Change is coming

IT redefines its role in the new cloud reality

Ron Miller
11 June 2014

3 min read

IT is facing unprecedented change, brought on by trends that allow users to cheaply and easily deploy their own cloud-based software and services. In such an environment, IT’s role shifts to that of partner, helping users improve their productivity through technology.

Organizations’ IT departments are going through a massive transformation, a change driven by trends that include technology consumerization, mobile, and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). But it is the cloud that’s propelling these changes, giving non-technical users access to cheap, easy-to-provision infrastructure, programming and software resources.

While some IT pros have resisted these changes, the CIO at cloud-based, file-sharing-app company Box (based in Los Altos, California, USA) warns the trends are inevitable.

“If you can’t see the change that’s coming you’re just going to be run over,” Box CIO Ben Haines said in a recent interview with CITEworld. IT organizations that facilitate change may lose control of their beloved servers, but Haines believes they will gain something far more valuable: a pivotal role as trusted adviser to the businesses they support.


Avanade, a global provider of business technology and managed services, recently surveyed more than 1,000 C-level executives and IT decision makers to evaluate the scope of change. It found that 44% believe their IT departments need more cloud skills. About a third said that their IT department was transforming to act as a partner to business units in making better technology decisions. Most likely to disturb IT professionals: 71% of respondents believed they were equipped to make technology decisions “faster and better” than their IT departments.

Ben Kepes, a cloud commentator and principal at Diversity Ltd., a New Zealand-based IT consultancy, says the cloud’s impact on businesses reflects larger social changes.

“It’s not so much a case of cloud having an impact on IT, although there are aspects of that too, but rather a case of cloud computing and its associated themes, like agile enterprise, big data and the like, that are enabling enterprises to react to much bigger changes in society,” Kepes said. “There are a number of macro changes – the rise of the millennials [generation], the global financial crisis, the demand for agility, hyper-competition – that mean the environment any organization operates in is fundamentally different from before, and also changing rapidly.”


Brett Belding, senior manager for Cisco IT, points out that while the cloud allows business units to make purchases independently, it doesn’t help them make good decisions.

“The new role of IT is to be a business partner and solutions provider, focusing on integrating cloud and on-premise solutions in a secure way that increases productivity and reduces costs,” Belding said. “Consumerization is forcing IT organizations to deliver these integrated solutions with an acute focus on user experience. Poor user experience equals low adoption, and low adoption equals low ROI.”

One way to encourage an adaptive environment, Belding said, is to hire flexible employees who are willing to try new things. “At Cisco we encourage job rotation, and our culture is built around this,” he said. “It’s core to our market transition strategy. Each employee needs to constantly learn new skills, refine existing ones and deprecate old ones. This cycle has been in place since the beginning of IT departments. The difference now is that it’s happening a lot faster.”

IT professionals aren’t the only ones who must adjust, said R. “Ray” Wang, founder and analyst at Constellation Research, a San Francisco-based consultancy specialized in disruptive technology’s ability to transform business. The CIO must refocus priorities as well.

“The cost structure, short-term, goes down,” Wang said. “IT can become a business partner if they understand the needs of the business. This is why the CIO has to understand the strategic business needs and identify what technologies to deploy and not to deploy.”

If IT becomes a service provider, Belding said, it becomes a competitor, in essence, to cheap and easy-to-deploy cloud services. Corporate IT organizations must produce offerings as good as or better than what’s available commercially or the business can blow around IT to get what it wants. “We now have to act as a competitor to the low-cost or free services, vetting these services and integrating the best options with new and existing private-cloud solutions,” Belding said.

This changing role is quickly becoming the new IT reality. Whether corporate IT pros know or understand it, users and departments can get what they need without them. IT must adjust or, as Haines put it, get run over. ◆

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