The parallel rise of the digital consumer and cloud computing is forcing CIOs and other IT leaders to change some of their most cherished and long-standing habits. Instead of building and owning the solutions, CIOs are increasingly turning into IT brokers and orchestrators, charged with researching, consulting, and efficiently running extremely heterogeneous IT environments incorporating a mix of cloud-based, third-party services and house-built applications and integrations.
This new environment requires CIOs to be both more proactive and more collaborative than ever before. Instead of making their own decisions and pretty much forcing the entire company to go along, these trends mean CIOs must now work with their peers across the entire business to orchestrate and balance what types of work is done in house versus what gets outsourced to the cloud, SaaS, contractors, and others in order to meet the needs of digital transformation efforts, changing business models, and increasingly savvy and empowered users, not just traditional central IT constituencies.
It’s not an option; it’s table stakes for modern CIOs. If the CIO can’t figure out how to lead the way toward using technology to change the company’s business or its relationship with customers, they risk being sidelined as a mere cost center—as business users increasingly turn to their own “Shadow IT” solutions.
To minimize that threat, enterprise IT must embrace each individual business unit’s IT autonomy and quickly identify and satisfy fast-evolving user requirements. That’s the only way to encourage as many people as possible to use company-approved and monitored solutions.
At the same time, of course, IT remains responsible for controlling system sprawl, which could weaken security and generate systemic inefficiencies.
Fortunately, there are some best practices to help CIOs stay ahead of the issue and become a trusted broker of IT services:
1. Deliver powerful, stable, easy-to-use services—fast
According to a research study conducted by Avanade, 79% of C-level executives believe they could make technology decisions better and faster than IT staff. In order to demonstrate the value of its knowledge and expertise, your IT team needs to be agile and act fast. However, speed cannot mean compromising the quality of software services. You need to develop vetting procedures that enable fast solution assessments and purchasing decisions that quickly identify robust, secure, and user-friendly solutions that can be quickly implemented to meet user needs before they invest in Shadow IT alternatives. Today’s users are accustomed to fast, powerful, beautifully implemented consumer apps—they won’t stand for sub-standard software experiences.
2. Rely on structured vendor assessments
Becoming proficient in finding and qualifying third-party vendors is a must to become a credible orchestrator of cloud services. As opposed to assessing software vendors for your internal data center where OS support, patching, and release frequency is a big deal, learning about a cloud solution’s robustness also involves examining its hosting environment, security, and financial health. When qualifying a third-party cloud solution, check who has access to your data and applications and how they are protected. It’s critical to become familiar with your vendors’ SLAs and how you can be indemnified against events such as data loss and outages. You will also need to be savvy about understanding SaaS and other provider financial metrics.
3. Learn to manage the hybrid cloud
Public cloud options require no hardware on-premises, typically making them faster to implement, enabling your team to respond quickly to end-user requirements. Private cloud solutions can complement the public cloud option by providing a clear boundary that lets you keep sensitive or proprietary data and applications under your control. As a technology broker, your team is charged with creating a balance between the different clouds, deciding which workloads should be kept internally and which best suit a public cloud environment. It’s also up to you to monitor application performance in your hybrid cloud installations, which can be surprisingly complex.
4. Properly allocate costs
CIOs have always been expected to present proven operational efficiencies under tight budget constraints. With the move to a cloud-based OpEx model, implementing cost allocation can be challenging. Shadow IT and transitions from waterfall to agile development makes the process even more complex. The cloud requires IT teams to consistently tag cloud resources for specific applications or business units. The goal is to help business unit team leaders become more aware of and accountable for their cloud consumption and expenses. Being able to allocate costs per unit enhances transparency and enables you to more quickly identify inefficiencies. Subsequent action can then be taken to optimize each unit, eliminating redundancies and consolidating applications and resources. This can also help curb Shadow IT by highlighting the overall costs of cloud sprawl.
5. Support business-unit autonomy
One proven way to broker IT services is to allow each business unit to self-provision applications and resources from your organization’s overall IT portfolio, which you need to control and manage. It is equally important for every unit to easily report back to IT headquarters, preserving traditional showback and chargeback methods. As your organization’s IT broker, your task is to embrace each unit’s IT autonomy while maintaining control over IT operations as a whole.
The CIO is the role model for embracing modern IT in the organization. Your team needs to take a proactive approach, making fast decisions to support individual business units while still maintaining control over your environment’s security and stability.
That’s only the beginning, of course. Truly successful modern CIOs must go beyond meeting their users’ immediate requirements—no matter how collaboratively—and provide leadership toward innovative, transformative technologies that promise real competitive advantage, not just keeping the lights on. But learning to drive technology forward through collaboration, orchestration, and brokering instead of command and control is an essential first step.