How Cloud Computing Changes the Role of IT
We are experiencing a significant shift in how corporate IT departments deliver services to the business in this era of cloud computing. IT staffs are evolving beyond installing servers and software towards provisioning services, negotiating vendor relationships and collaborating with business users on application service delivery requirements.
What does this mean for your staff, skills and networking mix? Here are a few thoughts:
First, software as a service (SaaS) is more about the vendor than the actual app.Once you get beyond the decision to move your app to the cloud, most SaaS apps in a given category do about 80% of the same thing. But by focusing on the app, IT is missing out here. For example, making sure the vendor offers the appropriate geographic diversity for their servers (and yours, if you are hosting them in the cloud), understanding what provisioning for the highest availability should be, and making sure that they hit their service level agreements. None of these things are of interest to your business counterparts, until something goes wrong that is.
This puts IT more firmly in control than you might have initially thought. Look at key metrics for evaluating managed service providers such as problem resolution procedures and response times, server downtime patterns, and other things that IT is used to tracking for on-premises servers. These are still valid in the cloud.
Second, no end user really wants to build and manage his or her apps. But they do want to download something that can improve their productivity. Look at ways you can recommend apps, or build a corporate app store portal to make it easier for them to do so.
Third, what APIs are needed to integrate to your existing systems? It isn’t the app but the interfaces that matter. Ironically, once mobile apps take hold the next step is all about their interfaces or APIs and how you can access the necessary business information through these APIs with other apps. Think of this as the Lego approach to building and extending single-purpose apps into a rich app ecosystem. For the mobile apps that one insurance provider built, they added workflows, traffic monitors, usage trends and security features that are all managed via a set of published interfaces that allow other vendors to integrate their insurance products into their own mobile solutions. Expect more of this in the future..
Next, look more closely at your bandwidth and who and what is consuming it. As the number of SaaS-based apps increase, network patterns are going to change and you might need more bandwidth or use it in different ways. Examine your traffic flows and see if your original assumptions and calculations are still accurate.
Next, examine your core business processes from a wider lens too. You aren’t the gatekeeper for the apps your users are going to use, but should know how to make them more productive and efficient at doing their jobs. The old ways of thinking that all that was needed was a Cisco or Microsoft certified expert are gone; the new ways are how to be more agile at supporting this new world order. Instead of spending time writing business requirements documents and doing large architectural reviews, look at ways your business analyst can implement cloud-based apps that your users actually want to run.
Finally, now more than ever it is time to work more closely with your end users. IT needs to become more collaborative, deliver results faster and understand your business more than ever before. The sense of company-as-community is stronger, and each user wants to feel they are connected to their fellow workers – even the ones working in IT. Think about ways you can foster this collaborative spirit in the future.
David Strom is the founding editor-in-chief of Network Computing and has contributed thousands of articles about computer networking and Internet applications to dozens of publications over the past 25 years. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @dstrom.