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Is There a CIO Inferiority Complex? (Yes and Here’s How to Get Over It)

CIOs who are willing to embrace cloud offerings see the payoffs

It used to be so easy. The company needed more IT infrastructure, so you bought more components, built more technology, and scrambled to keep it all well oiled. Then along came the cloud and the world shifted under your feet - or perhaps more accurately, over your head. Suddenly they wanted you out of the server room and (instead) in the boardroom, assessing the services of cloud computing vendors and discussing the cost benefits of the new technology. And then it's all "strategy this, planning that." But you keep thinking to yourself: What was wrong with the old stuff? And do things really have to change?

If "Internal Trembling" is all that comes to mind at the mention of "IT" nowadays, you're not alone. For the past few years, CIOs have developed an inferiority complex, questioning the very skills that got them where they are now and assessing how they can be useful moving forward. In the worst cases, cloud computing has made flying blind at work a reality, and that can shatter CIOs' confidence. Server rooms, with their friendly racks of IT infrastructure were once so warm, cozy, and inviting. Now everything's cloudy. Adding cloud computing - with its associated outsourcing management responsibility - to the mix when your roster already includes responsibility for managing legacy systems, maintaining uptime, delivering customer service, securing data, ensuring compliance, making mission-critical decisions, and sometimes even getting coffee for the CEO, can be overwhelming.

CIOs can't afford to tremble in the face of cloud offerings. Hesitation and downright avoidance of the cloud can stifle innovation, slow productivity, and prevent businesses from finding ways to significantly reduce costs and improve operational efficiencies.

The fact is, CIOs who are willing to embrace cloud offerings see the payoffs. Consider Ben Guanzon. As CIO at Vancouver Community College in British Columbia, he implemented Software as a Service (SaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) solutions, and saved the college considerable IT costs.

"The internal computing environment was not in a very good state," recalls Guanzon. "We had over 100,000 student email accounts running internally. So I implemented a cloud-based email platform for staff and students." The business case was easy to make from a cost standpoint (the system cost five times more to host internally), but Guanzon had to address a host of concerns around security. "It required a lot of communication around privacy, the USA Patriot Act, and what it all meant. But as a CIO, you have to become an enabler. You have to think about how best to deliver the applications a business requires. It's a very strategic role."

Out with the Old CIO
The CIO of days gone by was hands-on with hardware technology. He or she determined the necessary infrastructure, acquired the tech components, and built the IT architecture. For years the focus has been on avoiding ballooning technology costs and operating within the constraints of aging systems. But being stuck in the server room also meant marginalization in the C-suite.

Today's CIOs don't get the respect they deserve and the accordant responsibility that comes with it. Charged with being more strategic, their focus has moved away from building everything in-house, and toward selecting vendors who offer IT components as a service, integrating new solutions with old legacy systems, and overseeing governance around compliance issues. CIOs now play the role of connectors - bridging the new world with the old, connecting the cloud with the server room.

It's a role that needs to be carried out with confidence, but that's not always how CIOs feel. In fact, many find themselves in a sink-or-swim situation: defending the status quo and protecting legacy systems is a metaphorical life raft. What they really need to do is pick up the oar and paddle over to the executive marina.

Taking a Seat in the C-Suite: How to Strengthen CIO Relevance in a New World
Change is happening at lightning speed, and CIOs have an opportunity to be innovative by finding new solutions to IT problems - solutions that are now usually cloud-based.

This means getting involved in strategic sourcing, managing people instead of machines, and talking financials and risk assessments instead of computer components. In other words, no more cowering in server rooms. Here's your chance to sit at the grown-up table.

For Guanzon, it was an opportunity that led to a bigger role, but it required the confidence to step out of his comfort zone and spearhead something new. "I know a lot of peers and colleagues who have not transformed to deal with the way things are today," he notes.

Being proactive means looking at cloud offerings ranging from Platform as a Service (PaaS), to Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), and to Software as a Service (SaaS). It must also include consideration of security, data management and privacy, as well as long-term technology implications and planning. For some companies, the solution might be a private cloud; for others, public is the way to go. Still others might opt for a hybrid model. The key is to find a solution that makes sense for your company, instead of jumping on the bandwagon. Guanzon's advice is to start from a user's perspective. "You need to understand what a user is experiencing. Without that link, you're just putting boxes out there."

Once a solution is chosen, CIOs need to be able to identify credible, qualified providers, execute a thorough sourcing process, and select vendors that are compatible from both a tech and business standpoint.

It's high stakes for today's CIOs, but cloud offerings can no longer be ignored. Overcoming the inferiority complex and letting go of old technology means shedding the limitations of existing infrastructure and building something bigger, better, and downright brag-worthy. Because the possibilities of the cloud open your business up to infinite potential, and it's nothing but blue skies with a forecast like that.

Concludes Guanzon, "Hardware is no longer the focus. You can keep on building, but if it doesn't match what people need, it won't be successful."

More Stories By Bart Copeland

As President & CEO of ActiveState Software, Bart Copeland brings more than twenty years of management, finance, and technology business experience to his role. With a passion for technologies that help people lead more productive and enjoyable lives, Bart is currently focused on ActiveState’s private platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering, Stackato. With his vision for PaaS as an enabler to accelerate cloud adoption and value in enterprises, Bart is actively involved in the strategy, roadmap, business development and evangelism of Stackato. Bart is also an active angel investor and serves as a director on a number of other tech companies. He holds an MBA in Technology Management from the University of Phoenix and a Mechanical Engineering degree from the University of British Columbia.

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