Many businesses have already successfully outsourced various IT functions and services in order to focus resources on their core business. Cloud computing is emerging as a way to outsource IT even further; in the coming years as cloud computing grows and matures, organizations will continue to shift their internal technological IT infrastructure to the cloud.
With their technological IT infrastructure shifting to the cloud, businesses will be able to focus more upon the business-centric aspects of IT. Most notably, they will spend more time defining information architecture rather than technical architecture and will spend more time managing their information assets rather than their technology assets.
Properly managing information assets within a cloud computing model is especially important for front-end IT service areas and applications such as Business Intelligence (BI), Business Performance Management (BPM), and performance metrics dashboards - where the business community has traditionally had a closer and more influential relationship with IT teams than other back-end IT service areas.
Business Intelligence and dashboard applications are IT specialty areas that are naturally well-suited for cloud computing because these applications tend to be business oriented, are highly visible to the business community, have measurable benefits, are straightforward to implement, require agile and iterative development processes, are read-only applications, and are relatively low risk.
IT Model in Transition
Cloud computing offers organizations the opportunity to explore and exploit self-service and on-demand IT services. Arguably, as technology and technologists become a service, organizational focus on IT will not go away; rather, organizations will shift their IT focus toward information architecture and establishing the command and control aspects of managing their information assets (e.g. processes and governance).
Within the cloud computing model, traditional internal IT teams will go through a transformation to become more business-aligned, governance-oriented, content-aware, and less technology-oriented. IT teams will become much more business-savvy as IT self-service and on-demand IT services increase. As IT strategy and business strategy become increasingly aligned, the business community’s involvement in managing information assets will grow in importance so a business-aligned collaborative relationship with IT is essential.
As technologist roles are outsourced in the cloud computing model, internal IT team configuration will gradually shift away from technologists to business-savvy ‘informationists’ – those who not only know technology but also know business data, rules controlling the data, and can understand business goals and strategies. These ‘informationists’ will be the drivers of information architecture.
Naturally, emphasis on information architecture and this expanding IT team of business-oriented informationists will influence and enable organizational strategists to revamp and extend organizational strategies – taking business decision-making to the limits of ever improving and expanding organizational information assets.
Cloud computing applications at the departmental, business-unit, or enterprise levels will enable (and obligate) the business community and IT teams to work closely together to properly manage their information strategy, content quality, and governance processes in the new world of outsourced Information-as-a-Service (IaaS), Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), and Infrastructure-as-a-Service IT models.
What can be expected is that as cloud computing services mature and become increasingly integrated, Cloud computing providers will increasingly offer “one stop shop” services by providing better end-to-end application implementation and operational services. This will further erode the need for internal IT technologists, following the outsourcing trend. Organizational control of technology will likely erode; however, what will remain under the complete control of the organization and its IT team is the non-technology aspect of information architecture and information asset management.
In a cloud computing model, IT teams will likely increase emphasis on functions and skills related to business alignment strategy, governance, and content quality (e.g. data quality).
- Business-Alignment Strategy
With the emergence of cloud-based IT self-service, more and more business community end-user groups will take responsibility for their business applications. Therefore, business alignment of all IT self-service applications, especially business intelligence and dashboard applications, is essential for maintaining information value and quality in the new world of IT self-service.
The focus of the organization’s IT team will shift from managing hardware assets and data center operations to defining the information architecture, managing its information assets, and making sure these information assets are properly aligned to the business strategy and objectives. Ideally, an organization’s information assets should be strategically aligned to the organization’s business strategy, directly contributing to business performance.
- Understanding business strategy, drivers, objectives, performance metrics, market dynamics, etc.
- Defining business rules and business definitions (enterprise, business unit, and/or department level)
- Developing a value-added information portfolio that ties to organizational goals and objectives (enterprise, business unit, and/or department)
- Predicting and measuring true cost/benefit of cloud computing applications (IT self-service and on-demand IT applications tied to business success - value proposition)
- Understanding new challenges of risk management in a IT self-service / on-demand IT environment
Given the self-service and on-demand nature of cloud computing using a “pay-as-you-go” funding model, it is more important than ever for the business communities within the organization to get true value for each dollar spent. It makes no sense for the organization to pay for applications, services and data that do not bring continuing value to the business. It is the obligation of the organization to be diligent and adjust or eliminate those applications, services, or data that are not adding value as measured by the goals and objectives of the organization. Naturally, in a maturing cloud computing environment there are many new risks to manage as well.
In order to achieve a high level of value management of information assets, it is important to establish and maintain good governance of data, models, business rules, content, data, information, applications, system performance, usage, etc. Another term for good governance is proper “command and control” of information assets. In a cloud computing model having proper and effective command and control is essential to success and may be the biggest challenge for the organization.
Business performance dashboards reflect and measure business success (or failure) at meeting organizational goals and objectives. The information assets which feed these dashboards need to be spot-on - so it is critical that organizations provide proper governance of these assets. In a cloud computing model an organization’s IT team resources begin to shift away from being predominantly technologists and shift toward being information experts and business experts - working under the umbrella of good organizational governance of information assets (not technology assets) that will protect and increase the value of those information assets over the long term.
