Monthly Archives: April 2012

Is IT a commodity, like electricity?

Johna Johnson, the writer of this article, discusses the thoughts of Nicholas Carr, who believes “IT organizations are effectively on the same level as janitorial services — necessary maintenance, but hardly innovators.”

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Chicken stock and accountability

Simon Sinek’s ability to make a point from a seemingly irrelevant reference is uncanny. In his blog post (below), he recalls his Vegetarian friend trying to ensure the soup he ordered in a restaurant was completely meat-free.

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Have you heard of Stealth IT?

GigaOm reports on the lesser-publicised side of BYOD: Stealth IT. Is it happening in your company? Is it the result of a frustrating, bureaucratic approval process; or necessary security controls?


The acronym BYOD, which stands for bring your own device, is taking over both corporate America and the press release filter in my inbox. But an analyst report out Monday suggests that BYOD has a flip side that no one talks about — Stealth IT, or the IT pro side of the consumerization trend that has swept corporate America.

There are employees bringing their own devices and apps into the workplace, as summed up by the BYOD discussions, and on the other side are IT managers taking their own credit cards (or corporate cards), grabbing company data and then playing in the cloud. Deutsche Bank notes that the issue of employees taking data and devices outside of corporate firewalls (or leaving them on airplanes) is one management headache that is getting a lot of attention and products, but the concept of Stealth IT is still ripe for new businesses and startups.

It describes the trend like this:
A much more common trend is that internal IT staff find a problem. They need more computing power, or more storage, or some outside analytical tool. Getting approval for this can often be complicated, sometimes for good reasons (i.e. security) sometimes for less good reasons (i.e. inertia and bureaucracy). Faced with a real-world problem to solve, these tech-savvy staff suffer from insufficient resources. So instead, they turn to some of the publicly available resources. The best-known of these is probably Amazon’s Web Services (AWS), but there are many, many more. … Often these expenses can be camouflaged by use of personal credit cards, or expensed as technical manuals. After all, the expense line on the credit card bill just says ‘Amazon’. A few hours of Amazon compute time typically results in two digit bill.

As someone immersed in discussion around enterprise IT and access to platforms and infrastructure as a service, I feel like this is putting a sexy name onto a problem that is already well-known among entrepreneurs, corporate IT, and even large companies trying to deliver compliance solutions aimed at this very problem. But DB says the issues go beyond compliance.

For example, the DB report asks what happens if the employee managing a corporation’s secret development sandbox in Amazon Web Services leaves. Suddenly no one in the corporation has access to that resource. Also, by going around the official processes, IT managers don’t create demand for cloud services in-house, leaving management in the dark about the potential benefits of creating an in-house platform or infrastructure as a service cloud.

I don’t find this last reason all that compelling, but I’m not the target audience of compliant-crazy and control-oriented enterprises. Easy access to devices and computing brought about by consumers choosing their own solutions instead of complicated and PC-bound corporate options are making it hard for corporations that are bound by regulations, legislation and basic corporate governance to meet compliance standards.

The folks at Deutsche Bank seem to think that a better user interface to corporate resources on the computing side and friendly apps will go a long way to solving the issue of stealth IT, but if slapping a pretty interface on top of the problem is the solution, then this isn’t that much of a problem. However, cutting through bureaucracy, giving programs a usability overhaul and finding platforms and infrastructure services that are built with compliance in mind are ways to put the kibosh on (or at least help control) corporate IT managers feel like they have to go rogue in order to get a few virtual machines.

Catch customers before they tweet

“These customers don’t want answers in days; they demand them in minutes, and are likely to complain vocally if ignored.” I absolutely agree with the sentiment in this article written by Justin Grey, Editor of My Business magazine. These days it’s a likely occurrence for customers to take to Twitter, or Facebook, and stomp all over your brand because of a bad customer service experience. That’s where the need for Cloud Survey was born… from the necessity of catching dissatisfied customers before they tear your company to shreds on social media. Implementing a customer satisfaction survey, in conjunction with a CRM such as, covers your customer experience from end to end. Oh, and did I mention how easily Global Speech Networks integrates with Ask us how.


