The pace of technological change is typically quite rapid. However, in most cases. a change in technology doesn’t cause a change in either the goals or the roles of the IT organization. For example, the ongoing adoption of continually higher speed Ethernet hasn’t changed how IT organizations design data center LANs nor has it changed the structure of the organization or the workflow within the organization.
Cloud computing is different. Cloud computing places a lot of pressure on IT organizations to take on new roles and to act very differently.
To understand the pressures that cloud computing place on the IT organization, it is important to realize that, in virtually all cases, a company’s business and functional managers don’t care about the IT infrastructure. What they care about are the applications and services that they use to run their business unit or their function. As such, in order for the IT organization to show value, it must be able to show that it can manage, secure and optimize the performance of these application and services.
There is nothing new about there being pressure on the IT organization to manage, secure and optimize the performance of business critical application and services. What is new is that an increasing number of these applications and services are provided, at least in part, by a cloud service provider (CSP). Hence, the new challenge facing IT organizations is the requirement to manage, secure and optimize applications and services whether or not the IT organization owns and controls the supporting infrastructure.
There is a temptation for IT organizations to walk away from this new challenge with the attitude that it isn’t possible to manage, control and optimize applications and services if you don’t own and control the underlying infrastructure. Unfortunately, that approach leads to the IT organization becoming increasingly irrelevant as companies make increasing use of public cloud computing.
By the way, it is interesting to realize that the BYOD movement presents similar challenges. In the case of BYOD, the IT organization no longer owns or controls the end users’ devices but is still expected to manage, secure and optimize applications and services that are accessed from these devices. And, as is the case with cloud computing, walking away from this expectation reduces the perceived value of the IT organization.
Another way that cloud computing puts pressure on IT organizations stems from the fact that a company’s business and functional managers are becoming increasingly aware of the fact that they can quickly acquire applications and services from CSPs. While there has always been pressure on IT organizations for agility, this realization on the part of business and functional managers dramatically increases that pressure in part because if the IT organization cannot deliver the desired applications and services in a timely manner, many business and functional managers are free to go around the IT organizations get what they need directly from CSPs.
In order to respond to this pressure, IT organizations must modify their traditional role of being the primary provider of IT services and to adopt a role in which they provide some IT services themselves and act as a broker between the company’s business unit managers and CSPs for other services. In addition to contract negotiations, the IT organization can add significant value by ensuring that the acquired application or service doesn’t create any compliance issues, exhibits acceptable performance, can be integrated with other applications as needed, can scale, is cost effective and can be managed.
None of this will be easy, but becoming irrelevant isn’t an acceptable option.
Image source: Flickr (Okinawa Soba)