I keep a small collection of books on my desk – books that that I find that I refer to quite regularly.
One is This Is Service Design Thinking. This is a key text at this time when the ICT industry is transforming to become, consequence of the cloud, a supplier of business services rather than a supplier of technology. I have sent a dozen copies to key contacts across the vendor community – a small personal campaign in the education of the over technology-focused that services have to be designed from the view point of the intended user, not from the capabilities of the technology (however fascinating these may be). One recipient replied: "Many thanks for the service design thinking book – I've found it very helpful and so have my team. The insights on how to best make the intangible tangible are great."
Another volume that I value is The Fish Rots From The Head: Developing the Crucial Skills of the Competent Director. In this case I know the author, Bob Garratt, well (he is a noted expert in corporate governance). The title quotes an old Chinese proverb. Looking to the cloud-related issues that I have focused on in my three most recent blogs, Bob's book may now be sent out to key influencers as part of my next educational mission.
Because if you read my three most recent blogs there is one thread that runs through all three – that the cloud is a board issue.
It is a board issue first and foremost because the cloud increasingly impacts on how many markets work in prctice, and on their competitive environments. The board has to be able to master the challenges presented to its existing business strategies, the opportunities there may be for the business to profitably move in new directions, the risk of new competitors emerging who 'play the game' in very different ways. Not overnight revolutions, but very real restructurings of business landscapes that the Board has to strategically master.
The retiring Editor of the Economist, John Micklethwait, in post since 2006, has published his parting thoughts eight years on. His world of journalism and publishing has been under immense pressures, on the one hand from the battles across the globe to promote and protect press freedom, and on the other from the impact of quite radical technological change (particularly the cloud) on the publishing industry. He articulates his mood as paranoid optimism. "Any modern editor who is not paranoid is a fool," he says. "But my optimism remains greater, both about the Economist and the future of independent journalism. This is partly because technology gives us even more ways to reach our audience. In 2006 our circulation was 1.1m, all in print. Now it is 1.6m in print, digital and audio."
I like the term paranoid optimism. I suggest that any board member, aware of the (at times quite radical) business changes being wrought by the cloud, should today be a paranoid optimist!
The cloud is also a board issue because the ways a business' core operations can and will need to change if it is to remain competitive. The cloud directly offers innovative ways to deliver business operations that can sharply raise agility, improve the quality of customer and market responsivenenss, and significantly reduce costs. And, indirectly, the cloud brings new ways of working (millennials fluent in the use of social media as one example) that challenge long established modus operandi and requires shifts in the culture of the business.
And it is a board issue because the range of governance challenges that the Board must be able to manage with confidence – most notably security, data privacy & regulatory compliance, business continuity – all suddenly requiring new processes of audit to deliver effective assurance. As the enterprise moves from reliance on in-house technology to the exploitation of virtual services reliant in their turn on supply chains of further virtual services, ensuring the delivery of this assurance requires a well informed and determined board!
So the board must master the cloud! And, I suggest, in the spirit of paranoid optimism. As the 'Assurer to the Board' at a recent client as they made their journey into the cloud, one key exercise I laid was to explain with clarity (and I hope a little insight) what the cloud was really about. No lack of intelligence and experience on that Board – but the marketing hype promoting the cloud does little to help the typical board member grasp the essence of what the cloud means for their business.
My resolution 2015? To educate boards to master the cloud in the spirit of paranoid optimism! Any CIOs out there who need a hand?