Goodbye, rack-and-stack administrators; hello cloud architects (and hand-holders)

At a recent summit, CIOs described their organizations' cloud journeys.

Three or four years ago IT departments and leaders were "not in the conversation" when it came to cloud service implementations. Now, organizations are looking to their IT people for leadership in what is turning out to be a new direction for their businesses.

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Photo: Joe McKendrick

If you're looking for evidence that IT leaders and departments have assumed a much different role in recent years thanks to cloud, look no further than the CIOs participating in the recent Cloud Business Summit, held in New York and hosted by Saugatuck Technology.

"A few years ago when cloud first started, when I talked with CIOs, the question about security seemed to be more about job security," remarked Charlie Burns, analyst with Saugatuck and moderator of a panel on cloud infrastructure concerns. "People getting past that."'

Accordingly, IT is taking on the role of catalyst, proponent, and sherpa for the advance into digital enterprises, Burns continued. "We pretty much all understand that the IT infrastructure has the ability to either be the enabler or the restraint on moving to digital business."

There is plenty of movement in this direction. Joe Crawford, executive director at Verizon, reports that one CIO he recently spoke with reports his company is "moving everything to the cloud over the next three quarters -- hundreds and hundreds of applications."

Joe Fuller, CIO of Dominion Enterprises, details how his department supports 38 business units, hosting two data centers. The company's evolution to cloud came "not a result of an edict that came down from on high of 'thou shalt go to the cloud,' but rather shadow IT coming from the developers up that got us to the cloud. Developers, instead of waiting four days for new servers to be stood up, just pulled out their credit cards to initiate their new system and stand up point servers or whatever they wanted. As a CIO, my challenge was to coral this IT activity -- manage what kind of activity is going on, and how much money is being spent."

In the process, Fuller's department has evolved from traditional IT into broker of cloud services. "It was the users in there and us catching up, now were trying to get ahead of it," he says. We're monitoring it and consolidating billing. We are trying to change ourselves to cloud architects instead of rack-and-stack administrators. Our goal is to help our business units, because when some of these departments start doing IT, you get a bell curve -- some do it great, others not so great."

Despite this increasing acceleration of cloud in enterprises, IT still needs to be available for a great deal of hand-holding. "I don't see the lines of businesses themselves, but I do see the level of education is growing," says Ed Beesley, CIO for North America at SGS. "People are fully aware that I'm the cloud provider, so they'll come to me. I think they're kind of nervous about going to cloud, about the cloud really being secure. You can't outsource security, or assume something is secure."

Fuller agrees that user education is extremely important as enterprises adopt cloud and digital platforms. "Over the years vendors have brought in their security solutions to us, telling us how wonderful their intrusion detection or whatever is," he says. "We found that writing a big check for a piece of software in the system is okay, but educating employees is better." Fuller adds that his department reinforces user education by sending out a test spam, "and when someone clicks on it, they get a video of me wagging a finger at them. Education has become as critical as anything else."

Beyond security, businesses need guidance from IT on leveraging cloud to transform their businesses. "As much as I said the consumerization of IT has helped people understand technology, it's still a challenge for us, ironically, to get people to think differently and look at the cloud as changing the ways they do business," says Beesley. "We still struggle with that. How do you manage that change?"