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Business Cloud Summit: Is the CIO the biggest obstacle to the Cloud?

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2nd Dec 2009
Managing editor MyCustomer.com
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A panel of CIOs debate findings that indicate that it is the CIO himself that is the biggest barrier to Cloud technology adoption.

With a number of surveys indicating that the biggest inhibitor to Cloud development in both private and public sector organisations is the CIO themselves, Cloud technology have found itself battling an unlikely nemesis.

Chairing a debate featuring a panel of leading CIOs, Business Cloud9 editor Stuart Lauchlan noted that surveys pointed to suspicion of the new technology from within the IT department. And there was some agreement from the panel, which included Paul Cheesborough, CIO of the Telegraph Media Group; Alan Lee-Bourke, CIO of the Wise Group, Richard Britton IT Director of Easynet Connect and UK Online, and Andrew Jordan, CIO of Complinet. However, with Cloud technology coming to the fore, the panel indicated that any resistance could ultimately prove futile.

“For so long, CIOs and CFOs have used issues like security and uptime availability as an excuse but that’s starting to wear thin. It’s only a matter of time before we see the Cloud being embraced at CFO and business user level. There’s a pincer movement forming,” noted Paul Cheesborough. “In the next three or four years, time will run out for those arguments and people will no longer be able to move the Cloud to one side”.

Discussing other challenges relating to Cloud adoption, Cheesborough added: "For me, end-user management around the deployment of this technology has been a challenge. Making sure you understand the requirements up front before going down this route is important. The agility and velocity of Cloud technology is impressive and the technology can move quicker than users’ ability to adopt and embrace it."

"The Cloud model is really good if you’re in an environment where business models are changing – your decision-making capabilities have to become quicker, as does your need to implement change and Cloud technology allows you to do that, so it’s a good opportunity, but it can also be disruptive," he added.

Andrew Jordan of Complinet admitted: "About 18 months ago we received substantial investment with a clear mandate for us to grow the business to scale. It has made my job harder because I have to think of more innovative ways to do traditional things." But Cloud technology had enabled Jordan’s firm to concentrate on the things that really matter, he said. "We’re now building something in two weeks on a platform that already exists, which gets us to a place where we can focus on the business needs."

The ‘s’ word

"While there are lots of benefits to the Cloud, there’s also a darker side to it – a discussion around security," admitted Andrew Jordan.

"It continues to be one of the most commonly asked questions that come my way, but it’s important to separate what is fact and what is perception. Is it de facto that the Cloud is less secure, or do people just have a perception that Google is big and bad and data shouldn’t be trusted there? Should we be running scared?" asked Richard Britton. The answer to this question, he insisted, was ‘no’. "There’s no replacement for good IT governance, but let’s not explode this into something it’s not", he added.

It was also established that some of the perceptions about the Cloud affect the regulation of the sector. "Regulators have not fully understood the Cloud yet and are putting extremely stringent checks in place," said Britton. Alan Lee-Bourke, CIO of the Wise Group, which recently won a £50m contract with the Department for Work and Pensions (DwP), says public sector bodies are particularly wary. "Past experiences with data losses in government has caused them to be more security conscious. Anyone dealing with personal data is required to go through rigorous security planning and have it accredited, as well as conducting monthly penetration tests. In the past this may have taken up to two years, but in our case winning this contract has forced us to do it more quickly."

Benefits

The panel were unanimous in agreeing that the benefits of migrating to Cloud-based platforms far outweighed the costs and challenges. "I never expected to see the closeness of collaboration that’s happened in the business since we made the switch," said Andrew Jordan. "You can’t put a price on the fact that people are working better together than ever before. While the cost factor is important, let’s not just look at that; let’s look at everything that’s involved and the value that’s being delivered."

However, not all Clouds are equal, he noted: "Some platforms will give more flexibility to move information in a more structured way. We moved from 70+ data systems to one platform, which encouraged us to rationalise our data set. Now, we understand our data much better than we did before, so if we need to move to a different platform, we understand what it is we need to move. The Cloud has enabled us to do that."

"We took a three year view for everything we migrated to the Cloud. The industry never fails to amaze me – the level of innovation and stretch that’s being achieved is outstanding. We’re not closed minded, but we think getting our entire value chain onto the Cloud is a still a couple of years away," said Paul Cheesborough.

At the more radical end of the scale, Alan Lee-Bourke joked that he would like to replace his server room with a Jacuzzi within three years, having moved his entire server-based applications to the Cloud. “We’re about a third of the way through. We started a year ago with BPOS, email, etc. Year two will involve putting our CRM, ERP and finance systems on the Cloud. As soon as it becomes possible to get rid of that equipment, we will."

Managing objections

Another issue noted by the panellists was the divide between Google-based offerings and other paid-for services. "People always ask – why must we pay Microsoft to develop things when we can use Google products for free?" noted Alan Lee-Bourke. "It’s hard to explain that, but the reason relates to back office integration. It works best if the CIO is one of the senior management team in the business, which means they have a seat and voice to explain these things better, without having the message filtered through a director."

Despite these challenges, the entire panel expected to see exponential growth in the use of Cloud applications over the next three years among UK organisations. Paul Cheesborough noted: "The transition is not an easy one to make – it’s not as easy as flicking a switch. The resistance I got was from my own staff, not the users. We took baby steps to start with. You can move it forward gently, but expect that your chief sceptics will be the ones who work for you. It requires courage, conviction and leadership to push it through."

"There needs to be a winning of hearts and minds first," agreed Richard Britton. "A Cloud transformation requires careful planning and management. There is a way to sell to sell it to IT departments – you need to explain that it’s a good step forward both for them and the business."

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