Cloud: disruptive good, disruptive bad

Cloud: disruptive good, disruptive bad

Summary: Adoption of cloud in the enterprise is disruptive in a bad way for IT and in a good way for business. No wonder IT wants to put the brakes on.

TOPICS: Emerging Tech, CXO

In the technology world, we've been schooled to get excited about disruptive innovation. The computer industry wouldn't have had anything like the impact it has had if it hadn't been for game-changing technology breakthroughs large and small, from the transistor and the microcomputer through IP networking and hypertext linking. Each has spurred new industries and made huge fortunes for those who realized their potential. But there's a reason we call them disruptive. They displace established industries and bring misfortune to those on the receiving end of the disruption.

For the past 50-60 years, information technologists have generally found themselves on the winning side of this dichotomy. Sure, from time time people have had to learn new hardware stacks or programming languages. But the changes have been gradual enough to allow for a fairly smooth career progression. Life-changing disruption was something that happened to people in old-fashioned jobs such as machine lathe operators, typesetters, filing clerks and shorthand typists.

With cloud, the tables have finally turned on the technologists. Adoption of cloud in the enterprise is disruptive in a bad way for IT and in a good way for business. For everyone in IT, it means radical changes to working practices and learning many new skillsets, while existing skills become redundant, sometimes overnight. Today's old-fashioned jobs are in fields such as database administration, server management and systems integration, with many organisations handing over those tasks wholesale to cloud providers who can automate them at scale. While IT suffers, the business finds cloud brings vastly improved productivity to existing skills while adding huge new opportunities for innovation and business development.

This dichotomy explains why it's business decision-makers who take the lead in cloud adoption at most enterprises. They only see the potential to spur exciting growth and revenue opportunities. Meanwhile, IT people suck through their teeth and fret about the massive adjustments they'll have to make to get any kind of oversight and accountability for all these cloud services the business is so eager to take on.

The dichotomy is visible also in the wider world, between those industries feeling the irreversible march of cloud — media, publishing, retail — and the Internet economy players that are the architects of their disruption. No wonder so many established businesses have so much trouble adapting, whle most of the innovative breakthroughs are made by freshly minted start-ups. Even when their business leaders want to seize the opportunity to explore disruptive innovations based on cloud, their IT people are holding back because they fear the disruption to their own domains. It's not that they don't want to support the business innovation; it's simply that they don't know how they can support it in the midst of such a chaotic transformation of their own operations.

Topics: Emerging Tech, CXO

Phil Wainewright

About Phil Wainewright

Since 1998, Phil Wainewright has been a thought leader in cloud computing as a blogger, analyst and consultant.

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  • YES

    The cloud changes everything. Consultants need to change, because the reselling and IT-as-technical-support paradigm is changing - there's still value that IT can provide, but it's not the value provided yesterday.
    • HIOB* versus HISEB*

      What difference does this make exactly?

      * HIOB - Hardware in our building
      * HISEB - Hardware in someone else's building
      • Simple

        HIOB = ownership, control, and real management

        HISEB = somebody else doing all the work and the company doing the "delegating" constantly prays to the almighty hazelnut that the people they're delegating to will be bothered to do their job right instead of cutting every conceivable corner to help "boost profit".

        After all, when a new building's plumbing springs a leak and floods the whole place, if the number of subcontractors is greater than 2 then there's a teensy problem. Each subcontractor calling out another subcontractor for x, y, and z situations to "control costs". Each subcontractor able to switch suppliers and other subcontractors.

        In short, there is no responsibility anymore. Just delegation. Because a couple of pennies are saved in the process (until something happens)...

        Then people wonder why product and service quality is sloppy, with nobody giving a darn.
  • Really? Your take seems a little skewed.

    "Business decision makers" are leading the drive due to promised savings. Sure they are but the cloud is not providing anything new, it is just shifting the data center management somewhere else. The IT guys hate it why ? Your thought is like anyone IT people dislike change, or someone else has got their finger in the pie. The IT guys don't care, their paychecks are the same and their job is to move along with the corporate software and machines.

