Top cloud strategy mistakes CIOs can’t help making

Cloud adoption continues its meteoric rise, with IT leaders increasingly going all-in on the platform. But succeeding in the cloud can be complex, and CIOs have continued to fumble their cloud strategies in 2022 in a variety of ways, industry observers say.

Topping the list of typical cloud strategy are three mistakes that fall under the heading of mental blueprint blunders: assuming that a cloud strategy is an IT-only endeavor, that all data must be moved to the cloud, and that a cloud strategy is the same as a data center strategy.

These fundamental issues resonate strongly with Liberty Mutual Executive Vice President and CIO James McGlennon, who admits to having dropped the ball on these strategic priorities while developing the insurance company’s advanced cloud infrastructure.

“These three are still a work in progress,” says McGlennon, adding that every mistake identified and fixed leads to a healthier cloud transformation. “We have continued to evolve our cloud strategy as we gain more insight into the leverage we can gain in engineering, resilience, scaling, security, and market testing.”

Business-IT alignment — pairing the cloud’s technology prowess with an organization’s business business goals — is a top priority for all cloud journeys, but remains a challenging issue for CIOs.

“C-level executives must be involved in assuring that the IT agenda is in line with the business plan. This is their job relative to IT,” says Paul Ingevaldson, a retired CIO based in St Charles, Ill., who says this should be in the rear-view window by now.

“It cannot be delegated, and it certainly should not be the job of the CIO — although she or he has a voice. We should no longer be discussing this issue,” he laments. “It should be a given for any CIO.”

As 2022 ends, CIOs know that business outcomes can only be as good as their cloud strategy is sound. But often they push forward with a blueprint ripe for disappointment, as these common cloud strategy mistakes show.

No way in, no way out

In addition to going it alone, insisting on moving all data to the cloud, and approaching the cloud the way they would a data center, CIOs also often fall prey to flawed thinking about the scope of their digital transformation, either by failing to have an exit strategy if cloud plan 1.0 flops or believing it is too late to implement a cloud strategy at all.

Research firm Gartner notes, for example, that a cloud exit strategy is an essential “insurance policy” that enables CIOs to bail out of a faulty implementation at the lowest cost possible. But this backup plan often slips through the cracks, analysts say.

On the flipside, many CIOs harbor the misconception that it is too late to reap the prime rewards of IT in the cloud. In some cases, however, CIOs just beginning their cloud journeys are better off than early adopters because the related toolsets and services are more plentiful, mature, and far easier to implement. This makes the cloud transformation less expensive and the outcomes better, CIOs say.

“Sometimes, waiting is better than rushing into cloud computing,” claims Dawei Jiang, chief cloud engineer at the US Trade and Patent Office (USPTO). “Everyone has a roadmap. Do not rush; pick the best and smartest solution, and avoid unnecessary work.”

Serendipity proved this point for boot and shoe manufacturer Wolverine, which hit pause on its cloud journey during COVID, delaying a hybrid-cloud transformation that has leapt forward of late, given newly available tools and an IT culture better-suited to making the most of the cloud.

Superficial planning — or worse, outsourcing your strategy

CIOs also blow their cloud strategy out of the gate by confusing a cloud strategy with an implementation plan or confusing an “executive mandate” or “cloud first” motto with an actual cloud strategy, according to Gartner. Such superficial approaches to the cloud are certain recipes for remorse, the research firm says.

But worse off may be those who pass the buck on their cloud strategy to partners, Gartner maintains. Relying exclusively on a single cloud vendor, such as Microsoft, Amazon, or Google, or a top IT outsourcing firm, for example, to design an enterprise cloud strategy is a big mistake, Gartner and CIOs agree.

The blueprint for each company’s digital transformation is unique and requires a deep dive into all IT systems by the entire C-suite and IT team to optimize the outcome, analysts note. No third party knows an enterprise better than its executives and employees.

Cloud vendors have created a collection of cookie-cutter blueprints that may be customized for specific purposes, or IT consulting firms can be instrumental helping enterprises implement their cloud strategies, Gartner maintains. But under no circumstances should the cloud vendor nor a consulting firm lead the strategic blueprint, analysts and CIOs say.

“Maybe the biggest blunder is just pushing a strategy but not looking at the management and leadership capabilities,” says Vince Kellen, CIO at the University of California San Diego, who hired two executives from consulting firms as university IT employees to help him build the university’s cloud strategy.

“The way to beat the odds on both cost and quality is for the CIO to have high team IQ within its unit, meaning the IT unit is able to apply local context to the technical solution in a way that either saves money and or builds better quality,” Kellen says.

Major sins of omission

Another top cloud expert points out three additional mistakes CIOs often make when formulating their cloud strategies.

“Not architecting for the cloud,” says IDC analyst Dave McCarthy, when asked where CIOs commonly go wrong when building their cloud strategy. “While it is possible to ‘lift and shift’ existing workloads, enterprises often experience less than desirable costs and performance with this approach. You need to adapt applications to cloud-native concepts to realize the full value.”

CIOs also often make the mistake of “not implementing enough automation,” says McCarthy, who is research vice president of cloud and edge infrastructure services for IDC. “Best practices in cloud include automating everything from the deployment of infrastructure and applications to management and security. Most outages or security breaches are the result of manual misconfigurations.

But perhaps the worst sin CIOs can make, analysts across the spectrum agree, is fail to plan for the shift in culture and skills required to devise and implement a successful cloud strategy. The cloud functions differently than traditional IT systems, and a cloud strategy must not only require new skills but a change in thinking about how to design and manage the environment, McCarthy says.

“When you go to the cloud, it’s like moving from a bicycle to a high-performance vehicle, and you can’t assume that what you did before [in the data center] will work the same; otherwise, you’ll have the same mess on your hands,” says Craig Williams, CIO at Ciena. “It can be worse, too, because your costs can get out of control if you don’t get in front of it.”

Budgeting, Cloud Computing, IT Leadership, IT Strategy