Cloud basics: Iterative development and the CIO's quest for value

The nature of cloud development can help CIOs climb higher on the business value chain.

The cloud offers CIOs a means to climb the difficult stairs higher onto the business value chain. 

Climbing the CIO value chain
Image credit: Steps climbing the business value chain, by Michael Krigsman

Separation between those performing the technical implementation and end users is a significant weakness of traditional on-premise enterprise implementations. This gap between technologists and line of business users is widened by the “waterfall” methodology of software development that is often used with on-premise software projects. The waterfall method emphasizes discrete phases of requirements gathering followed by periods of software development that takes place in isolation from users. In practice, the lack of collaboration inherent in this approach tends to make enterprise implementations relatively lengthy and frustrating for participants.

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In contrast, the point-and-click configuration of cloud software facilitates a culture of rapid prototyping based on strong collaboration with users, which makes for a more responsive implementation effort. Users and technologists working closely together, in short “agile” cycles create an opportunity for all parties see results more quickly.

After seeing quick results, users can offer feedback that helps consultants refine the configuration based on real business needs. Such iterative approaches tend to be faster and more efficient than the long waterfall cycles that give on-premise implementations a bad name. It is worth noting that some on-premise projects now use an iterative approach, hoping to achieve the rapid implementation benefits offered by cloud deployments.

No discussion of cloud and configuration is complete without explaining two impacts on upgrades. First, because users access cloud software through a Web browser, there is no local software to install or upgrade. The cloud vendor therefore performs all upgrades behind the scenes – new features simply show up, without any technical upgrade process or software installation.

Second, configuration changes on cloud software survive the vendor upgrade process intact, because they do not modify the underlying software code. In contrast, on-premise customers that customize code typically must undertake a re-programming effort as part of the upgrade, which makes on-premise upgrades expensive. Despite the cost, on-premise upgrades remain a necessity for many buyers, to ensure their system does not become outdated over time. In addition, when an on-premise vendor terminates support for a particular product version, customers may face a difficult choice: either accept the forced upgrade or risk no support for a mission-critical application.

Iterative approaches to cloud implementation help drive interactive working relationships across departmental lines and organizational boundaries, which reduces information silos and improves collaboration. Although many CIOs look to the cloud to reduce costs, we should not ignore the tremendous value that comes from helping drive collaboration and communication across departments and functions.

I discussed this issue with Dan Petlon, CIO of networking supplier Enterasys [disclosure: a current client]; Boston Business Journal recently named Dan CIO of the Year. According to Dan:

Iterative development gets the business invoved and ensures that IT builds what they need. Without active stakeholder involvement, you run the risk of not keeping pace with changing business requirements. Since every CIO wants to ensure alignment with the business, this kind of development is very important.

CIOs should recognize the cloud is a vehicle to drive strategic partnership between IT and the business. Given the tremendous weight of this goal, the cloud offers CIOs an unprecedented lever in the quest to climb higher on the business value chain. The cloud is truly an enabler of CIO value to the business.

This post is adapted from white papers I wrote for NetSuite.