    What you don't say is the real reason IT guys dislike the cloud. When the cloud fails, it's their fault, and they have no control over it. When was the last time a corporate data center was down a day for millions of users? Now how about cloud ?

    I use the cloud and it has it's purpose, but corporations putting data and services that they can't operate without and have little control over seems to be a bad idea.
    • They hate it because all the time and education to do something important

      is now transferred to somebody else, whose prime motive is profiteering.

      Great post, thank you.

      I don't mind change. Are we humans not adaptable?

      It's <i>elimination</i> that workers are fearing. With all the talk of "cost savings", and the general over-simplification and reliance on the supply-side, nobody discusses the demand-side, much less the real value of work and ownership.

      And, yeah, when the cloud fails (and it will), the IT people will - as for all things - be scapegoated.

      Why will the cloud fail?

      The competition amongst cloud providers - smaller ones will be driven out via price wars and the customers will suffer.

      Buyouts will have the same effect.

      I assume most people read every word in a Terms of Service agreement down to the last syllable, so nobody is worried about security issues, rights and ownership of the data the cloud provider is hosting, et cetera...

      At my job, the workers are angry every time the cloud app provider has to take down the system to do maintenance. It's not a daily issue, or weekly, but they need 24/7 availability. That just isn't possible with "cloud". They're pissed and those of us who are caught in the middle get wrongly blamed.

      There is no real control, and delegating work to someone else -- I'd rather pay for employees and apps I can control over. Especially in our predatory world. I want control. Not delegating it and being stuck having to rely on another company, whose motive is the same as mine - profiting, which means I know just as well as they do that the least amount of effort will go into a product or service to help ensure the largest amount of profit comes out of it. Time is money.
  • 3 problems

    Personally I think we have huge problems:

    - If; IT solutions = something I don???t want to be blamed for when the sh??? hits the fan because ???don???t look at me, the idea wasn???t mine???. If ???=???; then you should consider: no upgrades allowed, drop the internet connection NOW etc.
    - If business decision makers decides how the companies??? IT solutions should be designed. Note! The solution, not single services.
    - If IT departments by deciding techniques decides how to use IT and run business.

    But, if IT departments don???t bring innovation, join evolution and start listen to and understand business needs the business decision makers AND users will decide what they want to use. The CIO role is ???oh so??? important ??? translate tech<>business.

    You might say millions of users are affected but which company has millions of own users? If a cloud service stops your company will be affected (the rest of the millions isn???t your problem). If your local systems stop your company will be affected (this is your problem only). But if you as a service provider have millions of users you will do EVERYTHING to get the service ok again and you most probably have the resources to solve the problem. This might not always be the same with a local system operated by local IT departments.

    Deal with the cloud. Be innovative and listen to the organizational needs. Find the best service to the best price, vouch for security, reliability and availability and tell the pros and cons. Otherwise the IT department has to deal with the problem of a fragmented IT solution??? and then you definitely get blamed.

    At the same time; if these problems exist you most probably have a management problem too.

  • Oh no, another disruptive, game-changing, whole new paradigm

    How many have we had so far this week?

    A cloud of platitudinous cliches is obscuring my company vision.

    But my BS bingo card is full. HOUSE!
  • But maybe you don't need innovation?

    I can think of one company that has been in business since 1398 basically making the same product (apart from one radical technical change at the start of the 20th century). They do no advertising but nevertheless have become popular far outside their home city through word of mouth about the quality of their products.

    Do I expect this company still to be in business in 2112? I believe so. How many disruptive, gamechangers will still be in business then? Not many I think,
  • Hi Phil

    Clearly you know nothing about technology or what a business needs. Are you really a consultant and "thought leader"? Rather humble of you to say so. Personally, I can 'lead' my own thoughts and they lead to this:

