By: Connie Blaszczyk, Managing Editor, Resource Center
The evolution of cloud technology has transformed our world, a trend driven by the voracious appetite for data by today’s consumers.
While the so-called “consumerization of IT” has forced many corporate IT departments to rethink their “no cloud use at work” policy, it’s also brought tremendous opportunity for companies looking to gain an edge in rapidly changing markets.
The result, as author Hunter Muller points out below, has been a game changer for the traditional role of the CIO in many of today’s biggest companies.
In his book, On Top of the Cloud (Wiley, 2012), Muller interviewed top CIOs about the challenges and opportunities of cloud technology, and how they’ve learned to lead their companies into a cloud-driven future.
These transformational CIOs, as Hunter refers to them, are technology leaders, not followers. They function as champions of innovation and continuous improvement, a role that often requires them to be more like a CEO than CIO.
MONSTER: You interviewed many top CIOs for On Top of the Cloud about their company’s perceptions of cloud technology -- their frank comments make for a fascinating read. What were some of the themes that you repeatedly heard that often road- blocked cloud adoption?
MULLER: Newer technologies like cloud computing are inherently more risky than older technologies. But newer technologies are often required for innovation, and innovation is absolutely essential in today’s hyper-competitive economy.
CIOs need to start seeing themselves as leaders in an epic revolution that drives value and business growth across the enterprise through the intelligent application of new technologies.
Many CIOs see themselves primarily as stewards of assets that are crucial to the survival of the enterprise. As a result, they tend to focus on maintaining the status quo. They become risk-averse. They shy away from business innovation. They look for answers that are crystal-clear and validated by past experience.
Newer technologies like the cloud don’t have a track record, so looking for definitive answers and a long history of success is pointless.
CIOs need to think like CEOs, and be willing to push forward to add value and grow the business, even when there are no clear answers or easily visible guideposts to follow.
The real question is: How should CIOs who are normally averse to risk move ahead with newer technologies? Here’s my advice: CIOs must be totally aligned with the risk profiles of their companies. World-class CIOs are technology leaders, not followers. They are champions of innovation and continuous improvement.
Great CIOs understand precisely how much risk the enterprise will tolerate, and then bring the enterprise as close to that “edge” as possible. That’s where the competition is won -- at the edge.
MONSTER: What is the best argument that a CIO can present to a security-minded CEO to convince him or her that the cloud is where they should be?
MULLER: Successful companies innovate continuously -- that’s how they stay ahead of their competitors. Innovation is the key to opening new markets, enhancing relationships with existing customers and growing the business.
But you can’t innovate if you focus only on safety and security. The cloud provides virtually limitless opportunities for innovation, but it also carries risks.
World-class CIOs help the C-suite understand the risks and weight them against the potential rewards. Growth is essential, and with growth comes risk.
A major part of the modern CIO’s role is helping the CEO, the CFO and the other corporate officers balance the risks and rewards of newer technologies, and setting a balance-point that will ensure both growth and safety. For the modern world-class CIO, there is no escaping that responsibility.
MONSTER: You point out that traditional CIOs are generally risk-adverse, while transformational CIOs are risk-aware. How has the cloud redefined the role of today’s top CIOs?
MULLER: Modern CIOs see themselves as leaders in an epic revolution that brings new technologies to the forefront more quickly and more efficiently than ever before. They see the cloud as an enabling technology that can help them achieve their goals quickly and more effectively.
The truly great CIOs leap over the risk issue by providing a portfolio of options to the C-suite. In other words, the CIO assesses and evaluates the risk-reward ratio of a solution or new technology before presenting it to the board or to the C-suite.
That is the big difference between traditional and transformational CIOs.
The world-class transformational CIO is a leader who thinks like a CEO. Most of the truly successful CEOs that I know are not afraid of taking risks, because they know you have to take risks to achieve victory.
In the past, the CIO was the person who always said “No.” The cloud basically makes it impossible for the CIO to say “No.”
MONSTER: What are some of the best examples you’ve seen of innovative cloud usage in large organizations?
MULLER: Companies that use the cloud as innovation platforms clearly understand the early value of cloud computing. They also understand the value of learning, testing, experimenting and even failing.
We’re at the early stage of cloud computing now, which means that now is the time to learn, to champion innovation and to test the boundaries. The companies that start now will be the winners.
MONSTER: Companies with “no cloud usage” policies are often surprised to learn that employees are already accessing the cloud -- via their iPad usage. Is this an example of the so-called “consumerization of IT” that is challenging today’s corporate IT departments?
MULLER: World-class, transformational CIOs aren’t afraid of the future -- and make no mistake, the cloud is part of everyone’s future.
Two years ago, it was common for companies to have “no cloud” policies. Today, such policies are increasingly rare.
Most companies understand that their employees will figure out ways to access the cloud with or without official approval. Keeping pace with the ongoing “consumerization of IT” is now an accepted part of the IT department’s job.
MONSTER: How are CIOs successfully responding to these demands?
MULLER: Smart CIOs keep pace with emerging technologies and don’t pick fights they cannot win. For example, you simply cannot tell people in today’s workforce to leave their smart phones and tablets at home -- especially if they already work at home!
So you have to figure out the most effective, most practical and most secure way of letting them use their own devices and their own applications -- when and where they want to use them. The horse is already out of the barn!
Most CIOs are well aware of this, and as a result they are adjusting their IT infrastructures to accommodate the needs and preferences of the modern workforce. Successful CIOs are champions of innovation. They nurture an organizational culture that supports innovation and continuous transformation, driving business and revenue growth across the enterprise.
MONSTER: You say that given the rapid change that cloud technology has prompted within organizations, this is a pivotal moment for CIOs to step up and transform corporate IT -- or risk losing control of it altogether. What do you mean?
MULLER: In some companies, parts of the business have gone around IT and contracted directly with cloud providers. This usually occurs when the CIO isn’t keeping track of new technologies or isn’t responsive the needs of the business.
Ideally, the CIO will know more about technology than the business, and will proactively offer solutions, without being asked. In other words, smart CIOs are true leaders who always look for ways to help the business achieve its goals.
MONSTER: Chapter 6 of On Top of the Cloud is titled, “To Cloud or Not to Cloud?” Are there companies or industries who can truly afford to avoid the cloud at this point in time?
MULLER: Every company, large or small, should be engaged in some form of cloud computing. Now is the time to learn, to make mistakes, and to figure out the best ways for leveraging new technology. Waiting is not the right answer.
That being said, different companies and different industries will find different ways to use the cloud. The cloud is not a “one size fits all” proposition. Some companies will find more overall value in private clouds, while others will find more overall value in public clouds. Some companies will adopt hybrid models, which combine aspects of private and public clouds.
And it’s important to remember that there are three distinct types of cloud service: software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), and infrastructure as a service (IaaS).
There’s a lot of variety and nuance in the cloud. That’s why CIOs should be learning about the cloud now, while it’s still relatively young.
Hunter Miller is the President and CEO of HMG Strategy, LLC, a leading provider of networking events and professional services to CIOs and senior executives across the IT industry. HMG Strategy, LLC is the producer of world-class events such as the CIO Executive Leadership Series, which provides CIOs and senior executives with opportunities to learn from world-class thought leaders. Muller has more than twenty years of experience in business strategy consulting with a strong focus on IT organization development, strategy and business alignment.