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Server hugger or cloud services evangelist? CIOs don’t have to choose

CIOs shouldn’t rush into cloud services, cautions our expert. Exercise some risk management while championing shared services goals.

You've already heard the doom-and-gloom scenarios a hundred times: Organizations are going to axe the entire IT department and just buy a bunch of cloud services. Cloud-based service providers love to hit this idea hard because they don't want the IT department interfering with their vision of 100% cloud deployment.

Scott Lowe
Scott Lowe

The cloud has a place in many organizations, but it's simply a method by which organizations can outsource certain aspects of IT to those that might be better suited to provide specific services, in a more robust way than might have been achieved in the past. Before contracts are signed, however, organizations absolutely must take the utmost caution and consideration.

In some circles, my unwillingness to simply say yes to the cloud might label me a "server hugger." It's a derogatory term to describe someone who is an impediment to progress and stuck in old ways of doing business -- someone more concerned with building out sandboxes and play areas than in solving real business challenges.

I disagree. Risk management is one of many CIO responsibilities. For years, CIOs have been charged with protecting the organization's information and technology assets. While some have gone overboard -- resulting in the IT department being referred to as The Department of No -- IT has a vested interest in maintaining the security of the organization. This cannot be ignored just because a particular business unit identifies a silver bullet that it absolutely must have: The desired solution still needs to somehow fit with the company's existing framework without becoming an albatross.

Let's play devil's advocate: I have seen CIOs who hunker down and defend internal services to a point of irrationality. There comes a point when cloud services can and will easily fit within the existing IT framework. CIOs who refuse to consider any outside assistance in service provisioning probably are guilty to a point of "empire building" and hugging servers a bit too closely.

Clearly, I tend to take a relatively conservative approach when it comes to outsourcing services, but when it makes sense, I'm all in. If someone else can provide the same or better service for a lower cost, it's the CIO's responsibility to make that happen. As I've turned to these kinds of services, I sometimes wonder in the back of my mind if I might be outsourcing myself or members of my staff out of a job -- but those fears have never come to fruition. Sure, staff responsibilities have been adjusted as workloads shuffle, but no one was laid off -- even when I moved a cornerstone application to a cloud provider.

Managing the move to cloud services

In most cases, the executive couldn't care less about the servers and storage that go into what it takes to run a service. The organization is looking for the results that are necessary to achieve business goals and growth. During the march to use cloud services, the CIO absolutely must champion these shared services goals across the organization:

  • IT owns the cloud. In conjunction with any governance processes in place, IT remains responsible for supporting the enterprise architecture. Any procured services must be manageable via this architecture or easily modified to comply. If a business unit is pitching a service that simply can't fit, the unit needs to be told "No" or, if there's no alternative, must be given sufficient time to develop a robust integration plan.

  • See the forest and the trees. Now, more than ever, the full data lifecycle must be deeply understood everywhere. The more data systems that are added, the more risk that there is of fracturing previously integrated data systems and introducing inconsistencies that can hinder effective decision-making.

  • Avoid the blame game. Internally provisioned services are not inherently bad. A CIO's decision to resource from within should not automatically relegate that person to the "legacy" mind-set -- particularly if internally provisioned services are just one strategy the CIO uses to meet business goals.

  • Cultivate a sharing corporate culture. Too often, business units throw solutions at IT, which is treated as an order-taking unit rather than as a valued business partner. These arrangements foster animosity: IT will be less likely to provide what could be valued input. Business units should continue to bring both problem statements and recommended solutions to IT so that a thoughtful, balanced decision process can commence.

It's time for CIOs to look inward. Are you a "server hugger" -- terrified of the appearance of losing complete control over every aspect of the technology environment? Or are you a CIO who considers business needs before deciding where an application should be housed? If you disagree with a particular direction in the best interests of the business and can demonstrate alternative methods to efficiently get results, you will build a reputation for being a partner in the organization's success, rather than a barrier to progress.

Scott Lowe is a former CIO and frequent contributor to TechTarget, TechRepublic and other IT publications. He is the president of the 1610 Group. Write to him at or

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