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Open Clouds Require Open CIOs

A cloud is only as good as the organization that surrounds it

Everyone has an argument for the ideal technological approach to cloud computing: public vs. private (vs. hybrid), open vs. closed, vertical vs. horizontal, etc. Larry Ellison's thoughts on the proprietary cloud aside, an open cloud environment is inevitable. Companies will have a variety of tools and technologies working together to comprise the future cloud landscape.

But, to be successful, a company using cloud technologies requires an open organization where the IT department and line of business embrace each other as partners in the venture. Therefore an investment in cloud computing, more than previous technology shifts, requires an investment in the IT department's people and processes.

Why? Because the primary benefit of cloud computing is that it provides an organization with the tools to respond rapidly to the changing needs of the business and its customers. For instance, self-service and other cloud capabilities can give the line of business more control over the computing resources they use and access to them when they need them with little to no interaction with IT. The loss of control and potential compliance risk inherent in this model can be scary to IT departments. However, rather than ignoring these challenges and hoping they will go away, the "open" CIO should embrace cloud computing as an opportunity to open up siloed IT departments and engage the business units to help drive their success.

Implementing organizational change is a more gradual and time-consuming shift when compared to purchasing and rolling out a cloud technology. CIOs need to recognize that regardless of what type of cloud is being deployed, the ultimate return on investment hinges on their ability to work with fellow executives across the company, while also leading the evolution of the IT department to better integrate with the business. This takes time. Therefore when CIOs make the decision to move into the cloud they should immediately begin aligning their management style, as well as the culture and processes, of their organizations to achieve the business agility cloud promises, while continuing to protect against risks.

There are a few small steps that a CIO can take to open up their organizations.

Management Style
CIOs should begin this evolution by leading by example. An open organization involves a more inclusive and outgoing approach to behavior as a manager and communicator. With the introduction of cloud solutions, CIOs can no longer be the heads of their respective departments without establishing a leadership position for others within the organization. In order to integrate into this new business/IT environment, the IT department should be more like politicians than islands, more collaborators than the sole representatives of technology.

When additional stakeholders are involved in technological decisions, some believe that it results in a concession of power and control. However, while more viewpoints are added, the CIO has the opportunity to play a central role in leading the organization to success. If a CIO can appeal to all business stakeholders, then they take a challenging situation and turn it into a position of power.

A shared strategy requires collaboration and transparency because the success of the investment depends on both the line of business and IT. While many organizations have a technology infrastructure in place that enables open communication among business units, corporate cultures do not always easily facilitate as much openness as will be needed to capitalize on a cloud infrastructure.

In order to overcome these cultural barriers, it's important to enact changes that support a more open culture as early as possible. Such changes could include identifying team members with collaborative experience and shifting them to key positions within the organization and establishing regular executive level reviews to define and monitor cloud service level agreements to help ensure business needs are effectively met. Additionally, human resources may be helpful, in organizing events and activities that bring together disparate groups of people with shared interests. Finally, it's important that all relevant stakeholders recognize that a cloud investment involves a number of shared interests, and all interests are improved with an open culture of communication.

Even with a more open management and culture, existing processes can get in the way. There is no point in deploying a cloud solution that lets IT and the business respond more quickly if the underlying processes don't change. The fact that you can provision a virtual server in five minutes in the cloud is irrelevant if it takes two weeks to get authorization to provision that server.

Apart from streamlining approval complexity, a CIO should also look for other process improvements to make the partnership more open and flexible. These might be frameworks that span private and public clouds for security and data protection, management portals that delegate access management for line of business controlled systems, or standard services and repositories for faster development cycles in a private cloud. The goal of the new IT / line-of-business partnership is to create value and the processes of the organization must support that goal.

A cloud is only as good as the organization that surrounds it. Adopting the technology without changing the business is the worst mistake a CIO can make. Smart CIOs see beyond the cloud's technology and are open to the changes needed to deliver meaningful results to the enterprise.

More Stories By Pete Chadwick

Pete Chadwick is a senior cloud solutions manager with SUSE, a pioneer in open source software.

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