5 things to prepare the CIO for disruption

For years, IT organizations operated in a certain way. They provided a relatively standard service in a particular way. Of course, both of these evolved incrementally year over year. Over the past 5-10 years, that direction has changed pretty significantly. And it shows no sign of stopping anytime soon.

Data Center

10 years ago, if one said ‘death of the data center’ in a room of IT leaders, it would be seen as heresy. Today, IT leaders are actively looking for ways to ‘get out of the data center business.’ If you are one of the corporate environments not already thinking about this strategy, you are behind the curve. No longer is a physical data center a representative requirement to operate IT. Today, many options from colocation to cloud Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) exist to replace this functionality. Not only does it exist, many solutions are already mature and more sophisticated than traditional approaches within the corporate data center.

Organization

At the other end of the spectrum, the organization is undergoing a significant shift too. Traditional organizations thought of their ‘customers’ as the internal users of the organization. The focus was predominantly on the internal operations of the company. Development may have spanned externally to partners and customers, but in specific ways. IT organizations are shifting to determine who their ‘customers’ really are. The shift in thinking starts with a change in focus. And that focus is one of the preparations.

Partnerships

The way IT organizations interacted with ‘customers’ was typically as two different organizations. The discussion typically included a distinction between IT and ‘the business.’ To some, this appears as an us-and-them perspective. The two were seen as very different and therefore required a different level of partnering within the company. At the same time, IT needed to clearly understand how ‘the business’ operated and at times translate between business requirements and IT deliverables. Part of the changes over time created a means to clarify this partnership. However, changes to the perspective assist with the introduction of disruptive methodologies. For example, Shadow IT, to some a threat, can become a real asset.

Changes in customers and users

Consumption expectations for customers and users changed as well. Consumers became more technologically savvy and demanded more. Overnight, consumers become familiar, and more comfortable with solutions quicker than IT organizations could adopt them. The technology available to consumers rapidly became more sophisticated. The combination of these two drove a change in consumer behaviors. Consumers, and customers became more demanding of technology…and by extension, corporate IT.

Getting ready for disruption

So, how does the CIO respond to these changes in a timely and meaningful manner? Start at the top and work down. That means, start with a business-centric approach that takes the perspective of the true customer (the company’s customer) and work your way down.

  1. Business-Centric Perspective: Change the culture and perspective to focus on a business-centric approach. Stop focusing on IT as a technology organization. The CIO needs to be a business leader that happens to have responsibility for technology. Not the other way around. Instill this change within the IT organization that is both meaningful but also helps staff adapt to the changing landscape. This will take time, but must be a mission for IT.
  2. Adopt DevOps: A fundamental premise behind DevOps is the ability for IT to work more holistically across traditional silos (applications & operations). Brining the teams together to work collaboratively and effectively is essential to the future IT organization and their customers.
  3. Stay Flexible & Responsive: Customers expect quicker response to change. Instead of building a fortress that will withstand the test of time, build one that will adapt to the changing business climate and requirements.
  4. Engage Cloud: Cloud is the single largest opportunity for IT organizations today. Plan a holistic strategy to leverage cloud in appropriate ways. For many this will look like a hybrid strategy that evolves over time versus a haphazard approach.
  5. Challenge the Status Quo: Lastly, do not assume that the way things were done in the past will work moving forward. Many organizations struggle to find success with newer methodologies because they apply past paradigms. In some ways, it is almost easier to forget the past and think about how to start from scratch. Momentum can provide some resistance, but it is healthy to challenge the status quo.

Each of these steps provides a different perspective that helps shift the thinking around IT. It starts with the CIO and involves both the IT organization and the business organizations outside of IT. Each of these five steps provides the change in perspective to evolve the IT organization and value it provides.

Seven Things the CIO should consider when adopting a holistic cloud strategy

As conversations about cloud computing continues to focus on IT’s inability at holistic adoption, organizations outside of IT continue their cloud adoption trek outside the prevue of IT. While many of these efforts are considered Shadow IT efforts and frowned upon by the IT organization, they are simply a response to a wider problem.

