented.  .
  • A new orientation toward innovation – One of the more difficult aspects of the new cloud world is the dilemma posed by a constantly evolving marketplace with a wide array of attractive options at competitive prices. The quick access to robust functionality allows and often encourages business units and other empowered stakeholders to experiment with cloud tools and applications. If they find the functionality useful, they often scale its use, creating new layers of technology outside the constraints of IT policy, compliance, and security. The lack of widely accepted industry standards and APIs and the constant evolution of the underlying technologies further complicates the enterprise IT agenda. Traditional approaches IT organizations utilize to evaluate, integrate, and mange the introduction of applications and technologies are often unable to accommodate these conditions without restricting the very flexibility and choice that make cloud services so attractive. The result of these challenges drives many IT executives to reexamine their approach to innovation, and challenges them to adopt new thinking about the lifecycle of technology, how integration is accomplished, and compliance is assured.
  • Alterations to policies, processes, and the organization – As enterprises more deeply embrace these next generation technologies and associated changes, they find that to fully capture the benefits they must revisit some of their long held policies, adjust many of their existing processes, and facilitate and reinforce these with organizational alignment and change. New skills are required, other skills are in less demand, and the old ways interfere with or constrain progress in the new world. In most cases, these adjustments that will enable successful leverage of cloud computing must take place simultaneously with protection and maintenance of the work that will continue to be delivered from the legacy environment.

As we reflect on the size, scale, and depth of the changes cloud computing drives, I want to press my discussion partner(s) to think back to our experience with the adoption of distributed computing. We are now 20 years into that journey, and many enterprises are finding that they still maintain some applications in a mainframe environment. While it’s not possible to know how long the cloud expedition will take, it seems prudent to believe that most enterprises will be on it for at least a number of years. And, as with distributed computing, we may find that some workloads have a very long tail.

Given the realities of most large IT enterprises, it is clear that in most cases we can’t expect to achieve a clean break, making it likely that the legacy organization and the people in it will have to balance the realities of the new world while dealing with the old. As IT executives contemplate the journey ahead, they can be forgiven for nostalgia for the status quo. While our conversation next Wednesday will not solve all the problems, the grief counseling may at least help us sleep better.

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