CIO: I would never talk to my CEO about the cloud

TORONTO – Jonathan Landon isn’t against cloud computing necessarily, but he’s careful about how he throws around the term.

“There’s no way I would talk to our CEO about cloud,” the Kimberly-Clark Corp. CIO IT Services: Strategy, Technology & Architecture told an audience of IT professionals at the Virtualization Under A Cloud Summit hosted by research firm IDC Canada Ltd. on Tuesday. “For one thing, it’s a bad metaphor. It’s hard to get your hands around, it’s unstable as a weather element . . . I think it’s a term that should just go away.”

Instead, Landon suggested that it’s easier to pitch senior management about the idea of software-as-a-service (SaaS), which also tends to involve an off-premise means of providing applications to users in an enterprise. Kimberly-Clark is just beginning a process in which it is creating a grid to map out the best applications that are being or should be delivered through SaaS, Landon said, versus the ones that shouldn’t. “There’s no question that, for the right situation, SaaS makes sense, but (there are) others where it doesn’t. Running SAP on a PO system? You would never put it there. Same with our clinical trial group or our high-performance computing systems. It simply wouldn’t perform.”

IDC’s analysts and vendors like Bell and IBM used the one-day conference to explore how virtualization – software that allows one server, for instance, to act like multiple virtual machines – can be used as the first step in a gradual move to cloud computing, where infrastructure is hosted by a service provider and compute resources and applications are accessed by enterprises on an as-needed basis.

Landon said Kimberly-Clark was already about 80 per cent virtualized, as is Tridel Corp., according to CIO Ted Maulucci, who joined Landon on a panel discussion. Tridel is made up of more than 200 operating entities, Maulucci said, and some of these, like a business unit that operates assisted living centres for seniors, may be a good place to introduce cloud computing or SaaS. In other operating units, it may be wise to keep more in-house.

“You have to look at the total costs – there are a lot of underlying costs,” Maulucci said. “A few years back, I outsourced Exchange, and I got a lot of applause for it. In the end it was the dumbest thing I ever did – well, not the dumbest, but it was a learning experience.”

What he learned, Maulucci said, is that with Exchange closely tied into Tridel’s customer relationship management software and even its voice-over-IP systems, there were considerable integration hassles to work out. Landon echoed this sentiment.

“There’s no (cloud) provider that really deploys a global service,” he said. “Those vendors really have to work together.”

Like their counterparts in the U.S., Canadian CIOs are also starting to recognize the complexity inherent in some cloud computing agreements. Nabil Harfoush, CIO and vice-president of corporate development at, said negotiating contracts to ensure proper security remains one of the biggest roadblocks to alternative forms of IT service delivery.

“You need a completely different skill set among your staff,” he said. “I feel like I need more of a lawyer reading the fine print of the service level agreement than a technologist.”

And if you really want to make senior managers embrace the cloud – or if you have to respond to their questions about it – Harfoush suggested using more conventional jargon.

“I usually talk about it as outsourcing,” he said. “That’s a model they understand and they can relate to that, usually.”

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