Cloud: The Testing Ground for the New CIO

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Guest post by: Mike Pearl

In case you missed it, Michael Hickins of the Wall Street Journal recently detailed a lively panel discussion that unfolded during MIT’s CIO Symposium on May 22, 2013. CIOs complained in chorus about cloud computing vendors circumventing the IT department and selling directly to business units. One CIO compared the proliferation of rogue cloud deployments to cockroaches.

In the midst of the fiery finger pointing and complaints about redundancy, complexity, risk and confusion, a breakthrough happened: CIOs confessed they’ve been slow to provide business users with the cloud services they need. They admitted to playing a critical role in fostering the conditions that enabled Shadow IT to flourish in the first place. It’s one of the many signs that CIOs are moving beyond the denial stage and accepting that cloud is the new normal.

CIOs are done hoping that the demand for the cloud will dissipate. According to PwC’s 5th annual Digital IQ survey of over 1100 business and technology executives, 51% of IT executives plan to increase their investment in the private cloud and public cloud applications this year. Moreover, of the 18 technologies they could choose from, IT executives picked public cloud applications most often as being the most important to increasing innovation.

Now that CIOs are embracing the cloud’s permanency and importance, the next order of business is for CIOs to create a new model for interacting with business users to capitalize on the cloud’s full potential. According to the same PwC Digital IQ study, companies with collaborative C-suites are 4x more likely to be a top performing company.

The cloud is a testing ground for CIOs to learn to lead through influence—catalyzing conversations with business users about how new digital service offerings can help grow revenue and transform processes rather than trying to control business users’ access to it. CIOs boast a wealth of information and insight about the “art of possible” with emerging technologies, integration and security. And, they are uniquely positioned to aggregate information and resources and share them across the enterprise.

Overseeing the transition to the cloud is an opportunity for CIOs to evolve beyond the functional technology owner and to embrace the role of strategic business service orchestrator. The commitment to partnering with business units will put CIOs on the right path, but that’s only the beginning of their journey.

Probably the most daunting task for CIOs is migrating away from long established legacy systems. It’s not easy to trade out familiar systems, especially when they’re working well enough to keep the lights on. CIOs need to establish new operating models and new hybrid architectures and use new resources to make this tumultuous transition. The new cloud skills that CIOs need to add to their teams are in short supply. They should acquire the talent they need as they can and fill in talent gaps with external vendors when possible. There is also a need for a cultural shift from a product mindset to a services mindset. Fortunately, especially with cloud service offerings, it is apt for CIOs to start with small experiments and scale when appropriate.

As a foundation for innovation, the benefits of the cloud are vast. CIOs have the opportunity to develop a compelling suite of offerings as well as spearhead the development of a unified cloud strategy that enables business units to act cohesively to invent new lines of business, deepen relationships with customers and enhance operations. The sky’s the limit for what business and IT can do together.

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