Tony Armfield, Vice President, Enterprise Sales, at ANZ, offers some pointers on how cloud customer service solutions can help SMEs keep up with the ever-present demands of the modern-day customer who no longer tolerates waiting for service.

Through the internet the new social, mobile and global consumer is creating a tremendous opportunity for small businesses, but it is also creating an unprecedented demand for an ‘always on, always there’ customer service team.

However, the adoption of cloud technologies can provide a social, mobile and global customer service experience as an integrated part of your business.

A new generation of customers is now interacting across all customer service channels. Service that just a couple of years ago could be controlled and funneled into the familiar phone or email channels is now spilling over into Twitter, Facebook, websites, live chat and every other new channel or network that emerges.

The generation born in the 1980s is driving the push to ‘anywhere, anytime customer service’. These customers don’t want answers in days; they demand them in minutes, and are likely to complain vocally if ignored. Small businesses can now realistically deliver this sort of customer service to a global customer base through cloud applications.

A new generation of cloud-based tools is helping relieve the customer service pressures for small businesses. The cloud can offer enterprise-class technology at a fraction of the price of on-premise software, with minimal IT requirements. Cloud solutions can also be deployed quickly – sometimes in a matter of minutes, instead of days, weeks or months.

In the modern-day business environment, customer expectations are higher than ever before. Customers want to be able to reach you everywhere, and receive accurate answers pronto.

In a challenging business climate, if these customer expectations are not met the impact could be harsh. But if businesses can deliver the type of service today’s social, mobile and global consumer now expects, only positive results can ensue.

2012 Cloud IT Priorities

Thoran Rodrigues from TechRepublic investigates how cloud makes the list of priorities and concerns for IT professionals in 2012. Under the issues Thoran lists as “anti-cloud” I see a couple that are debatable. Firstly, business continuity is not necessarily a legitimate reason to shy away from cloud, you just need to ask vendors the right questions. Cloud providers that have dual-PoP or tri-PoP are likely to offer more business continuity than on-premise equipment. Data centres with geographical diversity support the notion of business continuity more so than a single data centre located at your office.  As for the other ‘con’, the idea that reduced IT budgets are preventing cloud adoption is, well… strange. In my eyes, the ability to offer cloud in a pay-per-use business model is a definite win. This means there is no need to purchase costly infrastructure and you only pay for what you need. Seems to me, that there are more pros than cons listed in Mr Rodrigues’ article.

Takeaway: Thoran Rodrigues shares his observations on the 2012 IT Priorities report, which highlights emerging tech trends. How does the cloud address both the priorities and concerns of IT pros?

A few weeks ago, ZDNet and TechRepublic released their first-ever U.S. IT Priorities report, containing data aggregated from a series of questions posed to IT professionals from companies of all types and sizes. The report contains several interesting bits of information, such as the fact that most budgets are flat or only slightly growing, and it also contains information that may seem intuitive – such as the fact that most companies would prefer to be able to get rid of their legacy systems and start over – but that is now validated in a quantitative way.

I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the findings in the report from a cloud computing perspective. Not only to look at the data that is related to the cloud, but also to try and see how some of the trends highlighted tie in with the value proposition of cloud computing, and even how they may in the future affect or be affected by the cloud market.
Priorities and the cloud

The leading priority for companies of all sizes in the report was to “improve business processes and efficiency”. While this may seem the obvious priority for any IT department, since it describes the very goal of IT in an organization, the very fact that it is in this list may be an indication of how hard it is to actually accomplish this goal. Cloud computing can relate directly to this goal: by using cloud infrastructure – even private clouds – IT can deliver the infrastructure needs of business users faster and, at the same time, optimize corporate resource usage, fulfilling both process and efficiency improvements. The same goes for other cloud layers. Cloud software, for instance, can usually be deployed faster than traditional software, resulting in improved efficiency and reduced costs.

