Joe McKendrick| Forbes

With the growing adoption of cloud computing comes a new class of leaders. They come from both IT and the business side of their organizations. They understand and are comfortable with the notion of bringing in new types of solutions to address business problems, as well as to super-charge innovation.

At the same time, they understand the needs of the business, and are capable of communicating with and listening to business users from across the spectrum.

What does it take to bring about these special traits? The move to cloud is fraught with potential cost overruns, dashed expectations, data loss, and ham-handed attempts to quash “unsanctioned” projects. Highly effective cloud leaders need to know how to deftly navigate these shoals, and move cloud efforts forward. Here are 10 qualities that help define highly effective cloud leaders in this new era, who are moving their organizations forward.

Highly effective cloud leaders:

1) Prioritize business first, technology second. Cloud leaders will first sit down with business counterparts and map out requirements, and help decide if cloud is the best approach to requirements. They never recommend cloud for cloud’s sake.

2) Figure out ways to support business-led cloud choices, and make them even better. Many cloud engagements percolate up from the business level, employing services such as Dropbox, Box or Amazon Web Services for specific requirements. Cloud leaders accept that there will be a constant variation of services being contracted, and figure out ways to improve the relationships being initiated.

3) Capitalize on the do-it-yourself ethic. Effective cloud leaders understand that many of the services needed to conduct business are available right in the cloud — from databases to APIs for various business processes. This is the DIY era when it comes to technology, from mobile devices to applications themselves. In addition, highly effective cloud leaders are open to collaboration, especially outside the organization, for new approaches and solutions.

4) Actively engage and negotiate with vendors.  The most effective cloud leaders don’t just supply credit card information to cloud vendors and hope for the best. They negotiate for the best possible terms up front. They visit the vendor’s site. They contact other customers. They get involved in a related user group or the vendor’s customer advisory council, if available. They treat the relationship with cloud vendors as full-fledged partnerships, with all the responsibility and accountability that goes with that. I spoke to the CIO of a financial services company last year who did all these things — took the site tours, built relationships with members of the cloud vendor staff, and, very importantly, kept on “asking a lot of questions” related to security, availability, service improvement plans, and all that good stuff.

5) Recognize that everyone is both cloud provider and consumer, the distinction has almost vanished. Along with closely working vendors as full partners, it should not be lost that non-tech organizations themselves are increasingly getting into the software business. Cloud leaders position their enterprises as providers of cloud services as well as consumers. Whether it’s extending private cloud functions out to partners and customers, or actually capitalizing on a unique industry-specific application and offering it for sale, there’s now a fine line — if there’s even a line left at all — between vendors and customers. Even pure software vendors themselves are consumers of cloud services from elsewhere.

6) Acknowledge that cloud services provide best practices gleaned from many other organizations’ experiences. Cloud arrangements are also incredible learning opportunities. When subscribing to cloud, organizations absorb the ability to duplicate or adopt successful business processes others have hashed out. The processes embedded in cloud services are based on the collective learning and input of customers, and new customers immediately are exposed to processes, formulas and interfaces that are well-tested and proven to deliver the best business results.

7) Aren’t afraid to experiment and fail, repeatedly. The availability of almost unlimited capacity on demand from cloud means organizations can run simulations and test out new ideas, unfettered by the need to allocate time on internal systems. Even within the largest enterprises, innovation springs from constant experimentation, the ability to keep trying new ideas, and be willing to fail.

8) Are aware that cloud means much more than cost savings — it’s about transformation. Yes, there are many examples of how using cloud services on a pay-as-you-go basis, versus buying entire systems up front, can save bundles of cash. But this is only piece of the cloud computing picture. Flexibility and agility to respond to new challenges and opportunities is the benefit that really delivers. Using cloud services enables businesses to turn on a dime, since they are able to quickly acquire needed applications and make configurations to support new promotions and new ventures, as well as cleanly abandon not-so-profitable areas.

9) Recognize that cloud opens the way to entirely new businesses. What holds back new the pursuit of ideas among entrepreneurs and large organizations alike?  Time and money, or the lack thereof. Say you want to design and test a new product line. With the available of on-demand cloud resources, new configurations can be up and running within hours or minutes, so that helps reduce the time element. Since users will only be charged for that amount of time they use cloud, that helps reduce the money needed.

10) Are aware that cloud provides career opportunities well beyond the IT department. The rise of cloud — whether it’s internal to organizations or among outside service providers — means a range of new opportunities for IT and non-IT personnel alike. I recently spoke with the director of a large insurance company who observed the company’s move to cloud has created a range of new positions that call for a blend of both tech-savvy and business-savvy skills. Namely, the company now seeks higher-level leadership skills that can identify needed technical capabilities needed to develop new products and services. “We now look for a breadth of knowledge,  rather than a depth of knowledge in one particular platform,” the executive said. “We look for more business knowledge.”

Demand for cloud skills doesn’t stop at the door to the data center, either. Cloud skills are making their way into  many non-IT jobs, including engineers, project managers, purchasing specialists, call center managers and accountants. There’s an API for everything, and it pays to understand what services are available to the business.


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