Efficiency and AgilityBy Faisal Hoque | Posted 2008-05-28 Email Print
It takes a new way of thinking about IT and a separation of business from buzzwords to determine the real value of utility computing in your enterprise.
Efficiency and Agility
While efficiency and cost savings are legitimate motives for pursuing cloud computing—and will be the initial motivation for most companies—some view this concept as an enabler of innovation and agility. If hardware and software are instantly available and always up to date, and if reliability and privacy are guaranteed, then a firm can focus its energy on new business models, experimenting on the fly and learning new ways to find and satisfy customers. Factoring in the computing resources needed for a new initiative will be a simple matter of deciding when to push the button.
It’s best to avoid getting too wrapped up in parsing the various terms associated with the cloud. Utility computing, for example, refers to the pay-per-use or metered approach Amazon uses. Electric power is often used as an analogy: You simply plug in an appliance and don’t worry about how the electricity is created or who is providing it. In contrast, grid computing involves linking thousands of computers, each of which handles pieces of a gigantic problem. The grid offers access to a level of processing power and storage capacity that is unavailable in a typical organization.
In practice, organizations will move to the cloud incrementally, shifting portions of their computing needs to it over time. Smaller companies will see an immediate payoff in moving completely to cloud computing. Larger companies, on the other hand, must wrestle with proprietary systems that are strategically critical and extremely complex, along with unique business processes that have been built up over time and can’t be easily handed off.
What we cannot avoid—and it’s much more difficult than buying servers and software seats—is the changing nature of work itself. Leading companies are moving toward the convergence of their management of business and technology. This means that decision-makers are conversant in both areas and can act on both to advance a strategy. For them, technology is no longer a mysterious activity hidden away in a glass house.
The computing tools in the cloud will be represented to users virtually in nontechnical ways, so they can use them without excessive training. At the same time, users will be more knowledgeable about the potential of the tools and more adept at manipulating them.
Consider what’s taking place at Ministry Health Care and Affinity Health System, a northern Wisconsin health care network. CIO Will Weider insists that all employees engage in “shadow IT,” meaning he has them use technology creatively, without waiting for his tech experts to help them. As a result, employees have developed more than 3,000 applications in QuickBase, a Web-based database from Intuit. The vast majority of these apps were created by non-IT users and include team workspaces, contract issue tracking and interpreter scheduling.
This has eliminated a lot of niche applications, according to Weider. “I realize that information technology cannot meet every possible need,” he says. “With tools like QuickBase, we can unleash our tech-savvy employees to meet their own needs, while keeping them in a sandbox.”