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The changing IT organisation – the pressures of Cloud computing

September 2012 by

The pace of technological change is typically quite rapid. However in most cases, a change in technology doesn’t cause a change in either the goals or the roles of the IT organisation. For example, the ongoing adoption of continually higher speed Ethernet hasn’t changed how IT organisations design data center LANs, nor has it changed the structure of the organisation or the workflow within the organisation.

Cloud computing is different. Cloud computing places a lot of pressure on IT organisations to take on new roles and to act very differently.

To understand the pressures that cloud computing place on the IT organisation, it is important to realise that, in virtually all cases, a company’s business and functional managers don’t care about the IT infrastructure. What they care about are the applications and services that they use to run their business unit or their function. As such, in order for the IT organisation to show value, it must be able to show that it can manage, secure and optimise the performance of these application and services.

There is nothing new about there being pressure on the IT organisation to manage, secure and optimise the performance of business critical application and services. What is new is that an increasing number of these applications and services are provided, at least in part, by a cloud service provider (CSP). Hence, the new challenge facing IT organisations is the requirement to manage, secure and optimise applications and services whether or not the IT organisation owns and controls the supporting infrastructure.

There is a temptation for IT organisations to walk away from this new challenge with the attitude that it isn’t possible to manage, control and optimise applications and services if you don’t own and control the underlying infrastructure. Unfortunately, that approach leads to the IT organisation becoming increasingly irrelevant as companies make increasing use of public cloud computing.

By the way, it is interesting to realise that the BYOD movement presents similar challenges. In the case of BYOD, the IT organisation no longer owns or controls the end users’ devices but is still expected to manage, secure and optimise applications and services that are accessed from these devices. And, as is the case with cloud computing, walking away from this expectation reduces the perceived value of the IT organisation.

Another way that cloud computing puts pressure on IT organisations stems from the fact that a company’s business and functional managers are becoming increasingly aware of the fact that they can quickly acquire applications and services from CSPs. While there has always been pressure on IT organisations for agility, this realisation on the part of business and functional managers dramatically increases that pressure in part because if the IT organisation cannot deliver the desired applications and services in a timely manner, many business and functional managers are free to go around the IT organisations get what they need directly from CSPs.

In order to respond to this pressure, IT organisations must modify their traditional role of being the primary provider of IT services and to adopt a role in which they provide some IT services themselves and act as a broker between the company’s business unit managers and CSPs for other services. In addition to contract negotiations, the IT organisation can add significant value by ensuring that the acquired application or service doesn’t create any compliance issues, exhibits acceptable performance, can be integrated with other applications as needed, can scale, is cost effective and can be managed. None of this will be easy, but becoming irrelevant isn’t an acceptable option.

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