So far in the CIO cloud computing debate the technology has been described as a new form of service-oriented architecture, an alternative to outsourcing and a revolution that CIOs will have to contend with. But what do CIOs think? We took three CIOs from three very different vertical sectors and asked them as part of our interviews whether they felt that the business case for cloud computing was now clear and whether the infrastructure really existed to take the technology on as part of their strategic IT plans.
Our CIOs were Darryn Warner of Balfour Beatty, which describes itself as an infrastructure services company, planning, building and even running the built infrastructure around us, such as roads, public facilities and sports stadiums. Ian Dyson is Director of Trading Group IS for The Cooperative Group, famous for its food stores, funeral care and pharmacy. Paul Brocklehurst is our public sector representative as head of IMT at Surrey County Council.
The public sector view
Paul Brocklehurst, as CIO of Surrey County Council is looking forward to the much discussed government cloud (G-cloud) becoming a reality. He, like almost all public sector CIOs, has to make major savings for the authority he represents and sees a single government cloud initiative as part of the way to achieve those savings.
"The business case is there, we are doing our requirements documents ready," he says before explaining that much of the complexity of government IT and also what has been dubbed waste by politicians, can be eradicated by the G-cloud. He cites the example of social services workers who work in hospitals; in many cases they have a desk with two PC on two different networks. One PC is for their NHS access and systems, another for the social services networks and applications.
"G-cloud will give more standards and platforms to workers. It will also reduce the number of buildings required," he says. Surrey County Council hope to reduce the number of buildings they need to perform their various governing tasks through greater worker flexibility and mobility using the G-cloud.
Balfour Beatty is a major corporation in the creation of built projects and is involved in the aquatics centre for the 2012 Olympics, widening the M25, hospital construction in Birmingham and rail and airport projects in the US.
A large Oracle user with a complex and dispersed business CIO Darryn Warner is not dismissive of what cloud computing could do for his organisation, but is cautious, like many of his peers.
"We are aware of its potential. If cloud can offer value, we would be naive to ignore it." But with experience as an IT leader at tools manufacturer Black & Decker as well as a consultant, Warner analyses the world of IT thus: "It's a little bit Emperor's new clothes, it is in many ways a new costing model, but in IT we do love the next best new thing."
Dyson at The Cooperative Group also agrees that the business case for cloud computing is becoming clear now, especially when you take into account the cost of maintaining a datacentre, infrastructure and the need to keep them scalable. "Long term it could offer a solution, but the strength of the infrastructure beneath the cloud is concerning. We rely on a Manhattan picking system in our warehouses and if that goes down it really affects the business," he relates to the dangers of downtime. The Cooperative Group has of late won a lot of customers because of its ethical stance towards suppliers and operations and Dyson believes the "green" credentials of cloud computing do need analysing carefully because blade servers can chew through significant amounts of power, so the creation of a cloud computing datacentre has to be considered carefully he says.
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