How to manage inflated cloud computing expectations

Cloud computing can play a key role in transforming the business, but inspired, collaborative leadership -- not tools and technologies -- is what ultimately wins in the market.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

The crew in the engine room of the Titanic really did a fantastic job of delivering top performance and keeping things running efficiently.

Clouds and moon-October 2013 photo by Joe McKendrick
Photo: Joe McKendrick

But the ultimate success of the voyage depended on the ship's crew up above—steering things safely in the right direction, taking advantage of all information available to them. IT, in many ways, is tasked with running the engine room, but then gets blamed when the ship runs into trouble.

The Titanic analogy came to mind when reading Philippe Abdoulaye's account of a hypothetical (and likely composite) company that does all the right things with IT, and gets great results with its implementation. But the company is still running aground wondering why things aren't going as planned.  The good news is unlike the engine room crew of the ill-fated Titanic, IT leaders are in a position to influence the new course of the business—but they can't do it alone.

In his case study, Abdoulaye, an IT consultant and author of Cloud Computing: Advanced Business and IT Strategies, presents a familiar challenge arising in many organizations: As cloud begins to take hold and is seen as the first option for the design and implementation of new business processes, expectations soar.

However, the problem cited in Abdoulaye's case study was that despite process improvements and lower IT costs as a result of a migration to a cloud-based CRM system, the company still lost market share.

In other words, many in the business thought that moving to the cloud would magically deliver increased competitiveness and market share. All the metrics said "great implementation - everyone loves it!" But the business did not change. A classic mistaken assumption made many times over the past couple of decades as companies made heavy technology bets. Technology is a tool, a resource, to help get you where you want—but it's up to the business to to steer things in the right direction.

Abdoulaye makes the following observations, providing guidance to help IT leaders manage cloud expectations:

Cloud computing is great, but everyone is adopting it—so it's not a differentiator by itself; it's merely leveling the playing field. Technology implementations and advantages need to be augmented by transformation on the business side—Abdoulaye describes it, for example, as "a lean organization focused on innovation and on the company’s core competency."

It's up the business—the entire enterprise, working together—to achieve success in the market. Make it priority to help break down organizational barriers, get everyone on the same page.

Transforming IT in itself is not a risky or expensive proposition. It has been setting itself up to be more flexible and agile for years now—through approaches ranging from service-oriented architecture to agile metholodgies.“The purpose of methodologies and frameworks in IT and business transformation is to provide the logic , the tools, and collaboration framework needed to mitigate risks, control cost and time so that targeted business objectives are achieved,” says Abdoulaye. “Destabilized by the time-to-market imperatives, folks from both the business and IT  tend to confuse speed with haste and make improvised decisions.”

Start with small steps. Cloud can be disruptive, so take an "incremental deployment of organizational changes and cloud services," says Abdoulaye. Start with pilot experiments, and get both business and IT leaders working together to plan the changes, communicate changes to the rest of the organization, and monitor the project's progress.

In Abdoulaye's case study, IT leaders went along with focusing on the success of cloud in saving money, increasing efficiency and increasing time to market. But business success also requires inspired leadership above and beyond the mechanics of IT. 

(Footnote: by all accounts, the Titanic's engine room staff were heroes, remaining at their posts and keeping the ship powered until the very end.)

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