CIO as Chief Business Innovator via the Cloud and Crowd

Christopher Bruzzi, VP-Technology, Appirio
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Christopher Bruzzi, VP-Technology, Appirio

The role of the CIO has never been more important, as we see traditionally non-technology industries evolving into technology companies. Shopping was forever transformed by Amazon. Private transportation is being re-imagined by companies like Uber and Lyft. It is up to the CIO to transform their role from primarily “keeping the lights on” to a focus on “turning the lights on”, allowing our business colleagues to re-imagine what’s possible with today’s technology. By now, we’ve all heard the benefits of cloud computing and have done our best to separate the hype from the truth. While some are still wary of the public cloud, staying the course in the on-premise world puts us at a severe disadvantage against our competitors who enjoy the velocity, reliability, cost, and increased innovation that the cloud offers. Crowdsourcing may also seem risky on the surface, but grants access to a previously inaccessible workforce of experts via the cloud, offering similar benefits at an even greater scale.

Cloud is Just a Means to an End

Most CIOs are no longer contemplating if they should move to the cloud, but are instead trying to decide how to make the shift in their organizations. The good news is, this can be accomplished one step at a time, but selecting the right cloud offerings is critical. I’ve experienced firsthand how building on top of the right cloud platforms can absolutely turn the focus rightfully on solving the business challenges at hand rather than the technology selection and infrastructure setup. Wherever possible, selecting first Software as a Service (SaaS), then Platform as a Service (PaaS), and only then Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) to meet your needs follows the age old buy-before-build mantra. Selecting companies who were born and 100 percent focused on the cloud like Salesforce, Workday, Google, and Amazon, eliminates all of the legacy baggage holding them (and potentially you) back.

Public cloud solutions such as these offer multi-tenancy, fault-tolerance, and near seamless scalability. Your IT teams may be good or even great, but think of the brain power you’re competing against at some of these cloud-based tech giants. Let them handle these infrastructure and low-level security woes as your teams shift their focus up the stack on the business.

“Most CIOs are no longer contemplating if they should move to the cloud, but are instead trying to decide how to make the shift in their organizations”

Software development is messy and bugs are inevitable. Sure, they can be minimized with effort and process, but this comes at a price—either time, resources, focus, or all three. Building on top of the proven technology of cloud platforms can help increase software quality by minimizing custom development, thereby avoiding the introduction of new bugs. In addition, cloud platforms allow you to much more efficiently create reusable assets since in the public cloud, everyone is effectively on the same version of the platform at once.

In addition to the avoidance of introducing bugs, not needing to reinvent the wheel also allows your teams to more quickly focus on adding business value.

Crowd is the New Cloud

Crowdsourcing is another hot topic these days and has only become possible because of the cloud. It wasn’t that long ago that enabling third party contractors to work in our environments involved them physically coming to our offices and supplying them hardware and a desk. Cloud-based environments do not inherently have this limitation, so your potential workforce has become much larger and global experts are now accessible in ways that have never been economically feasible before. The concern you had with anyone in the world being able to access your environment just turned into a benefit.

Crowdsourcing, like the cloud, offers fault-tolerance. Building subject matter expertise internally is a smart decision, but relying only on internal resources is riskier and less efficient than you think. Unexpected events could put your star developer out of commission, but having multiple developers compete on your tasks via crowdsourcing can address this risk. In addition, even the smartest individual can benefit from having access to, and collaborating with, other experts.

Crowdsourcing, like the cloud, enables higher quality results. While our internal teams may be good at many things, it’s difficult to be experts at everything while keeping up with evolving new technologies. Crowdsourcing significantly increases your talent pool. Topcoder is an example of a crowdsourcing community of over 700,000 designers, developers, and data scientists, giving you access to the industry’s top talent, no matter where they reside in the world. Crowdsourcing also can increase quality by offering additional capacity. Higher quality tech reviews can be accomplished with multiple reviewers. Higher quality designs can be accomplished when the best aspects of the work from multiple designers can be combined and built upon.

Crowdsourcing, like the cloud, can increase your team’s velocity. Without working overtime, the capacity of your existing team is fixed. Crowdsourcing lets your team take on multiple work streams in parallel. Evolving your in-house experts into cloud architects to mastermind the work with the crowd additionally offers your team career growth that may not have otherwise been possible. Making sure the right technologies are part of your chosen architecture, can help increase your dev capacity via the crowd.

And yes, working with the crowd does require forethought and documentation, but it helps your team design better systems regardless. This is very similar to how those collaborating most effectively with offshore learned that the best outcome often depended on clear specs.

From Cost Center to Innovation Center

You will have growing pains. The cloud has its limitations and effectively utilizing crowdsourcing can be a big cultural change for your organization. But the potential for increased innovation that is enabled by the combination of cloud and crowd is worth serious attention. Strategically pick an area or application that could gain the most benefit from these offerings. Work with a Systems Integrator that you trust with expertise in both cloud and crowd so that you can get started on the right foot. When you can put your attention on creating business value vs. IT plumbing which is likely not your company’s core competency, you have the opportunity to make a big impact on the success of your business.

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