Cloud isn't making IT irrelevant; IT is doing that itself

Not keeping ahead of user demand gives users rein to go ahead on their own.

Just to clear up an issue from yesterday, when I wrote that cloud computing was taking control of IT away from IT people: Cloud computing is not pushing IT into irrelevance; IT is doing that on its own.

Despite long experience and an extensive array of best-practice processes to control development, deployment and use of technology inside the corporation, IT really is losing control of its own domain through the cloud, primarily because it can't keep up the ability of its own users to adapt.

[Also see: Programming for Cloud Computing: What's Different]

I wrote a bit about that yesterday, focusing on the speed with which CIOs are being pushed to migrate to cloud and SAAS apps, to keep ahead of their own clients, if for no other reason.

Eighty seven percent of business managers surveyed by Forrester said they dedicate a part of their budgets for IT services totally independent of IT and the security, compliance and price controls that are accessory benefits to having an IT department in the first place.

Standing in line for new systems from internal IT takes longer than just buying them yourself; with so many SAAS and cloud services out there, business managers can be excused from thinking only IT's inability to respond quickly is keeping them from getting the apps they really want.

What they get is IT that's generic by design – standardized for 100 customers rather than customized for one, which makes internal workflow less efficient because the way the company does things has to adhere to Salesforce software rather than the other way around.

Having IT anyone can buy also plays into the cul de sac Nicholas Carr was talking about in 2003 when he wrote "IT Doesn't Matter."

He got slammed from all over from that, but no one every contradicted Carr's main point: if everyone can buy the IT you're using, no matter how smart it is, the technology itself can't give you any unique advantages.

By definition technology that's available to everyone is a commodity; only IT that provides unique capabilities or uniquely helps an organization adapt its own processes can really provide a competitive advantage.

The key is difference; not everyone should be able to do what you do. If they can, it's not an advantage.

According to IDC, 80 percent of new enterprise apps being developed this year will be developed for the cloud rather than traditional data centers.

That's a lot of movement toward the cloud, even if the bulk of it is custom development tuned to one specific company.

Handled correctly, thinking about the cloud and SAAS apps as a legitimate part of the IT infrastructure – that have to be secured, backed up, managed by policies for security, compliance, availablity and resource use – the cloud becomes the flexible, easily accessible portion of an IT infrastructure every CIO ever wanted.

Handled incorrectly – allowing business unit managers to buy the apps they want without any controls, coordination or integration – and IT will quickly lose not only control over what happens to its data, but will lose even an idea of how many SAAS apps are using that data.

IDC Analyst Rick Villers suggests using "shared cache" as a fourth leg of the infrastructure currently made up of servers, storage and networks.

He's talking about a literal cache that allows for much higher performance of distributed systems that can read/write into what is essentially a giant pool of RAM rather than waiting to talk to individual storage arrays with individual bits of data.

Shared cache works better as a metaphor, though, with IT as the cache from which apps can be ordered quickly, VMs can be spun up transparently, licenses can be bought, managed and paid for according to metered use, contracts with external providers can go through due diligence to troubleshoot SLA and cost portions, and all the security, compliance and other policies can be created, housed and applied across all a corporation's internal and external cloud-based infrastructure.

In that role IT does asset management, contract and vendor supervision, contract negotiations, service monitoring and all the other levels of oversight IT provides for services it outsources itself.

IDC SAAS and cloud analyst Robert Mahowald predicts IT will become a broker of cloud services to the business units. That can only happen if it's easier to get a cloud app from IT than directly – something that's extremely rare right now.

The cloud is so disruptive, adoption of it is moving so fast, and IT organizations are so traditionally unfocused on dynamic organization and management of their own processes, rather than managing the technology, that it is the organization and management of IT itself that is holding back some of the migrations, weakening IT's control over enterprise cloud assets, and making their own future role a lot more tentative than it has to be.

By saying yesterday that the cloud is removing IT's control over its own technology and IT is helping by stonewalling business managers until they go around it, I wasn't saying cloud technology itself is pushing IT into more marginal roles.

IT is doing that itself, by not staying ahead of the needs of the user base and figuring out ways to deliver the cloud functions users need without losing the mechanisms of control that IT and corporate governors also need.

Part of the reason is that management tools and platforms aren't advanced enough to provide solid, granular monitoring and management of virtual and cloudish assets on many different platforms.

The rest of the reason is that IT managers are better at reconfiguring systems than organizations.

Consumerization of IT became a big deal because non-IT departments changed the way they did things to take advantage of the capabilities of smartphones, tablets and the cloud.

IT-icization of the cloud is being held back by IT's inability to adapt itself that quickly.

Carr is right that IT doesn't matter from a competitive standpoint, if your company uses the same tech everyone else does.

The uniqueness, the competitive advantage available from technology sometimes comes from IT so new and smart no one else can make it work yet.

More often it comes from a combination of slightly advanced technology whose effect is multiplied by good strategic planning from both business and IT to make sure the organization can change to take the greatest advantage of some shiny new thing.

So far – at least when it comes to cloud – IT's efforts and organization haven't caught up to the potential of the systems it is building.

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