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Retaining the CTO and CIO Relevance in the Cloud Era

The cloud is changing how businesses worldwide do business. It also is creating a unique set of challenges and opportunities for the technology implementers within those businesses.

Traditionally, CTOs, CIOs, and other IT administrators were seen in a “back office” light. They were there to research and implement the technologies that the company needed to expand. However, cloud services are now moving IT services off-site. It’s easy for a company to start to wonder whether it needs an on-site IT department at all.

Rather than being a source of worry, this can be an opportunity for CIOs.

An increasing number of CIOs are discovering the opportunities inherent in cloud computing. Rather than threatening their jobs, the rise of the cloud brings opportunities to expand their role within a company.

A Truly Internal IT

IT administrators facing C-level execs who are interested in off-siting their computing services need to move quickly. These sorts of changes, once made, are often hard to undo.

Currently, very few strategic executives have a data or computer sciences background, which is where the opportunities lie. Smart CTOs who move quickly demonstrate their worth by deflating myths surrounding outsourced cloud services. Let’s look at how this might happen.

1. Administrative Delays

Every “layer” of cloud services adds at least one more layer of bureaucracy. When dealing with multiple cloud providers, systems incompatibility can create significant barriers to integration. Whenever there’s any trouble, someone is going to be on the phone with tech support.

The more that’s handled in-house, the more quickly trouble gets resolved.

2. Slowed Response Time

Corporate flexibility is a serious consideration today. Companies need to be able to respond to changes in the market or global news within days– or potentially even hours.

However, outsourced services are highly limiting in this regard. A company relying on an offsite advertising firm, for example, could have a workflow in place that runs in four to six week cycles. Conceiving and implementing new ideas quickly becomes nearly impossible in such a system.

3. Data Disconnection

A good database of client and lead information is one of the most valuable tools that a business can have. Ultimately, the company that understands its market best is the one that will find the best products and services to offer.

So, why would a company want their most useful database in someone else’s hands?

This is one of the big dangers of getting locked into hosted and offsite services. A company becomes disconnected from the data that it needs to make decisions. On the other hand, a CIO or CTO sitting on their own customer database can become a truly invaluable part of virtually any department’s planning.

4. Maintaining Strategic Vision

Keeping outsourced services “on the same page” can be a logistical nightmare for many companies. A cloud host is providing exactly the services listed in the contract– no more and no less. If strategy changes, someone has to make sure every affected cloud service is (and can be) brought in line with it.

A strong internal IT department will have the ties necessary to understand the strategic vision of a business. There won’t be a question of whether one proverbial hand knows what the other is doing, so long as an empowered CIO keeping communications flowing.

Evolve With Technology

Technology has a bad habit of creating “evolve or die” scenarios for businesses, but, in most cases, the opportunities are at least equal to the potential drawbacks.

Successful CIOs and CTOs will look to expand their usefulness to their organization. A strong in-house IT department can enable robust and responsive corporate strategies but only if IT admins can demonstrate their worth.

Integrated Technology: CIO Leadership Means Fostering Teamwork

Though some people whisper about the CIO role being cannibalized as businesses absorb IT functions into their general operations, some leading CIOs are seeing it as being the other way around. As technology becomes more important and more ingrained in business, the CIO can take on an even more important role in the boardroom—if he or she has the right touch for leadership.

Traditionally, the CIO has been more a more discrete figure among C-level executives. The days are gone when organizations would rely on the CIO to simply report about IT functions and then take things away from the meeting just to turn around and direct the IT department.

Now, the stars of CIO leadership are forging new relationships wherein the CIO and team are fully expected to understand and share a vision with the business side. This includes aligning objectives and projects directly and explicitly with business goals, and creating accountability for IT to work toward business outcomes while constantly communicating with business.

In short, today’s CIO leadership has a lot to do with fostering teamwork between IT and business.

Case study: IT integration in a leading business

The past CIO of Marriott International, Carl Wilson, has more recently become a CIO coach to tech leaders at major corporations. Among his legacies from his time at Marriott are the hotel chain’s forward-thinking moves to begin offering online reservations and to provide internet connectivity in its guest rooms in order to cater to business travelers.

It is no coincidence that Wilson’s career highlights include tech projects that directly catered to customer needs. Wilson ensured that teamwork was a valued quality among the IT department and other parts of the business. Thus, each side was ready to roll out technological improvements that brought value to the whole business swiftly and profoundly.

Not only did Wilson himself use his role as CIO to take on an integrated approach with other executives, but he made sure that business and IT colleagues were paired with each other at many levels of the business. In his model, both sides held responsibility for profitable and customer-benefiting outcomes. By keep an eye on customer wants and needs, Wilson had his team in the best position to understand situations and to respond efficiently.

Leading through change: the outlook for CIOs

The CIO’s role must change as fast and as fundamentally as the major changes happening in technology itself and in the broader business world. As colleagues on the business side become more tech savvy and capable of teamwork with IT, the IT team must keep up by developing their business acumen. For the CIO, this means evolving into more of a complete partner among the CxO level and heading up projects that coordinate IT and business together.

Today’s CIO is looking toward three major changes:

• The job is getting bigger. The CIO needs to be knowledgeable of P&L and other functions–not just the general business goals.
• Practice your public speaking. As the IT side comes to the forefront of organizational strategy, the CIO is being asked to give presentations and make more regular appearances in the boardroom. This might be new to the role, and preparation and training are key.
• Be proactive– not responsive. Rather than listening to other executives and then devising IT solutions to meet their needs, CIOs must bring their own ideas to the party.