Another leading priority, related to improving Data Mining and Business Intelligence for decision support, can also receive a great positive impact from cloud tools. A large part of the problem related with data mining and business intelligence capabilities are the amount of computing resources that these activities require. They usually involve complex queries that can tax a system and cause problems for everyone else. The cloud offers several ways to reduce this impact:

First, companies can adopt cloud servers, be they public or private, for the execution of data mining tasks. They would spin up a server, run whatever data processing job is required, fetch the results and bring the server down, greatly reducing the investment in infrastructure.
Second, companies can leverage the available big data processing tools – any one of the several MapReduce frameworks out there – to process their own data, regardless of volume or size. Once again, this could bring down costs while improving responsiveness.

Concerns and the cloud

Interestingly enough, the list of key IT concerns reads like a study on the pros and cons of cloud computing. On top of the list come “security concerns”. While most IT security concerns are related to securing companies’ networks, any move to the cloud must take this into account. If companies have trouble to secure their own networks, how can they trust someone else to do this properly for them? In second place comes the notion of “optimizing and controlling costs”. This is one of the key propositions of the cloud: by sharing resources, overall usage can be optimized and costs can be better managed. The third spot goes to “improving service responsiveness”. Once again, one of the key concerns when companies are moving to the cloud is the service level agreement: who is going to be responsible if the service goes down? How can I make sure that I will have excellent uptime?

The list goes on, with some points that can be seen as “pro-cloud”:

outdated infrastructure
datacenter consolidation
deploying and delivering applications

Others issues can be seen as “anti-cloud”:

business continuity
meeting regulatory compliance
reduced budgets.

This duality translates directly to the everyday discussions about cloud computing. Cloud vendors sell themselves by saying they will bring reduced and optimized costs, faster deployment time, and better uptime, and they seek certifications to reduce the other concerns, such as security and business continuity.

While the cloud can help address several of the top priorities listed by IT professionals, there are still several key concerns that may slow its adoption by companies, especially large ones. In addition to the security concerns that are common to all companies regardless of size, large companies have the added burden of supporting legacy systems, which reduces available budget. These budget reductions, in turn, may lead to less experimentation with new technologies – such as cloud computing – and a slower adoption rate.

Recognizing and understanding these concerns and the weight they carry in organizations of different sizes and in different industries can help cloud providers better tailor their solutions to fit specific needs. At the same time, it is interesting for companies in different sectors and with different sizes to be able to compare their priorities and concerns with the rest of the market. The report is very interesting – and it’s free – so I recommend anyone interested in learning more about it to download it and take a look.


Gartner’s latest research, as reported in an article in, has found that CEOs don’t think very highly of their slightly lower ranked brothers (and sisters), the CIOs. The disconnect stems from the perception that CIOs are too focused on the ‘technical stuff’ and not aligned with business strategy. This would be a fair assumption in the days of old, but is a harsh description of today’s business savvy CIOs. The  phenomenon of Cloud has, and is helping, CIOs move forward to the land of profit and customer experience, and away from data centres and IP connectivity. Of course, the latter is still a hugely important part of the CIOs job, but they need to know how these technical aspects lead the business forward to achieving long-term strategic goals.


CEOs still often dismiss CIOs as too techie and not aligned business activities, according to results from the latest Gartner research.

According to a survey of 220 CEOs across the world, business leaders expect spend on IT to rise, but without a corresponding rise in the importance of the role of the CIO within the organisation.

Gartner VP Mark Raskino said the results showed CIOs were rarely seen as the masters of innovation management within the company by the CEO, nor were they thought of as strategy partners.

“In a world of digital disruption, how safe an arrangement is that?” he said.

Although 40 per cent of CIOs report to the CEO, 30 per cent to the COO and 20 per cent to the CFO, this reporting trend has not changed in a decade, Raskino explained.

