Who Makes The Decision To Go Cloud … and Who Should?

Yadin Porter de León

It’s a predictable argument: Should the techies -- with their hands on their keyboards -- be the people who decide which technology or deployment is right for the company? Or should CIOs and senior management -- with their strategic perspective -- be the ones to make the call? We got input from everyone… and of course the opinions vary. A lot. See where you stand.

Throughout history, there are ongoing power struggles: regular versus diet sodas; children opposed to their parents’ views; humans and their cats. In the world of IT, often the tension is the organizational decision regarding the right time to trust the cloud versus keeping things in the private datacenter.

In short: Who makes the decision about where to deploy software (of any kind), regarding running it in the cloud versus on-premises? And who should make that decision? Is it better for a member of the C-level club to be in charge, or someone who knows the intricate details of the infrastructure? Obviously, there are wide-ranging opinions among IT staff and IT leaders… and facts to back up every one of those opinions.

Let’s take a look at three possible decision-making scenarios, and the trade-offs with each path.

When company execs (CFO/CEO) make the cloud/on-premises decision

Most enterprise publications and authorities that serve a CxO audience take it as a given that the bosses ought to be the decision-makers. As an author at the Harvard Business Review wrote: “IT executives are the right people to make numerous decisions about IT management—the choice of technology standards, the design of the IT operations center, the technical expertise the organization will need, the standard methodology for implementing new systems” because it’s up to senior managers to assess the security and privacy trade-offs.

But what would you expect those publications to say? “Really, your bosses can’t be trusted”?

Still, there are good reasons for the people in the C-suite to make cloud-versus-on-premises and other strategic decisions. Even if, as Alex P hoped, you don’t work with an exec who could easily be described as “Mordac, the Preventer of Information Services.

The CxOs have a larger vision of the company, says Aaron B, an IT manager. For example, he says, the executives have insider knowledge of available budget for this initiative and how the technology considered can support the company vision as a whole.

And then there’s the issue of office politics -- and budget handoff. Kyle R, an IT specialist, points out that if the execs say go, it’s a go; Kyle calls the executives the “end-all, be-all decision makers.” That takes funding worries off the table for the team, too. From the perspective of Rich B, a systems technician, if company execs are making the decision, then his team just needs to deal with the implementation and not its cost.

But not everyone feels that the company execs are the right people to make such decisions -- at least without a lot of input from the techies. That’s largely because the execs don’t have the depth of existing system knowledge to understand how changing one item here will affect something else there.

“Organizations handcuff themselves by allowing only non-technology people to make long-term technology decisions,” Owen Greaves wrote in Tek-Tips Forums. “That’s not all bad, but it’s not wise to have 100% of all IT decisions made by them in isolation. In most cases, they will invest in something and then hand it off to the IT department with a note attached,’Make this work with our systems.’”

In some instances, the execs may focus less on technology needs than on dollars and cents. IT systems professional Martin M expressed concern that corporate management has minimal technical understanding when the decision is made. Sometimes decisions are made to “fix” something, but not necessarily in the best way.

When the CIO/CTO makes the decision

When someone with more technical expertise is added to the decision-making equation, IT folks get happy -- or at least a bit more trusting. The CIO or CTO probably already interacts with many of the technical folks, on both technical issues and in regard to human rapport. CIO and CTOs are more in tune with those who handle the day-to-day and technical aspects of the software or tools, says S Seetha, an infosec executive; as a result, the implementation teams probably respect the decisions made a little more. Rob B, head of IT at a capital firm, adds that because of the CIO’s or CTO’s seniority and the backing of other senior management, the IT team can count on a decision being made with technical expertise.

The cloud/on-premises executive decision can be made anywhere in the “C Suite.” In the UK, for instance, 59% of companies surveyed say the CIO and head of IT, not the CEO, has the final say on cloud adoption.

The CIO can do some things to improve the decision-making process, as outlined in this InformationWeek article; but corporate bureaucracy suggests how often CIOs are influenced by the other company execs without actually consulting the people doing the actual implementations. Paul M, an IT administrator, says that ultimately, the CIOs are still not the ones having to implement the product chosen. “It is easy to think theoretically how things will work out, but there are many moving pieces,” Paul says.

When the IT Manager or IT Director makes the decision

When the IT manager or IT director makes the call, they better understand what resources are truly needed. They also have a finger of the pulse on the end users and how they might react to change. Martin M adds that usually the IT Manager/Director can get better on-the-ground intelligence from users (to learn what’s actually wanted) and from implementers (who know what has to be done) to make the best decision for the company. Aaron B hopes that with an IT manager making the decision, the details of the implementation have more weight on the call.

In a perfect world, decisions like “cloud or on-premise” are IT-driven. But that’s not to say that every cloud-vs-on-premise (or other decision) necessarily is made correctly when it’s given to an IT manager to choose. Even if we leave it to the pros, solutions engineer Mark Patterson emphasizes, IT can help guide the exec team with alignment and strategy. But to be effective, it must back up its choices with real ROI and risk mitigation. With the managers so deep in the trenches, one might worry they might be unable to see the big picture beyond how certain implementations might affect business profitability and impact.

To make matters more challenging, the IT manager may not always have the power to deploy what the team considers to be the right answer. A disapproving sneeze from upper management could put a project on hold or see a budget passed off to another team, says Paul M. More frustratingly, says Jason B, a solutions architect, is when they don’t or won’t make decisions (due to analysis paralysis or any other reason.

These days, even the head honcho can’t shift the blame to someone who reports to them when a decision goes awry; there are consequences.

“Every business should rely on internal personnel who understand their own business as well as the technology to make the decision,” says technical consultant Steven Fullmer. For example, he says, companies adopt Agile methodologies because of the promise of increased efficiencies and higher output; but Agile projects can fail -- not as the result of lack of trained Agile personnel but due to lack of business fit.

Plus, they call people “stakeholders” for a reason. Jon Oltsik oftens sees decisions coming from the compliance department, with security getting more involved recently. That’s surely because those departments have their attention on decision criteria, and their experts’ input can drive decision-making.

Want to influence the decision? Make yourself (and your expertise) heard.

I’m not a firm believer that title trumps all. If you’ve got the applicable insight, you should make your voice heard. Whatever you choose as your final answer, make sure your subject matter expert is involved and that the decision benefits the business as a whole. These decisions require buy-in across the company, and everyone plays a role.

C-level execs can push for the larger business goals to be met, while IT kicks the tires to make sure all the right questions are asked. Don’t forget to save a seat at the decision-making table for Legal or other stakeholders. Going at it alone is a recipe for disaster.