Leaders Dive Into The Workplace Cloud

I only sometimes talk about technology here. Yes, my inner nerd is still alive and well for those of you wondering what I’ve been up to lately. I’ve been hanging out in the clouds pondering this enormous topic. I assume, like 90% of us, it is there, meeting my needs, and don’t worry overmuch about marketing labels. Leaders have a way of offloading (ignoring?) many of the technical details as we hurry about our over-scheduled days.

The Cloud” is one of those technology marketing terms which represents a shift in the way technology is delivered; after all, you’d have to really be tuned out to not hear the word ‘cloud’ at least once every 15 minutes.

Oddly enough, though, cloud computing is the ultimate it’s-been there-a-long-time technology. And it is forcing leaders and HR practitioners to sit up and take notice. Why?

At its core, ‘cloud’ is really about optimizing the effectiveness of IT and systems in the workplace. Cloud computing is the successor of distributed computing, client-server and utility computing, a model where defined services depend on standardization and customer satisfaction depends upon optimization of those defined services.

Furthermore, as concepts go, it’s an abstract one, and as most tech stars will tell you, every problem in computer science can be solved by adding a layer of abstraction.  So, if you’re a techie, you know cloud is just a way to deliver computing resources.

If you’re an end user, you may think cloud is a way to get the computing resources you want without necessarily having to understand, or pay for, the ramifications of your decisions.

For those of us less technical Luddites, there are a couple of areas where the eventual impact of cloud seems greatly underestimated.  I’m speaking, of course, about  HR, especially recruiting and job search, as well as leadership, particularly as it relates to human capital management.

But when it comes to the cloud, what do leaders need to know?  Here are a couple critical cloud questions for organizational leaders & talent managers:

1) What does cloud mean for hiring and managing people?

2) What do leaders need to know about the cloud?  Are leaders struggling with any misconceptions?

Chances are most leaders will answer “no” for #1; for #2, most will likely not be sure of their answer.  But while the concept of cloud computing, like leadership, is a complex one, it underscores a far simpler truth:

The cloud is already in your workplace.

All that recruiting and HR software you use, delivered via the Software as a Service (SaaS) model? It’s cloud. Online networking and career sites like Facebook and Monster? Delivered via the cloud.

Do you use Gmail to connect with prospects? On some level this could be translated as Cloud. Store your resume online, or keep files in Box.net? Cloud. And so on.

As you can see – It’s everywhere – including your organization.

For users, the changes may be subtle. Many leaders perceive these changes strictly as benefits, and there are many – no servers to buy, no on-site IT guy to worry about. But there are also – especially in HR – areas of concern, like security, multi-tenancy (shared services within the cloud) and reliability/availability (there have been some spectacular, recent cloud crashes).

Here are 3 common misconceptions about cloud computing and what leaders really need to know:

Security in the cloud is one of the challenge areas where misconceptions abound. At its most basic, security in the cloud is the same as security in an enterprise data center: policies and processes must be in place to ensure uptime, adequate resources must be provisioned, reliable and proven backup and disaster recovery procedures must be in place – and audited, and security must be in any contract you sign with a cloud provider.

In fact you must be able to define your requirements for data security. Part of the discussion should be which applications or data to put in the cloud, because not all data and applications should be in the cloud. Quiz – no, grill – your cloud provider about the security of its offering and the practices it employs to keep your data secure.

Multi-tenancy is a bit different. There are three general forms of clouds – public, private and hybrid – and three ways in which cloud services are provided: IaaS, or infrastructure as a service; PaaS, or platform as a service, and SaaS, software as a service.

If you choose multi-tenancy because it’s less expensive, you must also realize that your data and apps will be sharing space with someone else’s data and apps. You’ll be a tenant among tenants. One of your security safeguards will be gone. Just something to think about, and negotiate.

Reliability (also known as availability) is the stuff of Service Level Agreements (SLAs). Make sure to set requirements – SLAs – for uptime, reliability and availability, and negotiate penalties into your contract in the event they’re breached. Don’t accept a contract that lacks a financial penalty or for which the remedy is a service ‘credit’. This is your business, after all. It’s your data.

So leaders, go to the cloud by all means, but go with your eyes open. Ask hard questions. Cloud is an innovation that promises massive efficiencies. Make sure you’re on the right side of those promises. Protect you business, your data, your people.

In IT adding a layer of abstraction may help solve problems; chances are, in HR, an added layer of abstraction will just make it harder to know who’s doing what to whom, and if it’s really the desired outcome.

So go to the cloud, but remember: be careful out there.

Also posted by Meghan M. Biro on MonsterThinking Blog

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