Cloud CIO: In Defense of Corporate IT

The threat that cloud computing poses to CIOs and IT professionals' careers does not stem from cloud computing rendering corporate IT departments irrelevant. Rather, it comes from CIOs' and IT professionals' failure to face the revolution that cloud computing brings and to assume much more important positions inside their firms.

By Bernard Golden
Wed, June 15, 2011

CIO — Last week's blog post, Cloud CIO: Yes, Your Job is at Risk, was one of the most widely-read—and definitely the most commented on—post I've ever written for CIO.com. Clearly, the discussion of cloud computing's effect on a CIO's career struck a nerve with readers.

One comment in particular stood out. The writer agreed with the piece, but took it a step further. She said when IT is truly a utility, a CIO is an unnecessary encumbrance who can be replaced by a contract administrator. In the future, this writer averred, smart software architects who can integrate the external services used to deliver IT functionality will be necessary, while "the CIO is increasingly just a person with business skills who does a turn in the IT ghetto until they move on to bigger things."

I don't want to pick a fight with the commenter, as the statement might have been made flippantly for effect, but the characterization of IT as a ghetto is akin to many pejorative descriptions of IT that we've heard in the past. It's a characterization that I strongly disagree with. In my view, IT is evolving into something far more important to companies than it has ever been before. Companies that treat IT like an afterthought, annoyance or unimportant backwater do so at their peril.

In the past, IT was a fairly isolated function primarily focused on transaction processing. After the "real work" of a company was done—i.e., a sale was made, a marketing campaign mailed, a widget manufactured, an invoice produced, an inventory updated— that activity would be captured in an application. IT was, essentially, the statement of record, where facts were stored.

Today, IT is far different. It touches every element of businesses. Marketing, for example, is increasingly carried out online, with sophisticated web interactions that result in analytic mining to understand lead- and buyer behavior. Sales today has no use for paper brochures, but instead allows reps, working onsite with customers, to do proposal generation based on product configuration and real-time viewing of supply chain data to determine potential ship dates.

These are just two examples. Dozens more could be identified. Simply put, IT has moved out of the back office and is now the basis of how companies operate every aspect of their business.

A compelling example of this showed up yesterday in the context of a story about whether public cloud computing is less expensive than internal IT. The company in question is eHarmony. It moved a Hadoop-based application from a public cloud provider to an in-house Seamicro array, and saved a bunch of money in the process. What was interesting to me about this story was not so much the economics (more on that in a moment) but the application eHarmony was running. To quote the article:

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