How Google CIO Handles Cloud, BYOD

Google CIO Ben Fried, Juniper Networks CIO Bask Iyer, PG&E CIO Karen Austin and Wal-Mart CIO Karenann Terrell gathered at a Churchill Club event July 24 in Palo Alto to share their list of priorities as IT -- and the role of the CIO -- continues to experience a period of unprecedented transformation.

Other topics discussed by the panelists included cloud computing and the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend, both of which also can be labeled "new," "emerging" and "hot." But unlike the full charge into data analysis, panelists were a bit more tempered in their support of cloud services and employee-chosen devices.

Google's Fried made it clear that he has particular concerns about the Software-as-a-Service offerings that often serve as companies' primary foray into cloud computing. Fried said that the long list of SaaS vendors many large companies are building presents a collective risk. The resulting mish-mosh of systems that may or may not integrate easily exposes what he said is a widespread lack of good corporate practices designed to govern data.

Juniper Networks's Iyer echoed Fried's concerns about the cloud. Iyer stressed that he believes it makes more sense to vet competing cloud vendors and settle on a manageable list of standard services rather than letting employees choose their cloud resources willy-nilly. But those decisions, Iyer said, have to be made with user habits in mind.

Any service chosen to be the standard "has to be as cool and easy and secure" as anything employees might choose to use themselves, he said. "You can't give them a mandatory storage solution that takes four hours to copy a file."

Still, Wal-Mart's Terrell said companies may only go so far in trying to dictate what cloud services their employees use. "It's not possible to stay out in front of the most creative end user you have," she said.

Meanwhile, on the BYOD front, Fried said he will happily support whatever smartphone or tablet employees want. But, when it comes to employees bringing their own laptops, "I'm a big non-believer," he said. The combination of abundant native applications and data storage makes employee-owned laptops a bigger risk for enterprises, according to Fried.

Although he didn't address laptops specifically, Iyer said that a year ago he had a restrictive device policy in place that has since been replaced by a looser BYOD policy. The result? "Life is much better today," he said.

While the panelists primarily focused on the latest IT trends, an evergreen topic-that of IT-business alignment-reared its head. Austin chimed in at one point that she was seeing growing involvement of the business in IT and vice versa. That change was reflected in a decision to move PG&E's change management function from HR to IT.

Wal-Mart's Terrell offered up equally compelling evidence.

"We've had as much [IT staff] turnover into the business as we did externally two years in a row," she said, spurring hushed whispers throughout the audience. That shift, Terrell said, signaled that IT's internal business partners no longer possess an uninformed "just do it" mentality when it comes to IT projects. The resulting interactions between IT and the business have become more intelligent and reasonable.

Even so, the CIO's main raison d'être remains.

"A CIO's job when interfacing with the business is 99 percent taking what you think they should know and saying it in a way they can understand," said Terrell. "It's up to us to net it out for them."

This article was originally published on 07-30-2012
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