Cloud for Cloud’s Sake

February 21, 2013 Appirio

By Glenn Weinstein (@glennweinstein)
CIO, Appirio


It’s popular in consulting circles to reframe technology questions in business terms.  Often, after a few minutes of good deep technical conversation, someone will chime in with something like “well, what’s really important is improving business outcomes” or “it’s not just the technology, it’s about the people and the process.”

All true, of course.  It’s a variant on another common theme in the software industry, “don’t sell features, sell value.”  I admit I quickly get bored, and lose context, when a vendor comes in spouting features before telling me why they are important, or what problem they solve.

All that said, though, the technology is important, and it’s important for its own sake.  I see this as a “necessary but not sufficient” scenario, with emphasis on the “necessary” part – the right technology is definitely necessary, even if it’s not sufficient by itself to prove business value.

So I want to focus on the technology for a moment.  There is an irreducible benefit to the cloud computing model (my definition:  multi-tenant and vendor-hosted) that sets the foundation for all you build on top.  Start with the wrong foundation, and you’re building a house of cards.

But start with the right foundation, and all kinds of goodness comes your way.  Without even trying, you’ll be more likely to achieve the kinds of business outcomes for which we all ultimately invest in IT.  A CIO that communicates, and bases decisions on, a “cloud first” procurement policy will create an IT environment where 6 good things happen:

  1. IT managers will tend towards saying “yes” (or “maybe”) rather than “no” to business requests, because the level of friction involved in spinning up new development environments is so low.
  2. Developers will be more inclined to experiment with different approaches
  3. IT staff will focus creative energies on solving business problems, not obsessing over hardware, networks, and infrastructure.
  4. Customers (business users) will trust that IT will supply frequent iterative releases, so they’re not so inclined to insist on lengthy analysis-by-paralysis requirements processes that cover every imaginable scenario.
  5. Users will get used to best-in-class reliability and scalability, and credit IT with providing such a high-performance set of tools.
  6. Managers will be inclined to try to expand successful programs quickly, knowing that the cost of doing so is limited merely to purchasing additional seats, not scaling up data centers and servers and potentially pushing homegrown applications beyond their designed capacity.

Cloud is good for its own sake.  As a CIO, I’d make it the entering argument.  Explicitly choosing a non-cloud alternative means you’re willing to buck the trend and try to achieve the above dynamics in your IT shop by yourself. 

As a consultant myself, I’ll be the first one to make the argument that technology must be connected to business benefits in order to be worth the investment.  That said, once that connection is made, the technology selection itself is critically important to the kind of IT department, and the kind of CIO, you want to be.

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