- Stewardship (content, business rules, business models, metrics, applications, etc)
- Process monitoring and process controls
- Content security and privacy
- Master Data Management (MDM) and content standardization
- Cloud computing Capability Maturity Model (CMM)
- Managing and integrating emerging cloud computing IT models: Information-as-a-Service, Software as a Service, Platform-as-a-Service, and Infrastructure-as-a-Service
- Content Quality
In addition to the increasing importance of governance as a key IT skill, content quality (or data quality) will become increasingly important in the new world of cloud computing. Having high-quality data and other content is a key differentiator for organizational success in a commoditized and outsourced environment of IT self-service and on-demand IT services. Content quality means everything to an organization, since the quality of results of business decisions and actions will be made based on the quality of business information used to make those important decisions (“garbage in, garbage out”). Bad data could very well cause bad decisions to be made with negative consequences for the organization - so content quality does have very real value to the organization.
Content quality often competes with technology and infrastructure for IT attention and resources, but in the cloud computing model these distractions are reduced. Additionally, the importance of quality information becomes increasingly important to the IT team as information assets are aligned with business strategy. Business information assets must be “actionable” (timely, available, accessible, and most importantly, reliable) and “certifiable” (accurate, consistent, complete, and conformed).
Having information assets with very low actionability and certifiability in a cloud computing environment would undermine the other business-alignment and governance efforts, and greatly reduce the overall value of the organization’s information assets.
- Content value – data and other content as enterprise resources having measurable organizational value
- Actionable content – reliability, accessibility, availability, timeliness
- Certifiable content – consistency, completeness, accuracy, conformity
Key IT Focus in the Future
Having an IT team that possesses a keen understanding of the business, the business strategy, and the organizational business information needs is the differentiator between organizations that merely use cloud computing and those organizations that successfully exploit cloud computing to improve the organization. Organizational IT talent within the cloud computing model will have the ability and skills to probe, understand, and translate business needs into actionable cloud-based applications in an agile fashion to rapidly respond to dynamic business opportunities and threats -- and in so doing, increase the value of organizational information assets to improve organizational decision-making prowess.
Having an information architecture using Information-as-a-Service, Software-as-a-Service, Platform-as-a-Service, Infrastructure-as-a-Service, IT self-service and on-demand IT models implies that a higher degree of organizational resource efficiency and effectiveness will be expected and will be measured. In a metered-usage model that cloud computing can offer, it is easier to determine IT costs incurred versus business benefits gained, thus making it easier to estimate or justify specific value-added IT services for specific business objectives or initiatives. In other words, more bottom-line “bang for the buck” will be expected (and measured) by the organization in a metered-usage cloud computing model.
In addition to having the agility and flexibility that cloud computing offers, at the same time, organizations may be willing to take on more risk for special business opportunities knowing the IT team also understands the business strategy and is aligned with the business community. In other words, there is a much lower risk of IT surprises (e.g., requirements misunderstandings, resource constraints, technological limitations, technology choices, time delays, hidden costs, rework, etc). The organization can be very flexible and implement special projects that range from very small to very big depending upon the associated risk.
Cloud computing is a technology enabling IT model that removes many technical hurdles that the business community has traditionally had to deal with in order to be an information-centric and information-rich organization. Organizations are likely to increasingly focus on optimizing their information architecture using IT self-service and on-demand IT services rather than internal infrastructure and operations. Cloud computing enables IT teams to transition away from being primarily technologists to being more business-aligned informationists. IT teams will become staffed with fewer technically savvy specialists and more business savvy specialists.
Proper command and control of information architecture and information assets is essential. Having high-quality content in addition to being well-governed is foundational to organizational cloud computing success. Proper governance combined with high content quality will increase the value of information assets in both the sort-term and the long-term.
Business intelligence and dashboard-oriented applications are well-suited for exploring and implementing cloud computing possibilities, because these applications tend to be business oriented, are highly visible to the business community, have measurable benefits, are straightforward to implement, require agile and iterative development processes, are read-only applications, and have lower risk. BI and dashboard applications using cloud computing offer the business community the opportunity to explore, exploit and leverage the information assets of the organization to make informed and actionable decisions, as well as measure success. Business Intelligence, dashboards, and cloud computing are a very viable and value-added combination.
In the end, agility, flexibility, cost and value will drive long-term success and maturity of the cloud computing model, especially for Business Intelligence and dashboard business applications.
About the Author
Richard Blahunka, CBIP, has over 20 years of business intelligence and analytics experience specializing in product management, project management, governance, and strategic thinking -- predominantly in Fortune 500 companies, including Lockheed Martin, FedEx, MCI, Entergy, SAS, and NCR -- within military, utility, airline, telecommunications, banking, manufacturing, and education industries. He is currently a contractor working on BI applications for the United States Navy based in New Orleans, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.