TotalCIO

Oct 31 2011   9:07PM GMT

A cloud computing strategy requires a good offense and defense

Karen Goulart Karen Goulart Profile: Karen Goulart

A discussion among the CIOs at the recent Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council (MassTLC) summit on cloud computing strategies got me thinking about Eleanor Roosevelt. No, really.

Surely you’ve seen it on bumper stickers or tacked to a classroom wall — that ubiquitous inspirational utterance: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

At an event generously populated by cloud service vendors encouraging each other to ignore the CIO and sell to the business, what several CIOs said would have done the former first lady proud. According to the event’s preprinted agenda, the CIOs were there to chat about using Platform as a Service, or PaaS. Instead, they wound up championing the place of the CIO in the cloud and across enterprise IT.

In essence, they weren’t about to let the cloud services vendors make them feel inferior. Inspiring bons mots not your thing? How about a football analogy? These CIOs proved vendors can’t achieve a successful end run around your IT department if you’ve set up a strong defense. And better still, if you’ve put up enough offense to be ahead of their game already.

As with any winning franchise, staying ahead requires strong leadership and teamwork. Take Tom McLain, CIO at Old Mutual (US) Holdings Inc. His cloud computing strategy is focused on creating strong relationships with the company’s head of compliance and head of legal. As leaders, they set the ground rules for vendor interaction that are so necessary in their highly regulated industry.

There will always be “renegades” — the workers in the business who go off and find their own cloud solutions. But even in less strictly regulated spaces, there are ways to remain in control. One way is to play along with them. Larry Bolick, CIO at Boston-based Aquent LLC, noted that early adopters can actually be integral team players. Identifying those who are eager to get their hands on the latest app can be hugely important to your cloud computing strategy going forward. Bolick did this with a Skype pilot program years ago.

“Fast-forward to today, and those folks are out in the Google space trying all kinds of things,” Bolick said. Knowing they have support behind their exploration makes them less likely to sneak in their own solutions. If they discover something of potential value, he said, they bring it to him.

Another important thing to note about these CIOs: To them, “going cloud” wasn’t and isn’t drudgery, a chore or some sort of panic move. (OK, maybe there was a little panic there; the looming recession was a potent prod for many CIOs to adopt cloud services.) Rather, it was seen as a challenge, a problem to solve. And lo and behold, once it got rolling, they began enjoying the process.

This wasn’t simply creating and implementing solutions to save time and money. In fact, the act of going to the cloud was in and of itself an opportunity to be innovative. As a result, these CIOs are left with more time and tools to, yup, be innovative — and perhaps feel a wee bit superior.

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