CIOs can use the cloud for more than just innovative solutions

cloudsWhichever way you look at it cloud computing is set to have a dramatic impact at both an enterprise and personal level. There are already many private companies using cloud to deliver services and the UK Government recently opened its CloudStore through which the public sector can procure cloud services. The first orders were placed within days of its opening.

In terms of personal computing Apple CEO Tim Cook recently said that the PC was “no longer the centre of your digital world” and industry analyst Gartner predicts that the cloud will replace the PC as the centre of personal computing by 2014.

The impact on the role of the CIO has also been discussed at length although with wildly different conclusions being drawn about how cloud computing will affect CIOs. These views range from the CIO role disappearing within five years to the cloud clearing the way for the CIO to become the CEO! As a CIO myself I obviously don’t agree with the former and in a previous post, What is it with the CIO role…, I explain why I think this view is flawed.

However, I’m also somewhat sceptical about the claim that cloud computing on its own will provide CIOs with the springboard to the top office. As with any technology it will be about how the CIO uses the cloud to support the organisation’s objectives alongside other relevant technologies that will have the biggest influence over whether he/she can make the step-up to the CEO role. And to do this the CIO needs a broad set of skills to ensure they can link technology driven change to profitability, get buy-in for investment, manage stakeholders and deliver.

I do, however, believe that cloud computing offers CIOs an opportunity to reposition themselves within their organisations and in doing so increase their chances of expanding their influence and remit, which may ultimately assist their progression to the CEO role. So here are four ways I think that CIOs can exploit cloud for more than just innovative solutions:

  1. Ensure the basic level of service: as any CIO will know, you have to get the basics right before you can broaden your remit or become involved in other areas of the organisation. The reputation and credibility of the CIO is built on how basic IT services such as file storage and e-mail are performing. If you can’t get these right then you’re not going to be trusted with large-scale change programmes. Moving these services into the cloud to be managed by a specialist provider backed by an appropriate SLA removes this potential headache and will also free up time and resources that can be spent on more value-adding activities.
  2. Avoid the difficult discussions around capital expenditure: business cases for large IT investments usually require significant sums of capital expenditure at the start of the project, with benefits, to the extent that they can be identified and/or quantified, being projected over a number of years. Discussions around capital expenditure on IT can be very difficult as a result and not least because the subject matter is not understood by everyone involved. This can sometimes lead to frustrating discussions with colleagues and relationships potentially being tested. Cloud solutions remove the need for capital expenditure and some can even be purchased on a pay-as-you-go basis so the potential exposure to the organisation is significantly reduced. And whilst business cases should still be prepared, they’ll be a lot easier to write and will make for easier reading and discussion.
  3. Move the focus from cost to business value: cloud services are usually priced on a ‘per-seat’ basis making the cost per user far more transparent than in house provided/hosted solutions. This supports a move to consumption based charging where business units are charged for the services they actually use rather than just being allocated a proportion of total IT costs. Consumption based charging enables the organisation to progress from looking purely at the cost of servers, licenses, etc. to whether they are extracting sufficient value per user per service to justify their usage. This also enables the CIO to get involved in helping to maximise the value derived from each service by looking at business process, training and skills.
  4. Talk a different language: from the business cases for investment through to budgets, business plans and charging, moving to cloud means the CIO can talk a different language. CIOs will be designing, purchasing and managing services and solutions, not technical infrastructure and equipment, server farms or applications. No longer will we have to explain concepts such as virtualisation or tier 3 storage to our C-level colleagues! And this will make a huge difference to how you are viewed by your peers; many senior managers are still hesitant about getting into a discussion with the CIO as they fear they will not understand what is being said. Being able to talk using terms such as services and value will change this perception and will increase your chances of being involved in issues beyond IT.

So as well as using cloud services to deliver innovative solutions CIOs can also use the cloud to reposition themselves in their organisations and develop their career potential. Will these tips and using cloud services be enough get you to the CEO position? I doubt it, but they will certainly improve your chances.

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