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Hey CIOs -- The Cloud is All About Data

By Jeffrey Kaplan
May 19, 2011

With the advent of the ‘Cloud’, there has been a renewed debate about the changing role of the CIO. Some have even suggested that the acronym should be redefined to mean “Chief Innovation Officer” or “Chief Infrastructure Officer.” I think rebranding the title misses the fundamental data management challenges that most organizations continue to face -- challenges that are still at the core of the CIO’s role.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, entitled “Should More CIOs Report to the Top?” examined this topic from a security point of view. The evolving role of the CIO was also the focus of MIT’s recent CIO Symposium which I attended.

The event attracted a few hundred CIOs, vendors and ‘thought-leaders’. The day consisted of a series of panel sessions which explored topics like, “What Every CIO Should Know About the Future Impact of Digital Business,” “Collective Intelligence and Social Networks,” “Enterprise Analytics & Business Values” and “The Evolving CIO Role in Cloud and Mobile Computing Environment.”

At the core of each of these sessions was how CIOs should overcome a common challenge – helping their corporate executives and business end-users capitalize on data. In each session, the panelists referred to various ways in which they are employing Cloud services to generate, capture, analyze and disseminate valuable data. This data was previously unavailable or unusable because of the complexities and costs of traditional, legacy systems and software.

CIOs from a variety of industries each revealed the various ways they are implementing Cloud solutions to address an assortment of business requirements. Their goal in leveraging Cloud services is already shifting from simply cutting costs or accelerating resource deployment to developing new business innovations and creating new forms of competitive advantage.

The day concluded with a panel session entitled, “Cloud Computing Spectrum: From Low Hanging Fruit To Game-Changing Transformation,” which discussed where and how companies are currently leveraging Cloud resources to achieve their business objectives and pursue new innovations. The panelists included the CIO from instrumental systems vendor Thermo Fisher Scientific, who is using the Cloud to track and measure business operations across highly dispersed, mobile devices.

The universal recognition among the speakers of the potential power of Cloud resources to attack age-old business intelligence and analytics problems was counterbalanced with lingering concerns about privacy, security, control and other important policy issues.

When the day was done, the challenge was clear and the same as ever – how does an organization best capture, collate, convert and communicate cascading data into valuable insight across the corporation in a rapidly changing and evolving business environment?

Ironically, a session at the event entitled, “New IT Innovation Models,” offered few revelations about new techniques for corralling corporate information. Why? Because, ‘the more things change, the more they remain the same’. For the CIO, this means refocusing on their original purpose – orchestrating and optimizing the use of information to fulfill the needs of the organization and facilitate the workflow of end-users.

In my view, the CIO should not allow today’s turbulent environment or promise of Cloud Computing distract them from focusing on the historic mission of their role – enabling and encouraging their enterprises and end-users to capitalize on information to achieve their corporate objectives and meet their job responsibilities respectively.

Cloud Computing can empower CIOs to address this goal from a different angle. But, it can also create a new set of challenges along the way.

Jeff Kaplan is Managing Director of THINKstrategies (www.thinkstrategies.com), an independent consulting firm focused on the business implications of the on-demand services movement. He is also the founder of the Cloud Computing Showplace (www.cloudshowplace.com). He can be reached at jkaplan@thinkstrategies.com.