Cloud research exposes gaps between CIOs and business leaders

New research on cloud adoption brings forth significant perception gaps between business executives and IT leadership.
Written by Michael Krigsman, Contributor

We often hear that IT is not aligned with the business, which is a catchall concept loosely meaning that business leaders and IT folks do not understand each other's goals. 

Cloud research exposes gaps between CIO and business leaders
Portrait of a CIO who can't believe this is happening. (Credit: Michael Krigsman)

Although differences in perspective and goals between these groups do exist, the gaps are difficult to measure, quantify, or even describe precisely. Nonetheless, these differences in goals and expectations are real.

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A recent survey on cloud adoption presents an interesting view of the perception gap between IT and business executives. Although the survey focuses on issues such as on-premise upgrades and availability of technical resources, the best stuff is buried in a single graphic.

Enterprise performance management vendor Host Analytics sponsored a survey (PDF download), by Dimensional Research, that describes certain drivers of cloud adoption.

Although off-center from the survey's primary intent, the following graphic provides a rich source of important data on IT/business alignment in relation to the cloud:

Cloud research Big gaps between CIO and business leaders
(Credit: Host Analytics)

Let's parse this chart, starting from the top:

  • The cloud solution better met our compliance requirements--business: 14 percent; CIOs: 58 percent. Ostensibly, the data suggests that CIOs think the cloud can help with compliance while business people don't see an advantage. However, it's also possible that the business people don't really understand what the compliance requirements actually are, in which case, the question itself is largely irrelevant to the business side

  • The cloud alternative delivered better value--business: 80 percent; CIOs: 53 percent. Although the phrase "better value" is vague, most likely business people interpret this to mean "less expensive". This makes sense because many business folks see cloud as a means to bypass IT and purchase computing at lower cost. On the other hand, the data indicates that CIOs recognize that software alone is only part of the overall cost equation for enterprise technology

  • The cloud solution offered greater competitive advantage--business: 13 percent; CIOs: 51 percent. This one is kind of sad--in effect, business people see the cloud as offering little more than cheap software with no competitive advantage. On the positive side, 51 percent of the CIOs surveyed recognize that cloud offers benefits beyond moving servers out of closets down the hall

  • We choose cloud applications whenever possible as part of our cloud strategy--business: 14 percent; CIOs: 42 percent. Once again, the differences between business and IT are striking. Most likely, business respondents have no articulated cloud strategy, and buy whatever solution is cheapest and gets the job done in the very short term. CIOs, however, often have a strategy intended to embrace the cloud cautiously over time

  • We had no requirement for cloud or on-premise, but the cloud solution we chose met our requirements better--business: 12 percent; CIOs 35 percent. The response suggests that the enterprise line of business-buyers purchase cloud products despite believing that the products have shortcomings. Since many of these buyers are abandoning highly-tailored and feature-rich enterprise solutions, this viewpoint makes sense. In other words, business executives are willing to trade off features and business fit for lower cost. The CIOs possess a broader set of requirements, including labor and cost efficiencies, which explains their greater overall satisfaction with cloud solutions.

Advice for CIOs

The survey highlights several important points for CIOs to consider, including:

        1. Business buyers don't care about your IT agenda: As CIO, your technology focus includes a broad range of considerations that are of little direct interest to business executives. Most business folks don't care about your infrastructure, staffing, and efficiency concerns. They want feature rich applications that meet their specific needs. And, they want those apps cheap.

        2. Business buyers have a tactical view of technology procurement: Their concerns focus narrowly on solving specific problems, perhaps without a long-term or strategic view of technology. The clear implication: address their specific needs without adding your back office constraints heavily to the mix. Find a way to handle your own constraints without binding users into solutions that do not accomplish their goals.

        3. Users need education on strategic cloud benefits: Based on the survey, we can conclude that users do not understand that cloud benefits go far beyond lower cost. Both IT departments and software vendors must do a better job educating users on the innovation and business process benefits of the cloud. And, dear CIO, I must delicately note that your staff may also need additional education in this area.

The bottom line

Despite the growth of cloud, large gaps exist between user and IT expectations. Since the focus is technology, it is incumbent on CIOs and vendors to help educate these business users. The survey sends a clear warning to every CIO: evaluate the degree to which your users understand the strategic benefits of technology, especially on complex and important issues, such as cloud. Failure to do so will perpetuate user perceptions of IT as a cost center and contribute to decline in IT value.

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Update 1/22/13: Consultant, Carlos Francavilla, has translated this article into Spanish and added his own commentary.

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