Testing the cloud

"Identify a high value application that you have within the business and start there," is the key advice Kirsten Wolberg, CIO of Salesforce.com has, for enterprises making the initial moves from on-premise apps to the cloud environment."If you are actually working with an application that adds a lot of value really quickly and is important to the business, it is a really good business case to show the power and flexibility of the applications," says Wolberg, in an interview at the recent Dreamforce conference in San Francisco where she was one of the speakers.Peter Coffee, head of platform research, Salesforce.com, echoes her advice. "I don't want you to replace anything that is working well enough for you [and] generating good ROI," says Coffee. "Take about 20 applications that some VPs in the company really, really wish will be right for him or her that you have not been able to deliver. If [you] can take the wish list of five VPs and do the top two items on the list, that is 10 apps you can probably write in six months in force.com," says Coffee. "All of a sudden, those five VPs no longer think of you as a cost centre to be minimised but instead think of you as a value partner to be nurtured and to be given more resources. That is a much more attractive environment for the CIO to be in."Wolberg and Coffee say cloud technology provides opportunities for CIOs to become more strategic, and downplay concerns it will diminish the role. "Every major change within any industry puts people at risk and those who succeed are those who change with or are ahead of the change, as opposed to those who fight it," says Wolberg. "It [the shift to the cloud] is a great opportunity for CIOs to be more involved in the strategy of the company and not just focusing on the technology side of the business. I see it as a fantastic opportunity for CIOs to define the value they add to the organisation. It will allow CIOs to have more strategic conversations with their executive peers."Cloud computing, she says, is "fundamentally a shift in the change to how values are being delivered in enterprises and as a CIO. You can fight it, but ultimately you [as] the CIO will end up losing. But if you embrace it and you figure out how your role is changing and embrace these new technologies and help this organisation, that is how the CIO can be more successful."Coffee, on the other hand, says it would be a mistake to think a move to the cloud is a "daring exercise in risk taking". He says from the experiences of the early adopters who spoke at the conference, the cloud is "making their lives simpler and less exciting so they can focus on business benefits".He says the CIO role is not being made redundant as more enterprises move to the cloud because "now, the CIO is a value-creation partner to the business rather than being a cost centre"."CIOs are made redundant when the work they do is easily outsourceable. And if all you are doing is running the email and keeping the server farm running, you are very outsourceable. But if you are running a team of business process engineers who are out there in the business units everyday, actively working with people to solve their problems, that is not outsourceable. That is the kind of thing you want an in-house IT team to do."