A couple years ago, I picked up a fascinating book from Jack Uldrich, “Jump the Curve, 50 essential strategies to help your company stay ahead of emerging technologies.” In it Jack Uldrich highlights the exponential evolution of technologies and its implications, and how we should keep up with it.
Chapter 4 is titled “Walk the Escalator.” He suggests going to a shopping mall or an airport and observe the number of people who are content to be transported to the next floor without lifting a foot. Was that what the inventors of the escalator (Jesse Reno and Charles Seeberger) had in mind, or was it a way to speed up the mounting of stairs? It’s an excellent metaphor of many of the new technologies which can do remarkable things and make us faster and more productive, provided we view them as a tool to assist us rather than a means to avoid the effort.
I can tell you that, ever since I read the book, I walk escalators in the true sense of the term. Traveling extensively it allows me to exercise and keep in shape. But I’m amazed about the many people that just stand on the escalator, waiting to be carried upwards or downwards. Except in the UK, where people stand on the right, it’s actually quite difficult to walk an escalator these days due to the many bottlenecks of standing people.
But beyond keeping me in shape, the escalator is an excellent metaphor of how many CIO’s are looking at new technologies in general and cloud computing in particular. They let themselves being carried to the next level, and in doing so they may put their own existence at risk.
Change is the only constant
Early this year I met a CIO who not only told me there was no shadow-IT in his company, but also that the business did not need agility because typically they needed two years to get new projects implemented. So, IT was more than fast enough in its current form, so what was the issue?
Last month, another CIO told me that private cloud was all he needed. It was way cheaper than public cloud, so, he was virtualizing his applications, might think about automation and that was it.
As pre-amble to chapter 4, Jack Uldrich quotes Benjamin Franklin “All mankind is divided into three classes, those who are immoveable, those who are moveable and those who move.” I would argue the first of my two CIO’s is of the first class, the other of the second one. They are both confronted by the same question. Are they truly adding value to the business? Are they helping the business to be faster and more productive?
So, what should a CIO do to walk the escalator? Well, first he needs to take his own destiny in his own hands, understanding he is on a journey of change. He needs to internalize that the future will be different from what he is used to and that change will be the only constant moving forward.
In a blog entry titled “IT Consumerization, the Cloud and the alleged dead of the CIO” Peter Kretzman goes as far as asking the question who still needs an IT department? He argues people perceive IT as the team keeping the servers running, so with cloud, there is no need for that anymore. Peter is right saying CIO’s have other responsibilities, but how many CIO’s really understand that. Those are already walking the escalator.
Back to basics
What is the business expecting from IT? In a nutshell, to provide the information tools allowing the enterprise to run their business, to respond to their customer needs and expectations, and to grow in a profitable manner.
Being seen as a cost center, IT is expected to do this with the lowest budget possible. So, if it takes IT too long to deliver, if the service is expensive and a cheaper alternative can be found elsewhere, then business people start looking outside. It first happened with outsourcing, years ago, now it’s happening with cloud. Yes there are security and compliance issues associated with it, but those will be overcome and will not stop the business to do what it believes is right for the business.
So, the CIO has to deliver and deliver fast. Well, the first thing to do is understand what the users expect. And this brings us back to governance. I cannot stress how important it is to set-up strong governance between the line of business people and IT. Now, the business always wants more than what can actually be delivered, so prioritizing needs, focusing on the ones that are critical for the company and position the enterprise versus their competition should go first. Part of that discussion should be whether this is functionality that needs to be developed/delivered internally or whether it can be sourced from external sources. But here the CIO needs to take a new attitude. Except if there is a good reason to develop/deliver it internally, externally should be the default.
Make sure it’s the business requesting IT to provide the service internally. Associate the business in the decision so they understand the rational and the implications of using a private or public cloud service.
This is counterintuitive as many IT departments tend to protect their business, so would like to do everything internally by default. But that will not lead you anywhere as requests will be left unanswered, resulting in frustration and shadow-IT.
The service broker
The next step is to identify an appropriate external source for the service, if the governance team agrees an external source should be used. The IT team will have enough work in ensuring the service provider is up to the task, in integrating the external service with the remainder of the systems with whom it needs to interact, in making the service available from the intranet through the enterprise portal, etc.
IT becomes a service organization, a broker of services, both external and internal ones, addressing the needs of the enterprise. A number of years ago, companies were looking at making IT a shared service center and some have gone quite far along that route. None of that is lost. Actually it’s very much what IT departments should become, service organizations.
But many fear that, by using external sources for services they make themselves obsolete, not realizing the many new opportunities the cloud brings with it. Cloud is not just a new way to deliver existing services, it’s also a platform for innovation. And there are not that many people truly understanding cloud, so if you are one of them, you have a great future ahead of you.
Cloud is not a tactical solution, it’s a corporate strategy says Mark Thiele. He gives useful hints on what the CIO should address. I want to highlight one, consider the full lifecycle from creation to deletion. Services live their life. Make sure you understand what happens when end-of-life is reached. Discuss with your service provider how you can get your data back, how well the data is being erased etc. As the specialist, you have to make the business users aware of these questions right from the start.
The other day I ran into a blog entry (unfortunately I did not note the link down, and can’t find it again), discussing the millennium generation and their proverbial knowledge of IT. They did grow up with IT, have used it since their youth and bring the consumerization flavor with them. But they lack the deep understanding of how IT actually works. They have not been battling with assembler language, with network protocols etc. So, they understand very well what can be done, but not always how. In their enthusiasm for new technologies they may not realize the implications of using a new tool. That is where IT can help.
To paraphrase Alan Cohen, there might be an “Arab Spring for IT,” but there is need for a conscious decision to “walk the escalator.” and it’s the CIO who needs to take that decision. Fundamentally, the CIO will walk or will be walked. The first gives you a very exciting future helping information technology to percolate the business, the second is more painful.
To achieve the first, the CIO needs 3 C’s:
- Courage to take the decision and move to unchartered territory
- Curiosity to understand what he has available and what is needed
- Creativity to identify how he can address the needs.
So to stay fit, to help your enterprise evolve and to create a great future for yourself, walk the escalator.
If you are interested in understanding how you can move existing applications t a cloud and you happen to come to HP Discover, why don’t you plan to join my session (TB2051) on Thursday June 7th at 11:15AM in room Titian 2205? I’ll focus on the architectural aspects of transforming apps to the cloud and how they can integrate across a converged cloud. I would really like to meet you there.