Closing the Cloud Gap Between IT and the C-Suite

Don Tennant
Slide Show

How Well Do You Know the Cloud?

Just when we thought IT and the business were finally starting to get their alignment act together, everything started to fog over again when the cloud arrived. The two constituencies have significantly different interests and concerns with respect to cloud computing, and that’s making it difficult for a lot of businesses to take advantage of what the cloud has to offer.

Part of the problem, of course, is what’s commonly referred to as “Airline Magazine Syndrome,” the phenomenon exemplified by the stereotypical CEO reading about some razzle-dazzle technology on his flight, and when he gets back to the office he grills IT about why the company hasn’t adopted that technology, and he drives IT crazy. That’s certainly the situation that a lot of IT departments are facing with respect to the cloud.

I spoke about all of this earlier this week with a couple of guys from Eden Prairie, Minn.-based cloud services provider Datalink. Jim Leslie, Datalink’s executive vice president of business development, and Kent Christensen, the company’s virtualization practice manager, have found that when they say “cloud,” the C-suite hears one thing, and IT hears something else altogether.

Leslie did a good job of encapsulating the problem:

There’s a disconnect between what the executive team wants, and how IT interprets that and how IT is able to deliver against it. What the business is asking for is variable cost, on-demand resources, significant agility to support the growth of the business. And when IT hears “cloud,” what IT hears is compliance issues; sunk cost vs. variable cost; third parties that may or may not be reliable; operational systems that are not conducive to operating with that sort of capability. They may not have a service catalog defined that allows them to deliver the services in the way the business wants to consume them.

I asked if it’s a matter of IT dragging its feet when it comes to the cloud. Leslie said that may be the case on some level, but he said it’s not that IT is unmotivated:

It’s that what the business wants is pretty simple, but what it takes to produce it is anything but simple. IT has a different perception of what cloud means, and what it takes to be able to deliver that service. So business and IT are not communicating on the same level, and the business isn’t having to concern itself with the complications that IT faces—they just want the end product. And here’s where the risk for IT is: The business is now prepared, much more so than ever in the past, to go buy that service from a third party if IT can’t deliver what it wants, when it wants it.

Christensen elaborated on that:

There probably is significant Airline Magazine Syndrome, both at the C-level and the business unit. The business unit feels empowered to go out and make choices on their own. It is perceived as IT not being on the same page and not replying fast enough. And some of that is due to things that are written [in the media], that you’re going to go to the cloud and those [IT] guys can’t adapt. But what we’re finding is they’re just more methodical about it.

I asked whether Datalink’s cloud sales and marketing effort targets the C-suite, IT or both. Leslie said both:

It’s very clear: There are two very distinct audiences that we’re talking to. We talk to the CIO and other business executives, because by and large, the CIO understands the business impact that IT is expected to deliver. And then we’re also talking to the directors and managers and administrators who are actually making all of this stuff work.

I asked what the difference is between Datalink’s sales and marketing approaches to IT and to the C-suite. Leslie said it all has to do with what those constituencies are looking to get:

The senior executives are interested in business impact, so they want to hear about agility, variable cost, immediate access to resources, immediate cost savings when those resources are no longer needed, the ability to try things without having long-term commitments. So that’s what the business wants. And what the IT managers and directors are looking for are things like proof that it works, best practices around operations, help in defining a service catalog that meets what the business is looking for and that IT can afford to deliver; insight into what third parties are doing so they can integrate in third-party cloud providers where appropriate, and where compliance and security are sufficient.

Christensen added that it’s all about helping those constituencies to bridge the gap:

So if I’m [talking to the IT] side, we say because of Airline Magazine Syndrome or whatever, [the business] might have unrealistic expectations. And we can work with business [executives] and say, “This is what we think is realistic today. Because we have experience, if you outsource, here will be the likely impact, both on compliance and cost, etc.” And at the same time, IT, in many, many organizations, is trying to do that POC [proof of concept] around cloud with no definitive business outcome. So we’re helping them say, “Let’s do that POC, but let’s have a definitive business outcome that they’re going to see the results from.” So we’re essentially trying to bridge that gap.

I asked whether it’s fair to say that Datalink tends to be more successful with the C-suite audience than with the IT audience. Christensen said it’s fair to say you can accelerate the project if you get the C-level on board faster.

So the opportunity in IT is to say [to the business], “Let’s make a positive incremental step that has an impact on the business, as opposed to a generic POC with results that are just good for [IT], and you go to the C-level and say, “Look, we can do this.” All of this is a big transformational change, and if you can get leadership from the top driving it, you’re going to go. The people that have gotten the most done the most quickly have had [buy-in from C-level] leadership.

My conversation with Leslie and Christensen also touched on the hype surrounding the cloud phenomenon. I’ll cover that in a forthcoming post.

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