Nick Hardiman looks as the particular dilemma of IT staff in small organizations: cloud service options that help the bottom line vs. the pitfalls of ceding control.
Every enterprise needs to keep out the bad guys. An array of firewalls, proxies, web filters, VPNs and access tokens form an IT barrier that keeps the business secure. It also protects the dwindling empire of the IT department and stifles innovation. It hinders the work of the guys on the ground by keeping them away from the cloud service toolbox.
It's easy to make a business case for the cloud if it helps the bottom line. If it's a choice between 300 days of project time to revamp the in-house AD system, or just throw it away and pay Okta to use their cloud-based AD system instead, a case can be made for breaching the IT barrier.
The needs of the little people
But what about the little guys - the people in the small support departments located in the enterprise backwaters? The people in the teams with tiny budgets? They don't need sweeping cloud integration, cloud scale, or even cloud pricing. They do need a few niche services to help them along — services which the central IT deparment probably can't provide.
- A van driver may keep base posted using a location service.
- A regional sales office may keep in touch with clients using a social network that hasn't been approved.
- A team leader may keep up with his team using instant messaging.
They can't stay inside
The IT department, having grown from nothing to the enterprise core in the twentieth century, has had its budget squeezed in the twenty-first. The IT department is in decline, having spent a decade providing more services with no more cash.
How can the IT department meet obscure technical needs of the minor enterprise players? Should an enterprise build a private cloud, load it with new services, and plug those holes internally? It's a big challenge. Even if the IT department can duplicate the APM of AppDynamics or New Relic, they can't copy the subscription model. Internal resources are limited — if a DBA is struggling to control the Oracle estate, the last thing he will want is a multicultural MySQL, CouchDB, and Postgres estate.
And they can't go outside
This old defensive wall around the enterprise, built long ago to prevent IT vandals from sacking the systems, is being slowly dismantled to allow enterprise links to cloud services for the big players, but the little players aren't so lucky. A barrier controlled by the internal IT department maintains the demand for their services.
But why not?
Cloud computing can bring cheaper, better and faster technology services to small departments. Cloud services can be rented instantly using a self-service system, and there is seemingly no end to their variation. There is no distant voice saying the customer can't get what she wants. The cloud computing landscape is full of services that will ease a department's pain, providing help for making, selling and supporting. What's the problem with tapping into public cloud services?
Well, plenty, actually. Empowering these little players to do what they want to do causes security risks, costs money, leads to sloppy work, and unsupportable systems. An enterprise must control any IT shift, including any move to the public cloud. The best people to consult when loosening IT restrictions are the people with the IT experience - the members of the IT department. The IT department can avoid the cloud traps and help form a cloud strategy.
So what's the answer?
Enterprise departments want faster, better and cheaper IT but an IT barrier stops them escaping to the cloud suppliers. The IT department doesn't want to lose control but they can't meet demand. Meanwhile, competitors may have magically figured out how to make sweeping IT changes that result in more customers for less outlay. There is no easy answer.
Pity your IT chiefs. They're having a tough time.
Have you had any experience implementing a cloud service in a small organization as resident IT staff or as a consultant? Were you able to work out some of the problems discussed above? If you've had a particular success or failure, let us know about it.