One interesting question that cloud computing raises is the importance of customer intimacy between IT and its business customers. Improving the relationship between IT and the business has always been considered a major goal – aligning IT and business strategies, integrating IT and business processes, ensuring IT people understand the business and vice versa. Strategy alignment leads to more proactive IT investments and innovations that help the business grow, and more business actions that leverage new and differentiating technologies.
On the face of it, cloud computing calls a halt to that – the big switch replaces intimacy with interface. Tightly define how the business communicates with IT, and requests IT services – through a self-service and programmatic interface. If you believe that IT is not differentiating, intimacy is a thing of the past.
I think there’s another way to look at it.
Cloud computing doesn’t eliminate the need for intimacy between IT and the business. I think it is forcing us to look at customer relationship differently.
- Right-sizing intimacy: The level of intimacy needs are different for every service. Commodity, non-differentiating services need little to no intimacy between IT and the customer. Highly experimental, differentiating technology needs a tremendous amount of synergy between IT and the customer. Every service is different.
- Managing customer relationship: Intimacy and customer relationship does not require a person to sit between the provider and the customer. In cloud computing, intimacy means understanding your market, and adjusting your service choices, service offerings, and their interfaces to meet changing market needs.
A modern infrastructure and operations organization will have services that are highly static and self-service, services that are highly dynamic and differentiating, and everything in between. Where intimacy is not needed, it should be removed and replaced entirely with a self-service interface. These services are great candidates for cloud computing (or private cloud computing, if public cloud offerings aren’t yet mature).
Where intimacy provides unique and differentiating value, services-orientation is still important. A codified interface is still important. IT needs to work closer with the business to understand service requirements, changing the service offering and the interfaces to meet those needs. Could these services go to the cloud? Less likely, but sure – as long as there is a way for the provider to collect feedback and information on changing requirements from customers.
Cloud computing won’t kill intimacy for all IT services, but intimacy will become more focused on responding to customer needs by managing the interface between providers and customers. Intimacy will be a reason that some services stay on-premises, and possibly evolve to become private cloud services. Intimacy will be a differentiator for some cloud computing providers, who focus on understanding their markets, listening to customers, and evolving their service offerings rapidly.