Recently I was invited by IBM to host a lunch in Auckland that bought together a handful of IT managers from a range of organizations. the aim of the lunch was to have a discussion, in a neutral forum, about the opportunities and challenges that cloud brings to their organizations. the makeup of the participants was interesting, we had Government agencies, State owned commercial entities, private firms and technology vendors all around the table.
The conversation mirrored a theme that I’ve been reflecting on more and more recently – the tension that exists between IT and the business unit. While I was unsure how much of that tension translated down to New Zealand with its particular nuances, it was interesting to see that, while some aspects of the conversation differed somewhat from what I’m hearing elsewhere, many of the themes were the same.
Part of the reason for IBM arranging the event was to get some open feedback from organizations about what they, and by extension other technology vendors, need to do in order to best equip customers with the tools to make the right decisions as they move to the cloud. I was really interested to hear participants perspectives on this issue – my perspective is that cloud is more about business strategy than technological direction, to this end I’ve always thought that organizations are less in need of deep technical support than they are in need of basic education that gives them the tools and knowledge to ask the right questions. Attendees at the lunch concurred with my perspective saying that the most useful thing that vendors can do for customers is to simply arm them with the information to accurately assess the impacts that cloud will make on their people, their processes and their bottom line.
This last point of course is an interesting one – I steadfastly stick to my perspective that cloud isn’t about cost saving but is rather about benefits delivered through agility and increased focus on core business. That said it was interesting to hear form the attended who, while agreeing with my thesis, kept coming back to the fact that in their world, it’s about selling a technology decision to the C-suite. This regrettably often comes down to a price discussion. While cloud as an enabler is a compelling message to tell, that message needs to be balanced by an honest assessment of the cost implications of any change.
When talking about the uptake of cloud in New Zealand with the attendees it was interesting to hear their perspective, even those amongst the group who were dubious about the benefits of the cloud accepted the fact that the horse has well and truly already bolted – employees are already using the cloud extensively and the challenge for IT managers isn’t in fact stopping cloud usage but rather educating their users about the risks the cloud can bring, and giving them the tools to protect themselves. To this end it was interesting to hear one attendee, who works in one of the most privacy-sensitive sectors of the economy, suggest that there is no stopping this train – rather he needs a vendor to help him to put things in place that enable his users, while ensuring that things are safe. As an example, he talked about the increase in the trend of BYOD or “Bring Your Own Device” in organizations but looked to vendors to offer tools that allowed BYOD to occur, but still give It the ability to remotely wipe data or ensure some minimum standards.
The key thing for me as the host of the lunch was to ensure that their was a clear path for customers to articulate their needs, and for vendors to take these learning’s and deliver them as product and service offerings. Many attendees were dubious that businesses from New Zealand could really influence a global vendor’s product or service list but Phil Sheehan, ANZ Cloud evangelist for IBM was adamant that customers really do have an influential position and even small customers from small markets have the ability to communicate needs and requirements that directly translate into product offerings.
Bringing together these two parties – vendor and customers – in an environment where there was no selling conversation occurring, was a refreshing change and I think both parties benefitted greatly from the session. I’d love to see the model being used again going forwards – perhaps to create a customer advisory group that can regularly meet to bounce ideas, learn from a peer group and influence the direction that technology take.
Disclaimer – IBM contracted diversity Analysis to host the session
(Cross-posted @ The Diversity Blog - SaaS, Cloud & Business Strategy)