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Leadership and the cloud: Everything you need to know

How do you ensure cloud success in your organisation? Cloud Pro investigates

Abstract image showing figures sat on light bulbs surrounded by clouds

Rolling out a cloud project is a major undertaking for most organisations, not just in terms of the technical changes that need to be made but in the cultural shift and the cost of the disruption to the workforce. In this feature we'll be exploring how CIOs, and other leadership staff, handle the challenges in move their business to the cloud.

Latest news

25/02/2016: Enterprises are struggling to measure the effects of collaboration tools on their business, new research has suggested.

Research by Dimension Data found that while companies are increasingly embracing cloud-based collaboration as a method of improving customer service, and accelerating decision making, they are failing to properly quantify how successful these projects have been.

In its study of 900 companies with over 1,000 employees, covering both IT departments and lines of business (LOB), 37 per cent of respondents said implementing collaboration tools has failed to give them a competitive advantage.

Evan Kirchheimer, practice leader of Enterprise Services at analyst house Ovum, said this result is “really worrying... if what is a significant investment has not delivered some kind of return”.

However, 89 per cent said LOBs help execute their collaboration strategy, 87 per cent said collaboration has improved teamwork within their organisation and 81 per cent thought collaboration had improved customer service.

09/02/2016: Business leaders and management – rather than IT directors – must drive their companie’s transitions to the cloud, according to SAP.

Pat Bakey, president of industry cloud at SAP, told delegates at the SAP Innovation Forum in London on Tuesday, 9 February: “Digital transformation isn’t an IT problem – it is a business problem that requires management innovation that can be applied across IT.”

In his keynote, Bakey said businesses need to think about how they could be innovating now, before they fall behind.

“The leaders in these industries ... are those that are embracing digitalisation, that understand the digital economy and are practising innovation in a very operational sense,” he said.

How do they persuade other executives/managers that cloud is the best way forward?

There are a couple of different answers to this, depending what’s driving the change. The move to cloud can be for many different reasons. It could be the CIO realising that his or her present infrastructure is inadequate or it could be under pressure from the board.

There’s often no single factor driving the move to cloud but it’s a choice that comes from multiple angles, according to Alex Hilton, chairman of the Cloud Industry Forum. “The classic story is that the CEO reads the FT and says we want to do something with this cloud stuff," he says. "I don’t get that. CEOs are bright enough to know what cloud is and could well be pushing it on the CIO. But it could be driven by the board or by the workforce itself.”

For Gary Delooze, head of CIO advisory services for E&Y Financial, agrees that the pressure very often comes from the CEOs, but the radical transformation that cloud offers to businesses doesn’t make it an easy choice. “You would normally expect the CIO to be the driver of technical change but there’s a problem here: the average tenure of a CIO is just 18 months and what we normally see are short term changes, just enough to make a difference," he says. "They’re very risk averse, what they don’t want is a big cloud transformation project where the CIO carries the can if things go wrong.”

Delooze says that to lead a cloud project successfully it’s important to break it down into chunks, adding: “We structure programmes so there’s a short term, medium term and long term aim. We ask what can be quick gains. The days when you had IT programmes running over two or three years are gone,“ he says.

How do you manage your workforce? Many of them may well be fearful for their future – how can you reassure them?

There are two camps of people here says Delooze. “There’s one camp that have been doing the same things – COBOL, C, Java etc – for years. These people tend to be quite fearful for their jobs. Then there are those who see it as a new opportunity to learn new skills,” he adds.

Delooze points out that it’s easy to manage their former as they’re very keen to get involved in the move to cloud and are often very active in pushing for the take-up of the technology. What’s important, he adds, is to “reassure the others that there are new skills to be learned. Some will jump at the opportunity; some will hide.”

Changes will come according to the level of cloud projects. “If you moving to a SaaS system, there won’t be much change: if you’re moving from managing on-premise servers to IaaS, then there will be – but there will still be roles for your staff,” Delooze adds.

For Hilton, the level of job losses is widely exaggerated. “We carry out regular surveys and what we find is that, only about 10 per cent of organisations have actually lost workforce. In a lot of cases, they have repurposed staff instead,” he sats. Even moving to IaaS still entails a need for infrastructure staff, according to Hilton, who adds:  “There are lot of people out there with a set of skills, the skills you need to manage that cloud environment.”

You have to judge how the workforce will react, advises Hilton. “A lot of places are inherently conservative, while some have employees willing to learn,” he says.

Ultimately, the business culture within an organisation is often more of a challenge than the technical difficulties and that remains a tricky call for a CIO to get right – but it’s one that has to be tackled head-on.

What factors should they take into account when rolling out cloud projects?

The decision to move to a cloud is not one to be taken lightly. Hilton says that organisations need to be sure that cloud is absolutely right for the organisation. “The CIO needs to understand what the problem is: you don’t want to be rolling out a fully fledged cloud solution if it’s not needed – what the requirements of the IT landscape?” he adds. 

Delooze set out a few of the issues that should be concerning CIOs. “They need to assess the risks of moving to the cloud. For example, if I were looking at moving a lot of legacy infrastructure that be less risky than moving," he says. "Then there’s the perception of security risk – lots of companies are wary about the cloud but when you question them, they always assume you mean public cloud.”

According to Delooze, the climate is changing. “I’ve seen a lot of resistance to cloud, people just didn’t want to be first. But now, the people who have been pioneers have been reporting their success stories,” he says.

This has now prompted some real thinking in the boardroom – particularly when you get instances of companies having a zero shaved off their total infrastructure costs. It’s that sort of saving that concentrates minds.

CIOs should be starting with their non-core applications, Delooze says, adding “while they’re doing that, get the organisation trained up.”

Delooze agrees with Hilton that the business culture is often the toughest nut to crack but the CIO who shows real leadership is well on the way to successful adoption.

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