Five years ago, IT people were talking about the cloud with a sense of dread. If you essentially outsource all your technology work, what will be left for your IT staff to do? Before the cloud, you had to keep a close watch on your data storage capacity, and even then you had to deal with a lot of downtime as you procured and provisioned extra servers whenever you outgrew the old ones. Now, if you need more storage, it’s a simple matter of adjusting your rate. When there was no cloud, leaders from every department in your company had to come to you before taking on any initiatives with new technology. Far from having people in different departments waiting around for you to install new software now, though, you probably find that by the time you get there they’ve already subscribed to software services all on their own—and all from different providers.
Instead of eliminating all the tasks the CIO used to oversee, the cloud has transformed some, simplified others, and created a few completely new ones. All the sudden, you’re not just worrying about securing data stored on local servers. Instead, you’re forced to work through the policies and protections of multiple cloud companies. And bringing data from these disparate sources together for reports and analytics is yet another challenge. At the same time, though, many IT leaders are letting third-party software and infrastructure providers free them up to do the things they never had the bandwidth to get to before. Ideally, this is what the cloud is all about: allowing you to shift from provisioning and maintenance to a role that’s much more strategic and project-oriented.
The types of tasks CIOs are concentrating more on these days fall into three main categories:
Security and Compliance
When pretty much anyone can set up a OneDrive or Dropbox account, keeping track of who has what files can get really difficult. If you happen to be a healthcare organization and have to adhere to HIPAA regulations, this sort of thing can be a serious problem. And so it is with any regulatory framework. Even email providers have vastly different privacy policies, so it’s more important than ever that your business has ways to ensure information stays within the proper channels. This can be accomplished by making sure everyone’s using the same approved systems, or by keeping a close eye on sensitive information.
If departments or divisions within your business subscribe to software services or rely on off-site data storage, it’s also important to make sure they’ve all got the basic security concerns covered—things like strong passwords and well-managed permissions. When you throw mobile devices into the mix, you have an entirely new set of challenges. CIOs are thus spending more of their time looking into privacy policies and setting up protocols to ensure regulatory compliance. And they’re looking for ways to manage information and documents across multiple devices and platforms.
Integration and Business Intelligence
Each service that you subscribe to has to work in the environment that’s already established. Even within a single department, you’ll probably want certain systems to be integrated, like email and document-sharing software. Then there are the systems that need to communicate between departments, or even between your company and a partner’s company. You can address these challenges by planning upfront which systems and which providers your company is going to use. But new services are coming online all the time, so you’ll probably always be working to integrate them into your environment.
The other challenge when it comes to integration is creating working Business Intelligence strategies. Not only is your data no longer necessarily saved on the same servers; it’s probably not even saved in the same building—or the same state. Since the uses of data potentially go far beyond daily exchanges, you’re going to want to be able to bring everything together from all these disparate repositories to see what you can make of it all in aggregate. The cloud now offers several new options for tracking, analyzing, and reporting, but you still need to have channels in place to get data to where it can be most effectively used to make decisions about the company’s direction.
Aptera’s Cloud Services Practice Leader Eric Rupp tells a story about when he offered Managed IT Services through his own company some years ago. “I used to get calls from clients all the time, and they’d basically say, ‘Everything’s going great—what am I paying you for?’” Eric explains that things are done a little differently today. (Aptera’s Managed Services clients get regular reports, for instance.) But that question captures what cloud services have the potential to do—allow you to forget many of the daily worries about keeping your company’s systems up and running.
If you’re no longer focused on maintaining server farms, or on growing them to meet growing data requirements, then you can think about new ways to use that data. If your Managed Services provider has you covered when it comes to security and performance monitoring, then maybe you’ll have time to come up with ideas for new mobile apps to improve worker productivity or customer engagement. The idea is that the more of the routine provisioning and upkeep you outsource or automate the more time you’ll have to develop strategies for improving your business in the future.
Just as automation transformed factories over the course of the twentieth century, eliminating many job roles but creating a few new ones in the process, the internet and the cloud are now transforming IT. In both cases, the transition has led to some growing pains, as workers are forced to adapt to a changing environment. But the end point is an industry marked by greater efficiency and more rapid innovation. For CIOs, the move will be from focusing more on keeping the lights on, as it were, to creating more and better sources of illumination.