How to get your board to approve your cloud plans

It seems that board-level executives are not as keen as their IT professionals on the adoption of Cloud computing according to no less than three new reports. The reports from heavyweights Dell, IBM and Symantec report varying levels of fear, uncertainty and doubt about Cloud adoption. This is a little surprising given the importance CEOs and boards always purport to give to efficiency and cost reductions – two of the undoubted benefits of Cloud computing.

In a recent Dell survey 223 IT professionals at this year’s Cloud Expo were asked about their companies’ attitudes to cloud computing. The survey showed up the differences between how business leaders view the cloud and how IT professionals view it.

The IT professionals reported that business leaders were more likely than themselves to describe the cloud as either having “immense potential” or being a “passing fad.” According to Dell “the survey data validates a perceived lingering disconnect in expectations between IT professionals and senior business executives.”

The second report, Symantec’s 2011 Virtualisation and Evolution to The Cloud, points out that over 75 percent of C-Level executives cite reliability, security and performance as their main concerns about virtualization and hybrid-cloud deployment. These numbers stand in contrast to responses from IT professionals, who report that after cloud adoption, these areas all scored quite well compared to their goals.

The third report, IBM’s, 2011 Global CIO Study, devotes an entire section to a survey of 622 midmarket CIOs and highlights the obstacles that IT departments face depending on their business needs and goals. The report highlights that no one single solution for cloud adoption is going to work across the board.

What this shows is that CIOs are still not effectively communicating the business benefits of Cloud computing to their bosses. What all three surveys show is that good communications between IT and C-level management is critical for any business looking into cloud adoption, the hybrid cloud, or even just increased virtualization. It is obvious that major areas of concern like security and reliability, initialization costs and long-term investment is not being explained properly to the Board.

CIOs and IT managers must be careful not to over-sell the cloud and promise results that are impossible. The Symantec report showed a chasm between expectations and reality in the area of scalability, something a cloud solution excels at. This obviously means that many C-level executives were over-sold or were simply never brought down to reality of the cloud’s ability.

Other areas where businesses felt that the cloud fell short were in reducing operating expenses and reducing complexity. These types of failures make it less likely that management will approve future cloud initiatives. When discussing IT solutions, IT professional should be sure they are discussing the current cloud, instead of an idealized hypothesis of what it may one day become.

Symantec report says that security is the major worry of most CEOs cited by 77% of them. This is followed by concern about reliability – 71% and performance, also worried about by 71% of CEOs. This is not entirely surprising given the huge media exposure given to data breaches such as the ones Sony, RSA Security Sega and many others. What is surprising is that CIOs are not explaining that the breaches are not necessarily due to Cloud Computing and could have and may have occurred using in-house managed systems.

So why aren’t their IT people putting them right on all this? Maybe they are, but aren’t being listened to. Maybe they are, but they can’t convey the message in the language that the board can understand. Whichever is true, it’s clear that better communication is needed between wary CEOs and their IT managers.

However, Cloud Computing is at least high up on the agenda – with up to 90% of organisations stating that they are least discussing Cloud projects. But among some of those who said they had installed Cloud Computing in some form, the curse of bad communications hit them again – over-inflated expectations led many to complain that the actual implementation of Cloud did not come up to their expectations. That can only be blamed on the CTOS.

Symantec created its own check list of recommendations to make Cloud adoption as smooth as possible.

  • Ensure alignment between IT and executives in virtualization and cloud initiatives: It is important to show that you can address C-level concerns such as security and availability.
  • Don’t operate in a silo when it comes to Cloud Computing: virtualisation and Cloud initiatives are most successful when implemented as mainstream, comprehensive IT initiatives.
  • Leverage and modernize your existing infrastructure: Before you’re ready to implement hybrid/private cloud, make sure you are leveraging the existing infrastructure to achieve the same efficiencies and then modernising it as needed.
  • Set realistic expectations and track your results: Remember that despite the hype, Cloud is a new and still maturing market. Do your homework to set expectations that are realistic, then follow up and track results to identify ways to improve project efficiency going forward.

Moving many IT services into the cloud is quickly becoming a requirement for businesses. It doesn’t seem to matter what the business is – from industrial applications to making food, it can benefit from scalable storage and powerful virtualized business intelligence. Companies that fail to take advantage of these solutions risk losing a huge edge to competitors who do take advantage of the cloud.

IT professionals should see it as their responsibility to convince management to adopt cloud solutions for their businesses but they have to be careful to set realistic expectations or they will set their companies back many years and risk the mistrust of their boards for many years.

Constantine Galonis has worked in the IT industry since 1980. He received an HND in Computer Science from Southbank Polytechnic. He has a programming background in Algol and APL. He worked for Motor Oil Hellas Greece 1988 to 1991 initially in mainframe system databases before setting up their first PC support department. He transferred to Varnima UK to become IT manager for the UK sites and ran their support and infrastructure until 1996. Since 1996 until the present he has run the Art of Computing limited an IT Consultancy specialising in server based solutions and virtualisation. In 2009 he founded CirrusStratus for Cloud Hosted solutions. He is a specialist in Vmware, Vsphere, Citrix, IBM Sans storage and X-series and I-Series.