Who’s shaping your cloud journey? The typical answer to this question is “our IT function”. Or even, “it would be our IT leaders but they currently see no need to move away from our traditional on-premise infrastructure.”
This is the wrong answer. Adopting the cloud is not an infrastructure decision; it’s a business decision. While the actuality of migrating to the cloud will be undertaken by IT, the cloud value case is very much one of business enablement. Yet time and time again, I see the IT tail wagging the business dog. And if IT is saying there are too many issues around adopting the cloud, such as the cybersecurity threat, or that the legacy IT platform is fit-for-purpose, who’s going to contradict them?
You might first ask why they should be contradicted. The simple answer to this is that a failure to adapt and transition to a new world of IT, in which the cloud features strongly, raises the very real possibility that your organization won’t survive in the coming years. It is thus clearly a business issue.
As an example, organizations in every sector, from government and banking, to retail and automotive, are taking the strategic decision to use digital to disrupt ways of working and improve the customer experience. But they can only take their digital transformations so far before they hit a wall. That wall is an inability to scale, to offer anytime, anywhere access to assets and services, and to change business models at pace the market dictates. Legacy platforms aren’t set up for this: the cloud is.
The genesis of cloud technologies was to provide the flexibility that is essential to compete in today’s fast-paced world. And while your IT function may argue that extending the current legacy model, for example with a major investment in a new platform, will keep you operational today, but that “new” infrastructure is likely to be redundant in a few years’ time. Then what?
This is precisely the sort of question that the board should be asking. But it isn’t. I’ve been looking into why this might be the case and believe that it boils down to two factors.
The first is a lack of a business use case for the cloud at board level. However, with the huge transformative potential of the cloud, there is no excuse for the board to be ill-informed about the business need. So who should be defining this use case?
It needs to involve everyone on the executive committee. The CEO is accountable for the whole business, so needs to understand the business continuity implications of a failure to adopt the cloud sooner, rather than later. The head of corporate strategy should have a point of view on how the cloud has the potential to support new revenue streams.
The director of marketing must appreciate the huge value to both brand and reputation of using cloud platforms and technologies to better engage with customers. It goes without saying that the CTO must have a position on this, and as the facilitator of an enterprise cloud strategy the CIO must be the link between business and IT. It is thus the shared responsibility of everyone to help shape the use case on which a cloud strategy can be built.
The second factor in the failure to challenge IT is also critical. Business leaders typically have a deep understanding of their own area of expertise, but not of the technology that underpins day-to-day operations. This singular lack of knowledge means that it is impossible to hold IT accountable for decisions about business-enabling technology.
Thus, I would argue that in the new world of digital and the cloud, everyone at the board level should inform themselves on the underpinning technology. This can be achieved in a number of ways, from personal online research and conversations with internal digital natives, to more high level guidance from strategic advisers or partners. What’s important is that every member of the board gains a perspective on data, security, performance, and business outcomes as they relate to cloud technologies.
It’s a whole new mind-set, a cultural shift. But unless this happens at the very highest levels in an organization, the cloud will only ever be “the next IT platform.” As such, it will fail to unleash the true potential of the cloud for your business.
(About the author: Richard Bowler is vice president of the Business & Technology Innovation Practice at Capgemini Consulting. This post originally appeared on his Capgemini blog, which can be viewed here)
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