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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Using the Cloud to Get Out of Your Own Way

In the late 1990s, an incredible wave of change took place when increased global competition collided with widespread adoption of the Internet. Staid business architectures were capsized in the swell, and the only lifeboats to be found were being manned by IT.

A triage mentality ensued with one common refrain: "How fast can you have something that works available to us?"  The mandate was straightforward: Give us more functionality faster!

Of course, the business side saw themselves as IT's internal customer, disregarding the fact that IT had carefully constructed processes and were trained to follow a methodology of testing and refining creations that were not released until they were deemed perfect. This meant little to business teams in the new environment.  The response from IT was usually, "we can deliver, if we hire more engineers."  But this usually had the exact opposite effect. Projects got bloated and bogged down as more engineers came on board, and both the business side and the IT side were left in chaos.

The economic decline during the first decade of this century took care of some of the problem.  Meltdowns and budget cuts wiped out bloat and shortened the list of projects to be funded.  But it didn't change the need for speed + results.  In fact, it got worse.

Companies rediscovered their customers and flattened out development cycles by defining IT projects from the outside in. This raised the bar for quality and delivery time. The pace of change accelerated, and there was enormous pressure on IT to implement new solutions on legacy systems while not losing a step in maintaining those same systems.

That is about where many organizations are today.  But the bar has been raised again. Social media has fostered a need for transparency to customers (and everyone else). Every aspect of the business is more technology dependent, the pace of change continues to escalate and IT has to work faster and smarter with fewer resources with new software systems and tools on increasingly outdated systems.

The Enemy is Us
The cartoonist, Walt Kelly, who created Pogo, once penned the line, "We have met the enemy and it us."  That is the primary realization driving businesses to the Cloud. There are many compelling advantages to moving to the Cloud.  We have read them so often, we can recite them in our sleep:  increased flexibility, higher ROI, decreased complexity, and the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound.  But none matter as much as Speed + Results in the Information Economy. Business schools like to call it Time-to-Value.

But how does an organization continue at this pace, when the problem can't be improved by throwing more resources at it?

A new approach is required and the Cloud seems to be the best answer. Yes, there are questions. But, the minute an organization comes to the realization that it can not keep pace with competition because of limitations in its approach to IT, the word "Cloud" sounds forth like a heavenly intonation.

I recently read a white paper from a leading Cloud vendor that put it this way: "Many CIOs struggle to explain to their CEO why implementing ERP took years and cost ten times more than the Cloud-based CRM application that went live within six months, with a comparable number of users, and a much more significant impact on the business."

If a company can implement software as a service in a fraction of the time required for traditional itnernal applications, SaaS becomes the obvious choice -- especially when aggregating internal resources can take months.  The idea of "renting" capacity temporarily for a large, long-term temporary project leads to the same conclusion for infrastructure needs.

Yes, these examples carry with them the inherent, oft-quoted benefits of the Cloud, but the one that matters most is delivering speed and results by letting an organization get out of its own way.

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