Does the Cloud Render CIOs Irrelevant?

By Pam Baker

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The clouds are moving in, a storm front of lightening fast change. Its cresting waves threatening to drown corporate IT jobs in a sea of irrelevance. The CIO stands in the tempest wondering if his role, too, will be washed away. With all things IT inevitably moving to the cloud, how is an earthbound soul to affect the sky?

With this fear comes resistance. A last ditch effort to save one's job despite the overwhelming odds of keeping the perceived threat at bay. "There is much resistance to cloud adoption exerted by corporate IT," said Eugene Steinberg, CTO of Grid Dynamics, a professional services company that works on cloud projects with the likes of Macys.com, eBay, PayPal, and others. "Much of adoption today is 'bottom-up' where independent departments within an enterprise start using the cloud on a small scale or for POC level projects, with little governance from corporate IT."

Such resistance is not only futile, it's a self-destruct mechanism. The cloud is here to stay and refusing to leverage its agility and cost-savings can lead to being replaced by a CIO that will. On the other hand, botching cloud use is equally dangerous to career advancement.

"The CIO that uses cloud only as an infrastructure play will see their role diminish because they will be missing the boat on its true transformational benefits of creating cost efficiencies and making the business more agile," said Siki Giunta, vice president of Cloud Computing, CSC.

But, fear not, while the CIO's role is changing, it isn't ending in the vast majority of organizations, particularly large enterprises. CIO's may only feel like they've lost control as their information is strewn across multiple service providers. "However, they are still accountable and, as they define policies and procedures, educate their organizations and enforce policies, their role will become more important than ever before," said David Thompson, group president and CIO of Symantec Services Group. CIO's that can successfully address the security, compliance, and privacy challenges and enable their organization to take advantage of the emerging trends of cloud computing "will be the big winners in the era of the cloud."

Even so, it isn't entirely foolish to intuit that the cloud will have an affect on how the CIO works. The change will likely begin with the exodus of tech minions. "Ideally, the cloud will eliminate many low-level roles in technology organizations, which means more responsibility for leadership," said Ed Swiderski, an open source and cloud computing expert best known for receiving "the final rose" on last season's reality show The Bachelorette on ABC television.

"The CIO will need more trust from her colleagues than ever before, though she'll finally have a seat at the decision making table," he added. However, there are some instances in SMBS where the CIO position will disappear. Last year RedFly Limited decided to move all its sites, client sites and client applications to the cloud. Before the move, RedFly had one full-time systems administrator who was "constantly tweaking and putting out fires" on the company's six dedicated servers. After the move was complete, everything "felt wrong," said Dave Davis, RedFly's former CIO but now its managing director.

"It felt that we had lost an element of control," he explained. "How wrong we were. The CIO's role was gone almost overnight. We had, quite literally, nothing to worry about on the server side of things."

Davis reports that since the move to the cloud, company growth and revenue is up 30% and cost has dropped 600% with an untold recovery of downtime.

"Now that we're completely 'in the cloud,' server resources are just another utility cost to us," said Davis. "We can focus more on the day to day running of our business without worrying. It's just a bill, like electricity. [The CIO is effectively] now the CTO and has a lot more time to deal with specific and sometimes difficult issues."

A prolific and versatile writer, Pam Baker's published credits include numerous articles in leading publications including, but not limited to: Institutional Investor magazine, CIO.com, NetworkWorld, ComputerWorld, IT World, Linux World, Internet News, E-Commerce Times, LinuxInsider, CIO Today Magazine, NPTech News (nonprofits), MedTech Journal, I Six Sigma magazine, Computer Sweden, NY Times, and Knight-Ridder/McClatchy newspapers.She has also authored several analytical studies on technology and eight books. Baker also wrote and produced an award-winning documentary on paper-making. Baker is a member of the National Press Club (NPC), Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and the Internet Press Guild (IPG).