It is becoming clearer how the cloud will really change the role of IT

One of the many questions frequently posed by IT leaders in relation to cloud computing asks which services should, and which should not, be moved into the cloud.

It’s a challenge facing government – as Chris Chant, the director of Whitehall’s G-Cloud programme, told Computer Weekly recently.

But it’s equally an issue for individual organisations, not to mention entire industries. Swift, the global banking network, is looking into the potential for offering standardised cloud services to the financial services community. Swift even suggests that a service such as internet banking could be run as a shared operation used by many banks.

At that level, the question becomes one about the very role of IT in the modern company.

It is already becoming common thinking for CIOs that the cloud is most relevant for commodity IT services, such as storage or perhaps even e-mail. But Swift’s example suggests that we may not be far from the stage when commoditised services across entire industries become delivered through a single community cloud.

In such a scenario, the only IT retained by individual organisations would be that which contributes directly to competitive advantage. A clear differentiation then starts to emerge between IT as a utility, and IT as a driver of change and enabler of growth – and from an IT professional’s perspective, even a differentiation between the skills needed to keep the lights on, and those needed for innovation.

As outsourcing became increasingly accepted, one of the challenges was always keeping a balance between those two tasks. Not many IT leaders were able to get that balance right – and that has often been one of the criticisms of government IT, where many experts feel too much was outsourced, and not always the right things.

So now we start to see what the true challenges of the cloud will be. It is not a technical issue, it is one of commercial and strategic priorities, and one which will ultimately go to the heart of how technology will support tomorrow’s businesses.