Liza Lowery Massey, former CIO, Los Angeles Liza Lowery Massey, Founder and CEO, The CIO Collaborative Photo courtesy of Liza Lowery Massey

Into the clouds seems to be where IT is heading these days. Companies offering cloud computing services extol its numerous benefits. They include easier and quicker implementation, a lower total cost of ownership with less upfront capital investment and lower ongoing operating costs, less staff resource requirements, flexibility, scalability and even risk reduction.

Vendors providing software as a service, one aspect of cloud computing, even tout that it drives down costs while increasing innovation -- something they believe IT organizations can't easily do. From this perspective, it sounds like salvation.

On the other hand, CIOs, technical personnel and government leaders express apprehension over joining the cloud computing stampede. These concerns range from the fear of being locked into a single platform, issues of system reliability and performance, difficulty integrating local and cloud systems, and worries that the market is still too immature and unstable.

Additional concerns relate to security and data privacy, records management and compliance, archiving and discovery. From this perspective, it sounds like a risky approach.

As with most things in the IT world, reality is somewhere in the middle, and following fundamental best practices can help IT leaders successfully navigate through the clouds -- mitigating risks, realizing benefits and meeting the organization's needs. I agree with one industry expert who recently noted that cloud computing solutions must be treated like any other emerging technology. First, a need or problem should be identified; then cloud computing can be considered as a possible solution along with other approaches.

A solution in search of a problem is no more appropriate with cloud computing than any other technological advance. I've also observed that organizations with realistic expectations fare better in the cloud. Gaining a thorough understanding of the need, evaluating options, having a solid business case, involving stakeholders, conducting due diligence and using strong contract language are still important steps in the process.

A quick look at the evolution of IT service delivery suggests that cloud computing will be the next step in commoditization. It wasn't long ago that IT shops (and some end-users) weren't only upgrading and fixing, but also building their own personal computers. IT leaders quickly shifted from that approach when vendors took up the slack and commoditized these devices.

The same phenomenon occurred with software applications. Most organizations today purchase some, if not all, solutions from third parties. Though cloud computing includes providing software resources, it also addresses remaining IT service delivery areas, such as computing power, infrastructure and storage. Maybe the lights can really go out in our costly data centers after all.

With all that said, I have encountered IT leaders who oppose cloud computing solutions even when the business case and due diligence suggest that it's the best approach. The reason? Control, or the loss thereof, to be more exact. Of course, few people will openly admit to being control freaks, so it's usually masked behind issues of security, privacy, reliability, etc.

I recently watched one IT leader come up with multiple reasons why cloud computing wouldn't work for his organization as each of his concerns was addressed. Being a recovering control freak, I understand the desire to maintain maximum control over the environment for which you are responsible, but giving in to the desire to do it all ourselves, in our own data centers and with our own people when resources are shrinking and demand is ever increasing is a losing battle.

Don't dismiss cloud computing without learning more about it. Who knows, you might just find your bright spot in the clouds.

Liza Lowery Massey  | 
Liza Lowery Massey served as a public-sector IT executive for nearly 20 years, including as CIO of Los Angeles. She then established the CIO Collaborative to provide public-sector research, benchmarking and consulting services. She also teaches at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas