What 'the cloud' really means to IT leaders

The IT director of a top City law firm told me recently that if he receives a sales call from an IT supplier and they mention the words “cloud computing”, he says no and puts the phone down.

It is fair to say that phrase has achieved notoriety in taking the shortest time from buzzword-creation to CIO-cynicism.

There is no shortage of opportunities for IT leaders to listen to suppliers telling them why they should be going into the cloud. Cloudwash has replaced greenwash as the focus for marketing brochure hype.

It is time, instead, to look at what IT managers are actually doing and listen less to conflicting and confusing advice from suppliers. Government CIO John Suffolk told a meeting of our CW500 IT leadership group that his research had come up with 22 different definitions of “cloud computing” – and none of them was right for his requirements, so he came up with a 23rd. He also said the G-cloud project to move public sector IT infrastructure to what we would call a cloud-based environment was so named because that was the “nomenclature of the day”.

So can we get rid of the cloud and look at the reality through a clear sky?

This thing we call the cloud is really nothing more than an emerging set of technologies that offer new options and innovations as part of the IT leader’s toolkit. The hype has caused a backlash that leads to undue concerns about “going into the cloud” because it is presented as such a major strategic shift for IT delivery. It doesn’t have to be that way.

For example, look at Imagination, a multinational firm whose experience has shown that a move to Google Apps has saved money, boosted productivity, and improved information security  – a real-life demonstration that some of the most frequently raised cloud concerns are unfounded. The lesson here is to start small, and look at what works for your organisation.

Undoubtedly there are tools and technologies represented by the cloud buzzword that offer potentially significant benefits and will be valuable elements in making companies more competitive and the public sector more efficienct – but it is down to CIOs to understand and apply those tools.

More than anything else, what “the cloud” really offers IT leaders is the opportunity to innovate.

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Bryan – couldn’t agree more with your comments. I recall with some amusement advising a small company against using the word “cloud” in their product naming convention due to the “overloading” of the term from the IT space. If we move away from the term for a second though, I think we can probably focus on a couple key goals for what IT should deliver: value, agility, responsiveness and capability to innovate. Too often, and oftentimes unfairly, IT is seen as impediments to these. If nothing else, I think IT ought to use external cloud services where appropriate, then co-opt the operating model and characteristics of the cloud providers for their own shop. Then, we might move the conversation from the clouds to true results.

Joe Tobolski, Accenture
It's an interesting issue - I think the problem with "Cloud" is that it is often used as an all-encompassing term - from being nothing more than an application framework or platform to inferring more of a conceptual notion of control techniques.

When talking to other IT people about the cloud I often find the view that moving a project to the cloud infers some loss of management and control - especially when cloud is used in the context of a managed service.

However, for smaller businesses where capital and maintenance budgets are stripped to the wire - a cloud infrastructure can offer a great middle ground as well as a measurable capacity for growth.