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Attention CIOs: When It Comes To The Cloud, What Got You Here Will Get You There

Rely on your experience and expertise when it comes to new technology adoption.

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Marshall Goldsmith, an executive coach to the corporate elite, is the author of the very popular book called What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. And while the title may be true as it relates to your individual career path, I have news for C-suite executives everywhere: it is not true when it comes to adopting new technology. In fact, what got you here – to your current state of success – is precisely what will get you to the next level. The problem is, as CIOs and IT professionals, we sometimes allow ourselves to be pressured into acting contrary to what we know is the right thing to do.

Here’s what happens. A CEO approaches a CIO and says (in a nutshell), “What’s our cloud strategy? We have to get everything into the cloud.” The CEO has read the analysts, seen the marketing materials, been to the trade shows, and talked to peers. Is it any wonder that he or she comes to the CIO with an urgent “let’s-move-it-all-before-we-get-left-behind” deliverable? The cloud is the newest, latest, greatest, sexiest thing out there. It has benefits galore. Let’s get in on this. Now.

What do you, as a CIO or IT professional, do when you find yourself shanghaied into one of these conversations? Well, here are three different tactics you might want to employ.

Remember that when it comes to technology, “sexy” is a very temporary condition
The first approach I’d like to suggest is to look at the past – to remind people of the sexy technologies of years gone by. For instance …

Back when the world was young, there were mainframes. Everything was centralized and highly controlled. Then, a bunch of hippies got together in Berkeley and on the west coast, and soon the decentralized data centers were born, founded on the Unix platform.

Time went on, and we started to leverage information-based systems for certain applications. We gained the ability to logically and virtually partition Unix systems.

We came full circle about ten years ago as we started to recentralize again. Then, suddenly, virtualization broke onto the scene. And with virtualized servers, it was just one short step to cloud computing.

Here’s the point you want to emphasize: each of these technologies, in its day, was considered the newest, latest, greatest, sexiest thing out there. The cloud is just the latest to arrive on the scene. We shouldn’t treat it any differently than anything that has gone before.

Look at the business – not the technology
That brings us to the second tactic: pointing to the sound business principles that brought you to where you are today as a company, through all the changes in technology that have taken place over the years.

As a CIO or IT professional, you know that technology exists to enable business. The cloud and everything else are tools: not magic wands. As such, your business will need some tools and won’t need others. There is no “all-in-one” tool that is appropriate all of the time for every situation.

To know what tool to use – and the cloud is no exception – you engage in tried and true business analysis by asking questions such as:

  • What is the business problem we’re trying to solve to?
  • How will leveraging this technology differentiate us in the marketplace?
  • How would this new technology fit into our overall IT strategy?
  • What's the cost to implement the technology? How will we fund that? Is it cap-ex or op-ex?
  • What are the maintenance efforts and resources required for the new environment?
  • How soon will we experience a return on investment in terms of business value?
  • What are the compliance requirements? The security requirements?
  • How will we ensure disaster recovery, business continuity, and overall resiliency?

These are the same questions you would ask with regard to any other technology purchase, whether a storage subsystem, a server, an IBM I-series, etc. The cloud should be no exception. Use these questions to help keep everyone’s feet on the ground when they get stars in their eyes about the cloud. Take it one cool, logical step at a time.

Expose the underlying expectations and beliefs
Finally, if you feel yourself pressured, you may need to push back by exposing people’s underlying (and often mistaken) expectations and beliefs, such as:

  • “The cloud is going to solve all our business ills.” No, it won’t. For example, it will not fix processes that are themselves ill-conceived, nor will it automatically increase sales and revenue.
  • “Everything – 100% of all our data, systems, platforms, applications, and processes – should be put in the cloud.” Not any time soon, and possibly never. Some data or systems or applications are best left in their current non-cloud state, perhaps for security reasons, or because the cost involved in migration, or because they would not perform as well in the cloud. A hybrid IT environment is a reality to be embraced – not a problem to be solved.
  • “You have to get on the ball with this cloud thing!” Gently remind people that your IT department has been moving data, applications, and systems to the cloud strategically and systematically already. The fact that not everything that can be there is there yet does not mean you are not on top of matters.

Be direct when using any of these three tactics. Be candid. But be calm. As a CIO or IT professional, you have a responsibility to your company to be the voice of reason in the middle of the cloud fog. Remind people that the cloud is simply an enabling technology, like all the technologies that preceded it. Point out that the same business principles you apply to all IT investments must be applied to the cloud as well. Expose misconceptions or false expectations about the cloud for what they are. Do not – I repeat, do NOT – allow yourself to be pressured into taking action that is not considered, strategic, and beneficial to your organization as a whole.

Trust yourself. You know more about the cloud and technology in general than anyone else in your organization. It’s your job. You know how to do it well. Rely on your experience and expertise: what got you here will get you there.

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