The IT organization needs to adopt a holistic cloud strategy. However, are CIOs really ready for this approach? Michael Keithley, Creative Artists Agency’s CIO just returned from CIO Magazine’s CIO 100 Symposium which brings together the industry’s best IT leaders. In his blog post, he notes that “(he) was shocked to find that even among this elite group of CIOs there were still a significant amount of CIOs who where resisting cloud.” While that perspective is widely shared, it does not represent all CIOs. There are still a good number of CIOs that have moved to a holistic cloud strategy. The problem is that most organizations are still in a much earlier state of adoption.

In order to develop a holistic cloud strategy, it is important to follow a well-defined process. The four steps are straightforward and fit just about any organization:

  1. Assess: Provide a holistic assessment of the entire IT organization, applications and services that is business focused, not technology focused. For the CIO, they are a business leader that happens to have responsibility for technology. Understand what is differentiating and what is not.
  2. Roadmap: Use the options and recommendations from the assessment to provide a roadmap. The roadmap outlines priority and valuations that ultimately drive the alignment of IT.
  3. Execute: This is where the rubber hits the road. IT organizations will learn more about themselves through action. For many, it is important to start small (read: lower risk) and ramp up quickly.
  4. Re-Assess & Adjust: As the IT organization starts down the path of execution, lessons are learned and adjustments needed. Those adjustments will span technology, organization, process and governance. Continual improvement is a key hallmark to staying in tune with the changing demands.

For many, following this process alone is not enough to develop a holistic cloud strategy. In order to successfully leverage a cloud-based solution, several things need to change that may contradict current norms. Today, cloud is leveraged in many ways from Software as a Service (SaaS) to Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). However, it is most often a very fractured and disjointed approach to leveraging cloud. Yet, the very applications and services in play require that organizations consider a holistic approach in order to work most effectively.

When considering a holistic cloud strategy, there are a number of things the CIO needs to consider including these six:

  1. Challenge the Status Quo: This is one of the hardest changes as the culture within IT developed over decades. One example is changing the mindset that ‘critical systems may not reside outside your own data center’ is not trivial. On the other hand, leading CIOs are already “getting out of the data center business.” Do not get trapped by the cultural norms and the status quo.
  2. Differentiation: Consider which applications and services are true differentiators for your company. Focus on the applications and services that provide strategic value and shift more common functions (ie: email) to alternative solutions like Microsoft Office 365 or Google Apps.
  3. Align with Business Strategy: Determine how IT can best enable and catapult the company’s business strategy. If IT is interested in making a technology shift, consider if it will bring direct positive value to the business strategy. If it does not, one should ask a number of additional questions determining the true value of the change. With so much demand on IT, focus should be on those changes that bring the highest value and align with the business strategy.
  4. Internal Changes: Moving to cloud changes how organizations, processes and governance models behave. A simple example is how business continuity and disaster recovery processes will need to change in order to accommodate the introduction of cloud-based services. For organizations, cloud presents both an excitement of something new and a fear from loss of control and possible job loss. CIOs need to ensure that this area is well thought out before proceeding.
  5. Vendor Management: Managing a cloud provider is not like every other existing vendor relationship. Vendor management comes into sharp focus with the cloud provider that spans far more than just the terms of the Service Level Agreement (SLA).
  6. Exit Strategy: Think about the end before getting started. Exiting a cloud service can happen for good or bad reasons. Understand what the exit terms are and in what for your data will exist. Exporting a flat file could present a challenge if the data is in a structured database. However, that may be the extent of the provider’s responsibility. When considering alternative providers, recognize that shifting workloads across providers is not necessarily as trivial as it might sound. It is important to think this through before engaging.
  7. Innovation: Actively seek out ways to adopt new solutions and methodologies. For example, understand the value from Devops, OpenStack, Containers and Converged Infrastructure. Each of these may challenge traditional thinking, which is ok.

Those are seven of the top issues that often come up in the process of setting a holistic cloud strategy. Cloud offers the CIO, the IT organization and the company as a whole one of the greatest opportunities today. Cloud is significant, but only the tip of the iceberg. For the CIO and their organization, there are many more opportunities beyond cloud today that are already in the works.

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