Just How Strategic is the Cloud?
Most see cloud computing as a strategic move, but security is still a prime concern.
One of the recurring messages at the EMC Customer Council event last week, on top of Apple taking over the enterprise, was that if IT wants to remain broadly relevant in a cloud world, it has to recognize that it is increasingly competing with external services and must learn to market IT's advantages. If it doesn't, it runs the risk of increasingly being bypassed by cloud offerings that render it redundant.
However, in a large audience of IT professionals, when asked if they had plans to market their services, few hands went up and I wondered if those who did raise their hands actually understood the question.
Let's cover Marketing 101 for IT today.
Basically it is storytelling with a purpose. That purpose is to change someone else's behavior towards a known goal. While generally tied to products and services, it can also be applied to people and ideas. For instance, successful executives learn to market themselves early; however, it is interesting to note that successful CEOs learn to market their company instead. In short, it is selling but done to large numbers of people. Good marketing has three components: It has a measurable purpose or goal, it has a compelling benefits-based story that engages the audience and it has a call to action. This last is both the most important and the most-often forgotten.
Folks tend to forge the measurable part and often don't articulate the goal, which is why we seem to have so many expensive product marketing programs that just waste money like those .com Super Bowl ads a few years back. For IT, the goal would generally be to have employees prefer IT services and use them in preference to third-party cloud offerings or outsourced services. Measurement is important because that will tell you how well you are doing and this means you have to not only measure the services your folks are consuming, but also the services they are using to bypass you. Without that second number, you both won't know how much trouble you are in or how much real progress you are making. For instance, if we took the printing industry and just looked at pages printed, we'd see growth, but if we saw this same number against the growth of pages displayed on computer screens, tablets and smartphones, we'd see a sharp decline and that makes this second number very important.
Compelling Benefits-based Story
This really comes down to coming up with a way to convince a user/buyer/line manager that your way will be the most beneficial choice. Good stores have both carrots and sticks or a combination of benefits and consequences. With the cloud, you can save money by using a third-party service, but fail a security audit costing your job. With an internal service, you can pay a little more, but the extra cost is worth protecting your livelihood. Or, as an internal service, it is in our best interest to assure your success, while with an external service, it has no deep ties to the company and is perfectly willing to take your ideas to show value to one of your competitors.
What often won't work as well is the common story that if you don't use IT, you will be punished because IT generally doesn't have that authority. Punishment for a line organization bypassing a staff organization can often be exceedingly rare. It certainly helps if IT's services are designed to meet a favorable marketing message and can be made as easy to use or, ideally, easier than a third-party service, which should be possible given its closer proximity to the user.
Call to Action
This is the most-often-forgotten aspect of marketing. You've convinced someone that you have the product or service they want and you don't ask for the business. Providing information as to whom to call and reiterating the benefits of getting IT involved early as opposed to late in the related project better assures both the success of the project and that IT will be used for it. Coupled with this should be a major effort to reduce the pain of engaging IT. Increasingly, all third-party services need is a business credit card, while IT often needs a massive number of approvals and documents. This last creates a significant barrier to success and gets in the way of assuring your internal customer defaults to IT as their preferred service.
We go through these cycles every decade or so where line management looks to outside resources because IT is perceived to be out of date and too hard to do business with. When I was in IBM, we threw our own IT organization out and created redundant data centers because IBM IT at that time was unresponsive. Eventually IT was cut catastrophically as a result. As an industry, the PC wave cut IT sharply as did the move away from mainframes and to client server computing.
The cloud has the potential to make each of these prior waves look trivial by comparison because it promises economies of scale that even the largest IT organizations can't easily approach. However, what it generally can't do is be as intimate or as secure as a well-run internal organization, and it can't easily become as strategically connected to the business because it has to be kept at arms-length. But for these advantages to come into play, IT has to both stay very close to its customers and continue to market these advantages; otherwise, it will likely be forgotten as line organizations move to the cloud without IT.
EMC's future is clearly tied to the strength and future power of IT organizations, and vendors like them can help you learn to market the services that result from their products to your line organizations. That expertise could come in handy as you fight for each penny of budget and every headcount.