‘Head of the cloud’, or head in the clouds?

Eoin Jennings| Cloudcomputing-news

A little learning is a dangerous thing, scribed poet Alexander Pope in 1711, possibly to distract his wife from improving her bible studies knowledge or honing her counterpoint skills.

Three hundred years later and whilst most of us no longer frown upon a lady flashing her ankles nor rush to join a harpsichord recital, never could the statement be truer.

Smartphones and tablets have brought about the collision of the worlds of IT and telecoms, and are responsible for us all knowing a little bit about IT.

If we can find ‘Settings’ on our iPhones, we can find ‘Control Panel’ in windows or ‘Internet Options’ in Explorer, delve in and make the changes we want, removing the need for the IT helpdesk – blissfully unaware that we’re putting our organisation at risk. In businesses across the globe, CIOs are breaking into a sweat and losing control.

Similarly, outside the office most of us use cloud services in one form or another: SkyDrive, Amazon Web Services, Dropbox. We can translate the benefits of cloud computing to our corporate lives: hassle-free, try-before-you-buy, scalability, flexibility, cost efficiency and automatic upgrades are all contributing to the popularity and success of cloud migration.

In the enterprise, we’re entering an age of devolved IT. The cloud has led to an entire new breed of technology buyer who at best, shares plans with the IT and procurement teams and at worst, bypasses them altogether.

Sales directors, for example, might spend part of their opex on cloud-based sales management systems. They know the tools their team needs to perform better, they have mapped out the spec with their colleagues for a particular cloud-hosted application and have taken recommendations from peers.

Rather than relay this to procurement and IT and wait for the arduous supplier selection and buying process to begin, they buy in their own systems. If it doesn’t work, they think, it doesn’t matter: it’s cloud-based and they can always switch it off!

Similarly marketing directors know which CRM systems are best for their requirements. They know the system they want, and ideally need it straightaway. They’re aware that that going down the official purchasing route will take weeks, so they take the initiative and purchase the apps in the cloud themselves and within weeks, days even, have access to an in-depth management system.

Analyst research reflects this: according to Gartner, within four years IT spend by the chief marketing officer is likely to overtake that of the CIO.

This makes absolute sense when we think about the emergence of big data and the analytical tools needed for marketing teams to extract current and future trends which must form the basis of their strategies. To deliver a current, immersive digital marketing approach, integrated and collaborative IT systems are critical.

More and more IT buying is decentralised, whether IT leaders like it or not – and they don’t. All too often the responsibility of trying to keep track of cloud applications falls on the shoulders of the Infrastructure Manager. It isn’t just about retaining control though: the piecemeal buying of departmental cloud-based applications has serious repercussions on the performance of the network, as recent research has shown.

The solution? Businesses need to create a specific role of Head of the Cloud.

This role would be filled by someone who identifies and brings together the strategic cloud requirements across every department; someone who has, as well as the obvious technology intelligence, communication and negotiation skills, business management experience and leadership skills, financial management skills and a background in leading transformational business projects.

The Head of Cloud needs to work closely with the Infrastructure Manager to gain a clear picture of cloud requirements across the business and importantly, to make sure the infrastructure is there to support them.

Some media-savvy companies already have a place in the boardroom for newly-elected Chief Cloud Officers. This worries me. For a start, I’m not sure a seat on the board is necessary, or if it’s just a role created for show, caving in to pressure from shareholders.

My main concern is that other C-suite roles will be immersed within this one: that of the Chief Security Officer for example, whose sole function should be to protect and defend the business from risk. This is a real threat, as businesses will be left vulnerable whilst the Chief Cloud Officer’s time is diverted. There’s also the concern that the role incorporates that of the former Chief Technology Officer, who should be taking a futuristic perspective on what infrastructure the business needs for it to reach its goals.

There is no doubt that cloud is changing roles across organisations. But what does this mean in a broader context?

Vendors are going to have to change the way they market, and widen their messaging beyond the silo of IT. They can act as coordinators between IT and other business functions, or they can direct their messages straight to the business leader.  For professionals, it’s about gaining knowledge and experience beyond the confines of technology towards a more strategic set of business skills.

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