“When we asked them why their CIO had this reporting line, our respondents couldn’t give an answer. We are finding that too often CEOs recruit from outside, suggesting they can’t find desirable candidates from inside the business,” he said. “CEOs aren’t investing enough thought on how they are developing the CIO role from within.”

CIOs appear to be failing in the eyes of CEOs in terms of alignment with the rest of the business. The research showed the stereotype of the head of IT being too preoccupied with technical issues to be effective business leaders persists. He said they were perceived as unable to bring a breadth of business perspective to the table.
Raskino explained that the CIO view that they cross departmental boundaries because they control the systems that support them is unhelpful when trying to demonstrate expertise in other parts of the business to the CEO.

“Some CEOs might even find this reasoning irritating,” he said, “because it shows a process-centric view of the company, rather than a political or pragmatic one. This perfect world-view is at odds with the mundane realities of business life that other business leaders have to deal with to accomplish their goals.”

Cloud Software SLA's

Information Week’s latest article offers some advice on navigating your way around Cloud Software SLA’s. On this train of thought, it’s important to note the scepticism of many when it comes to Cloud providers. Fortunately, their (or your) concern is probably exaggerated. The truth is, that any IT provider, Cloud or otherwise, is bound by the terms of their SLA. So, it is necessary to check their uptime guarantee and finer details of the contract. Small sacrifices may have to be made on the continuum between cost and reliability (is 5 x 9’s a must have?) and you will need to decide what level of support your company really requires. Takeaway: Cloud is not exempt from adhering to contract specifications, just like any other vendor.


While negotiating special contract terms is not standard operating procedure in the world of software-as-a-service (SaaS), experts say companies have a much better shot at custom provisions if they know exactly what they’re looking for and can frame their needs in the context of why they’re critical for business.

“You need to spend time figuring out why you need to make the change so you can make a business case to the cloud provider that it’s in everyone’s best interest that the changes be made,” noted David Snead, an attorney in Washington, D.C., who represents Internet infrastructure providers and whose specialty is hammering out service level agreements (SLAs).

As an example, Snead cited a social network company that sought custom SLA terms and was successful. Rather than complain that the provider’s generic uptime guarantees weren’t enough, the company detailed a highly specific scalability requirement to accommodate usage spikes during key time periods. “They said, if your network can’t expand during those time periods, we will lose X amount of revenue so we need you to expand your SLA to accommodate that,” Snead recounted. “Communicating with your provider about what your business does will get you an SLA that meets your business needs.”

Other than transparency and a clear accounting of business need, there are plenty of strategies for negotiating the best SLA terms with a cloud software provider. Here are four additional best practices to ensure you cut the best deal:

1. Don’t set unrealistic expectations.

Since many cloud providers offer standard terms, they tend to set the bar pretty high in terms of service-level performance in areas like uptime, security, and high availability. Getting fixated on a particular metric–say 99.999% uptime, for example–as a requirement when your own IT organization couldn’t possibly meet that standard can stand in the way of establishing an effective and enforceable SLA. “Be realistic about what you’re asking vs. the reality of what you do or need to do,” said Liz Herbert, principal analyst at Forrester Research. “Make sure you’re not aiming for a pipe dream in your contract.”

2. Do proper research and make the SLA part of the selection process.

Given that there’s often less flexibility around SLAs, it makes sense to consider a cloud provider’s SLA as part of the due diligence around vendor selection–not as an afterthought, post evaluation. For instance, if your business needs a highly redundant environment, a cloud provider serving up routers, network, server, and application infrastructure for use along with 50 other customers may not be the right fit. “It really comes down to whether a cloud solution offered by provider X is suitable for what your business is going to do,” said Jonathan Shaw, principal with Pace Harmon, a consulting company. “The SLA needs to come into play during the selection process rather than at the backend in negotiation.”

It also makes sense to collect SLAs from other cloud providers so you can make an informed comparison about what most are offering and potentially use the information to your advantage, according to attorney Snead. “If you are able to say that competitors are providing this SLA clause and you can demonstrate why it’s important to you, it goes a long way in creating a strong argument,” Snead explained.

