Clouded judgement will get CIOs demoted

As the philosopher said “‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ One satisfying benefit of experience is the development of pattern recognition, as opposed to trend-spotting. Vital to avoid revisiting past errors, recognising winners and losers is why captains of industry, wine connoisseurs and fine art dealers, with some exceptions, have more grey hair than tattoos.

This year’s hot IT topic, one Positive Marketing has been commissioned to write about a lot in 2010, is Cloud Computing. The question on the table is whether it is now, or will become, a top-level business as opposed to an IT, issue.

Of course, as a provider of Thought Leadership content to (literally) the great and the good of the industry, we like to gather field intelligence wherever we can. Last week, during a Cloud event in London though, a worrying pattern re-emerged, one which may even prevent Cloud achieving its lofty goals of cutting costs and increasing business agility.

During a technical discussion about Platform as a Service (PaaS) offerings from Microsoft, VMware and salesforce.com, rampant high-energy technobabble, of the sort we previously consigned to the dustbin of history, broke out. It was very, very removed from a sensible discussion of business-level benefits – but the audience was getting excited, almost whipped up. However, this debate about In-memory databases and the demerits of various programming languages, all from such a senior audience, was depressingly familiar.

Then it got much worse. “Grid Computing and Cloud technology are identical” claimed someone who went on to admit that the one Grid Computing project he knew of (and worked on) was a waste of a large bank’s IT budget. For long-term IT watchers, there is indeed a pattern here; huge user expectations, vendor marketing push and a lack of CIOs with enough understanding to act as ‘Checks and Balances’ for this enthusiastic chaos.

Grid proved that without making a clear business case and even despite the support of major analysts predicting major impact on enterprise IT, as many did with Grid, Cloud may yet become a solution seeking a problem for many IT shops. “Everything as a service” sounds great until your supplier has an outage, gets bought, or doesn’t pay its disgruntled sub-contractors with hacking sklills. Individually, all these issues are addressable, but to avoid them all, it helps to be realistic about the failures of IT’s recent past.

Perhaps most worrying was the assertion by many mid-ranking IT professionals, some happily expensing enterprise Cloud services for corporate projects on their personal credit cards, that they knew best for their business. Let us remember we live in a post-Carr world. Experienced CIOs, who these days quite often report to CFOs themselves, need to take control. Otherwise the signs are that history will repeat itself, but this time they may end up reporting to the compliance team, who in turn report to the CFO. That is a pattern which most of us would call a demotion. CIO as a Service anyone?

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