    Just because the internet works for Facebook, MSN, Gmail and DropBox, does not mean it works for every application. Let's say that SAP is offered as a cloud service (with all the drivel being spouted I'm sure that is not far away), do you as a business really want to hand off, not just your financial data, but your asset, inventory, logistical and departmental data (and more besides)? If your organisation has adopted SAP, you are now literally offloading your entire company to a 'trusted' third party and relying exclusively on outside support. Internal IT depts are already in a trusted position, hanlding data and passwords and personal information, by and large with discretion. Offload that to a third party, who theoretically deals with thousands of different clients and has no loyalty to your company/brand and how much do you think they will care about little old you? Even if they do care, support is based in most organisations on tiers of severity. A service desk can do little about that. If you are a smaller business, the bigger business having difficulty will win out, just like the bigger customer will always win out in our current IT support models. Its also not as if data leaks and hackss are unheard of, so what if someone succeeds in gaining access to or control of a large 'cloud' provider. You are finished. If data is lost, do you think the cloud provider will be held responsible - no no no. If you believe that any company should expose itself to such liability you are dreaming and we are talking about liabilities on both sides. What about the fact that your company is now trusting in a single point of failure.

    Problem with cloud provider = problem for you
    Problem with data line = problem for you

    And if the cloud provider goes under, how are you supposed to claw back all the systems and services you chose to sell out and bring them back within your companies walls? When you have only a single point of failure how do you plan for contingencies exactly? We haven't even touched on the speed we are giving up - gigabit availability with multi gbit backbones vs a few meg pipe shared between all employees for all access. LUNACY! You think bandwidth and costs will improve so significantly? I thknk not. We are also only talking about systems - what about our millions of documents, are they to be 'thrown outside' as well?

    Which brings us to the easiest part of this - what exactly is wrong with the systems companies have built and invested in for themselves already? They are customised to each companies requirements, they are backed up, they are highly available, often with double or triple redundancy and they are managed by employees who have been selected to do their specific job.

    A lot of 'buzzwords' thrown around by clueless consultants, 'technology' writers and 'thought leaders', but little in the way of actual solid real world examples and NO discussion whatsoever about the glaringly obvious problems with such blase attitudes to IT and technology, which business leaders will freely admit, they often do not understand. You are doing a great disservice by promoting as 'inevitable' something which is in fact completely 'unworkable'.

    None of the above issues can be addressed with any amount of words, or platitudes. We all know examples of BIG companies being hacked one after another. We all know of ISP and internet connection downtime, routing issues and a multitude of other possible problems with this model. I very much doubt you can provide a suitable case to refute this.
    • "Facebook"

      Doing some searching the other day, somebody made an interesting comment...

      "OK Cupid is just a cheap version of Facebook".

      Which is interesting, given OK Cupid has been around rather a lot longer... the only real difference is Facebook's appearance...

      It's interesting that two virtually identical-in-scope services differ only in the user interface... the only real difference is Facebook isn't for dating. But you get screwed all the same... :)

      But that story aside, yours was a great post. Especially your third through fifth paragraphs.

      "If it isn't broke, don't fix it".

      Companies want to save "costs", but when the downward spiral causes a crash, they might regret the desire to delegate for the sake of perceived savings.

      And costs for data lines won't go down. They can compel workers to work for $0.01/hr and costs still won't go down. The difference will be pocketed as "profit" for all the shareholders to drool about, before the higher-ups cash in.

      Still, who said we are an "ownership society"? Nobody I know of, based on actions that companies have been taking. Of course, we might end up being "owned", in the context of "pwned"...
  • Not really

    Cloud is most disruptive to IT when it is the user base adopting cloud services and opening up the organization to potential problems through a Shadow IT arrangement.

    Yes cloud means transformative change -- but not just for IT. It takes away part of the scapegoat for business as well. IT is not the one to blame when you mess up.

    Time for some perspective realignment.
  • So I guess

    It's the IT dept's fault the move to the cloud has not been as fast and furious as the consultants have been predicting for the last 3 years?

    Or, could it be all the very valid points brought up by the other posters here?

    Yeah, I think it's the valid points, too.
  • cloud computing

    The cloud isn't a replacement as much as a vehicle for changing the role of I.T. How much you put on the cloud depend on what you want to accomplish. Most cloud enabled apps on computing devices are packaged in such a way that they are 'intelligent' enough to detect connectivity. But sadly, it requires a lot of local device/client level components to enable offline access and lot of cost and engineering to make the necessary 'sync'. This is one big advantage of Microsoft, when compared with other players like google. <a href> ERP software </a>