3. Aim for an SLA that reflects the user experience.

Whenever possible, insist on SLAs that reflect the full scope of service. So, for example, it’s not enough for the cloud provider to say they’ve met their SLA if their server is up, but the network or Internet connection is down. It’s necessary to include providers’ switches, firewalls, networks, authentication systems, and whatever other gear as part of how you measure application availability, noted Shaw. “Makes sure they’re measuring availability [of the application] from outside of their firewalls, routers, data center, and networks, and that they’re not just using a monitor sitting in their data center,” he explained.

4. Make sure the provider can meet its SLA claims.

If it’s critical to your business that your data be mirrored in two different locations, Shaw said, don’t just settle for an SLA that promises a high level of redundancy or says simply that data will be mirrored. Instead, shoot for SLAs that specify that data will be mirrored to these two very specific and separate locations. “In an SLA, specificity is very important,” he explained. “You don’t want to leave it open to broad terms. It goes back to knowing what you want–as a customer, you know your business best and you shouldn’t rely on a provider to figure out what you need.”

The cloud trifecta

“Today’s relationships encompass the trifecta of people, processes and technology,” according to an article in the Rust Report. Cloud is perfectly poised to emerge as the winner in the shift of power from vendors to the client. True cloud solutions from experienced vendors embrace the aforementioned trifecta with ease. Software solutions are no longer confined within the walls of the IT department, but are seen and exploited by every function in the business.


Over the past few years the ICT industry has seen a swing from a vendor controlled environment to one that has become increasingly client controlled. To survive and grow, ICT providers now have to rethink how they sell and what they sell.

The past two years have seen marked changes in how product and services are offered and how they are bought. Those shifts have occurred in response to an extremely competitive market where change is inevitable and buyer maturity has grown tremendously. Vendors, in turn, are meeting the challenges presented by this new and evolving landscape with varying degrees of success.

Whatever your industry, customers are most likely delaying projects and looking for new ways to cut costs. This is a good time to take stock of relationship-building capabilities of the team. Are current relationships strong enough to withstand the destructive pressures of today’s tough environment? Do salespeople know how to leverage personal assets and the assets of the company to build “competitor proof” relationships?

In order to avoid being hit by the big vendors or disruptive start-ups, established vendors must act now to strengthen their positioning and reinvent their value chain in the current competitive environment. The rules of the game are changing fast. New business models and delivery methods are revolutionizing the way companies buy.

The same is true for the PR industry. What has always been a challenging part of the marketing mix for many marketers is rapidly expanding into something more complex and powerful. A lot has changed. Just a few years ago, vendors looked at PR as involving traditional communication vehicles such as press releases announcing the release of the latest whatever. Nearly all PR activity was organized around product launches. Today’s relationships encompass the trifecta of people, processes and technology, meaning any relationship – including PR – needs to be well defined. The nature of business has changed dramatically with Cloud Services for example; the concept of a new product announcement is irrelevant. Rather than one or two big events per year, there is a series of ongoing – often daily – events which warrant a new type of ongoing publicity.

Amid today’s backdrop of vendor consolidation, open standards, next generation apps and cloud based deployment options, no one vendor can deliver innovative solutions that meet every industry vertical, business process, market segment and geographical requirement. Consequently many vendors are seeking and encouraging partners to innovate on their platforms, fill existing gaps and ultimately help them drive long-term customer loyalty. The result being that many vendors now have a vast partner ecosystem often filled with solutions at varying levels of integration, support and quality.

Navigating through the storms of technological change requires today exceptional leadership, especially since even the most experienced CEOs can still be handicapped by their past successes. The pressure is high, the stakes are huge and the need to appear in charge is paramount. Technology comes in successive waves. Success goes to those who have the vision to foresee, to imagine what shapes the next cycle will take. Leadership and communication from CEOs are today indispensable in the quest for success.

—Len Rust