Think big to leverage cloud, mobility, CIOs told

CIOs have to be more creative to tap the tremendous potential of mobility and the cloud, Canadian IT leaders have been told.

“We are in a remarkable era of change,” Patrick Howard, global leader of technology strategy at IBM Global Services told the Tech Outlook conference in Toronto.

“The question is for you and your enterprises, where are you?”

Many organizations are using cloud services and mobile applications, he said, but it isn’t happening in a large scale.

The reason, he suggested, is that CIOs aren’t thinking big enough.

Think of these examples, he said:
–Redbox, the U.S. video rental company that places DVD dispensing machines in supermarkets, can jiggle local prices based on the time of day, a postal code or the weather because its machines are linked through the cloud, where a complex algorithm can calculate a number of factors;

–Tesco, a South Korean supermarket, has posted a catalogue of its products on the walls of subway stations, each product marked with a QR code. Passengers can scan the code with their mobile devices to start shopping. The CIO hopes to eventually have the goods ready for pickup when the passenger gets off the train;

–A U.S. airline figures it has 1,000 mobile applications; on average it churns out one a week;

–IBM has created a mobile cloud-based software platform so U.S. developers can post a proposed design and get back finished code at a fixed price, sometimes within eight hours. (The solution will eventually be offered in other countries, he said.)

“You’ve got to look at the big picture,” Howard advised. But it’s not merely signing up for a cloud service or building a mobile app. “You’ve got to think are there practices and disciplines that need to be pulled through so you can begin gain traction and realize the promise around this particular capability?”

Part of the solution is re-thinking what the organization’s ecosystem is, he said. For example, Tesco figured its ecosystem is its customers. IBM created an ecosystem of software developers. Other ecosystems can be the organization’s partners.

In fact, Howard argued, leveraging the cloud and mobility can’t be done by organizations alone – they have to be done with partners.

And there’s lots of help available, he said. To shorten development times there are Web sites that sell thousands of APIs (application programming interfaces) that don’t cost much or are free.

“Everything you can envision can be built,” he said, “but operationalizing it within in the enterprise will take creativity and operational discipline.”

The day-long conference, organized by IT World Canada and IDC Canada, heard stories of how Canadian organizations are using cloud and mobile technologies:

–The Toronto International Film Festival has a staff that swells from 250 full-time employees most of the year to 800 for four months. Because of the need to quickly add and delete email accounts, it moved to Gmail in 2010, explained Kalyan Chakravarthy, the festival’s IT director.

That spurred it using cloud apps more, he said, including add Salesforce this year and expanding the number of mobile platforms movie goers can use to buy tickets. By 2015 it hopes to have most applications in the cloud;

–Leisureworld, which manages long-term care facilities and retirement villages for people in Ontario and B.C. as well as offers home health care services, is moving to put more of its applications in the cloud.

Dani Neufeld, the company’s vice-president of information systems admitted that several years ago he vowed never to put anything in the cloud. Now two systems – one a remote desktop – are in the cloud, and soon financial and CRM systems will be added.

Recently a project was started to make client records available through BlackBerrys for home health care workers;

–Shadi Khatib, who just left his IT job at Brinks Canada for a position with a pharmaceuticals company, said his former employer was forced into mobility by customers who threatened to drop its business unless it modernized.

That’s why it gave field staff rugged mobile devices for communicating with headquarters, receiving daily schedules and automatically downloading vital customer information. In addition, a cloud provider looks after the mobile gateway to carriers, while repair and management of the devices has been contracted out.

Not all panellists were able to embrace the cloud. Carlos Silva, director of information technology at the Ontario Clean Water Agency, a Crown agency which manages municipal water systems for a number of communities across the province, said that because drinking water is so precious he has to be cautious.

In fact, he said he wouldn’t put any of his systems in on the Internet unless the province builds a private cloud.

His isn’t the only organization that’s cautious. According to an IDC Canada survey of Canadian executives, only eight per cent of respondents believe the cloud is a transformative technology. Twenty-three per cent said it has no value to their organization.

Large Canadian organizations are “sluggish” in adopting cloud solutions compared to other countries, David Senf, the market survey company’s vice-president for infrastructure solutions, said in one session.

One big reason is they’re worried about security, he said. Another is a concern data stored in the U.S. could be accessed by law enforcement agencies under the Patriot Act.

But Senf said organizations are “overemphasizing” these two risks, but he admitted they are the number one roadblocks.

Asked in an interview how large organizations can be convinced of the benefits of cloud solutions, Senf said organizations should look at the technology through the lens of their top business challenges.

After that, they should think about which applications and data will help solve those challenges and why a cloud solution won’t work.

For example if a problem is agility, he said, cloud apps will help the organization get products to market sooner.

Similarly, cloud-based platform-as-a-service solutions can be used for more than test and development, he said, but also to launch new projects.
Mike Capone, vice-president and CIO of human capital management firm ADP noted that only 29 per cent of Canadian companies have adopted cloud solutions compared to 75 per cent in the U.S. “This is a problem,” he told the conference.
ADP offers payroll and talent management services in the cloud to 250,000 organizations around the world.

He emphasized that he doesn’t advocate organizations put all their apps in the cloud — his company still has two Tier 4 data centers. But, he said, if an application isn’t core to the business why not put it in the cloud?

As for Canadian caution over privacy and security, “you’ve got to get over it,” Capone said. “I’m not saying give up your core business … but there are no conversations that there are no business solutions for.” There are safe ways for hosting data outside the country.

“Just imagine a world (for CIOs and IT managers) where your role is really about problem-solving and delivering outcomes rather than worrying about how many servers you have and what’s the PUE in the data centre. I would imagine that would be a much better world for all of us.”

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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