CIOs dissect evolving role of the CIO in cloud and mobile computing

Leveraging cloud and mobile computing is now a requisite for CIO success. Early-adopter CIOs at MIT Sloan's CIO Symposium offer their insights.

For CIOs who want to drive cloud and mobile computing at their organizations, does efficiency or agility carry more clout with business peers? How should CIOs begin that journey -- with a private or public cloud? Does it make sense to migrate legacy applications to the cloud? Are the innovation gains from cloud and mobile computing more likely to come from focusing IT resources on the individual knowledge worker or on the organization?...

What IT skills should CIOs cultivate in their teams to stay ahead of the curve on cloud and mobile computing?

These were some of the complex questions tackled by CIOs at last week's MIT Sloan CIO Symposium in a session on "The Evolving CIO Role in Cloud and Mobile Computing." Anthony D. Christie, CIO and chief technology officer at Global Crossing Ltd.; Mark Egan, CIO at VMware Inc.; Sanjay Mirchandani, CIO and chief operating officer at EMC Corp.; and Tasos Tsolakis, executive vice president and CIO at Iron Mountain Inc., offered insights on how CIOs can best leverage cloud and mobile computing. They all agreed that the case for cloud computing begins with efficiency but should quickly lead to other benefits. When it comes to migrating legacy applications, the universal watchword is caution. Here are some highlights.

In making the argument for cloud and mobile computing internally, should CIOs lead with efficiency or agility, or both?

The argument for cloud always "starts with efficiency" but should quickly focus on quality of service and IT agility, said EMC's Mirchandani. EMC's journey to the cloud dates back to 2004, when internal users were asked if, given a choice, they would select internal IT as their provider. The clear response: IT needed to improve. His team started with server virtualization to drive efficiency. Virtualization evolved into cloud offerings, which increased the quality of IT services across the company and eventually resulted in greater IT agility.

VMware's Egan said he also sees the journey to cloud as having three phases. The first leg is becoming familiar with the technology and its impact on the business. (What is the risk to the business? Will it save money? What kind of governance do we need?) The second phase is using cloud for critical applications such as customer relationship management (CRM) and email. The third phase is agility. "You don't want to let go of those savings. You want to have the right governance processes in place so you are not wasting resources, but you want to get to speed," he said.

Global Crossing's Christie said that before making an argument for efficiency or agility, CIOs need to have a clear understanding of the business problem to be solved.

About a year ago, his team saw "tremendous value" in putting selected communications and collaboration applications in the cloud. The team started with "something simple": audio conferencing. The cloud-based audio conferencing system is six months into operation and provides a better user experience, while saving IT 25% in costs. "Don't tell my CFO; I am banking the savings," he said.

So efficiency was the impetus for going to the cloud, Christie said, but the audio-conferencing offering quickly "became a platform for other IT services," such as instant messaging, directory services and telephony.

Where should the journey begin: private, public or hybrid cloud?

Bottom line: It's not an either/or proposition.

About 60% of Global Crossing's global applications now reside in a private cloud. Approximately 90% of all new work goes into that private cloud, Christie said, "not because I force people and not because my team forces people, but because it works."

Iron Mountain’s Tsolakis said the global storage company takes a hybrid approach, using its own private cloud for customer solutions. In addition, IT utilizes a "private cloud outside our company" for solutions for its internal users and for the ERP systems of some of its smaller clients. However, with best-of-breed applications now being  offered through public clouds, the company has decided it makes more sense to transition them there.

Mirchandani said EMC also hosts many of its best-of-breed applications in the public cloud, but IT also makes sure those applications do not run in isolation. "If there is a CRM app, there are linkages back to the ERP and other systems," he said. "Data has to flow back and forth."

What are the rules of thumb for legacy migration to cloud and mobile computing?

Proceed with caution. Migration of legacy apps at Global Crossing is "situation-specific," Christie said. "I come back to business rules. If we have a legacy application in place and there is a lot of human capital tied up in it and a number of specific features that would be hard to port into any cloud, I am going to sweat that asset as long as I can, as long as I am not doing damage to the business."

You don't want to let go of those savings. You want to have the right governance processes in place so you are not wasting resources, but you want to get to speed.
Mark EganCIO, VMware Inc.

Tsolakis agreed that it doesn’t often pay to migrate legacy applications, and in most cases it is "very hard." Instead, his strategy is to "give access to the business in a different way, so they don't even know there is a legacy application" behind that new interface.

Above all, applications should be easy to use, said Christie. For the cloud-based audio recording system, for example, Christie's team had to develop a mobile app competency in order to launch the audio sessions from a personal digital assistant. To make access even easier, IT embedded the system in Outlook, allowing users to press a single button rather than key in different numbers to connect -- and saw system use increase.

Egan also opted for user accessibility when faced with the replacement of a support system at VMware. "We could upgrade it or put it in the cloud," he explained. The functionality of the existing system was higher, but the user experience was horrible, he said. "We opted for the cloud solution. Adoption is very high, and once we were on that platform, we were able to make changes much faster."

What skills do IT departments need next for cloud and mobile computing?

Good communicators, business analysts and enterprise architects seem to be on everyone's recruiting list. Given the pace of technology change coupled with a lack of standards, however, "future proofing" job skills for cloud and mobile computing is hard to do, said Christie. Added Tsolakis: "The complexity will get worse instead of better."

EMC's Mirchandani agreed. For years, IT has had well-defined skills tracks, he said. "Now, we don't know where it will go." EMC now employs cloud architects, for example, a role it didn’t have just two years ago. EMC also has an office of the chief architect -- the spiritual leader for the architecture team, he said.

The panel agreed that CIOs should identify "change agents" inside and outside their organizations and nurture them. "Traditional IT constructs haven't made it easy to work across disciplines," said Mirchandani, but cloud and mobility demand those cross skills. "Give them room to make mistakes, because the script hasn't been written yet. They need a little iteration time."

Global Crossing's Christie urged CIOs to insist on having a variety of IT and business people interview IT candidates. And don't be swayed by the glittering IT resumé, he said -- some of the worst candidates he's seen from human resources (HR) have had no experience as consumer of IT services. He said he plans to take the advice of a CEO from another panel, who now interviews the person HR sends over before looking at the resumé.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, executive editor.

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This was first published in May 2011

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