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Invisible Cloud: How IT Can Be More Strategic and Visible

By Eugene Kogan, Director of IT and Knowledge Management, Rainforest Alliance


Eugene Kogan, Director of IT and Knowledge Management, Rainforest Alliance

New waves of technology are constantly changing our everyday lives, reconfiguring our workplaces and our homes. They are also the bread and butter for those of us working in IT, who are primarily focused on everything related to “big data” databases, data centers, photo sharing, unlimited storage space, video chatting, and so on. We religiously follow the advances of iPhones, iPads, Surfaces, Samsung, Amazon, and other technological innovations. But, amid the excitement and latest hype, it’s easy to forget what is needed to bring innovative tools and techniques to the office. So what has changed? What are the new rules?

Rule 1:
If you see an ad or a product at a trade show, that doesn't mean you can have it today or tomorrow.

For example, with an iPhone you can download and enable Apple’s new OS or new handset the same day. But, for an IT professional, acquiring the latest innovations for an organization often isn’t realistic due to the constraints of departmental and organizational resources and budget. In addition, a fundamental change of thinking by those with the power to evaluate and incorporate these new technological tools is necessary.

IT has so much on the table. Users, customers, and businesses all depend on IT support. IT supports existing apps, infrastructure, the integration of technologies and day-to-day operations. When coupled with current responsibilities for legacy systems there are exponentially increasing security challenges.

The need for upper management to turn to IT has heightened due to the increased potential for cyber-attacks and challenging security issues that, if unchecked, can compromise an organization. In addition, in the past couple of years, it has become more difficult for IT on a number of fronts: budgets have been reduced, investments into the new technologies are more thoroughly scrutinized and new skills are required to use the new hardware and software. In many institutions, it has been difficult to justify the purchase and expense of new technology in light of existing technology that may still be fully functional. Globalization has also increased the need to turn to IT, as business has embraced different technologies to meet international challenges.

Rule 2: 1+ 1= 2, not 1:
If a decision is made to implement a new feature or product, it takes time, money, skills, project management and often the involvement and support of upper management.

At Rainforest Alliance, our project to move infrastructure to the cloud took approximately one year. We were able to successfully complete the project, but with mixed experiences and results from our vendors. There was much to celebrate at the end, though many challenges are ahead.

Fortunately, the good news is that our entire IT department became more skilled, better able to communicate concerns with the entire organizational staff, improve our relationship with the vendors and more quickly understand the necessary changes that needed to be made in the company. We took over some major responsibilities from other departments, lead new project developments and later served as support—all of which helped to pave the road to the success. Keep in mind that at the same time, we had to contend with other pressures—old or existing projects still required our support and dedication, along with the new challenges that came with cloud implementation.

Rule 3: Kids Eventually Leave Their Parent’s House
After many challenges, we successfully moved the Rainforest Alliance systems to the cloud. We have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars with new pricing models and less expensive, yet better cloud products. We have cut costs with hardware and avoided expenses with performance improvement and licensing. During this changeover, we also encountered new challenges—particularly in retaining talented personnel.

"We as an organization need to understand today’s current, global IT supply and demand and adjust accordingly"

It’s no secret, young people today want the latest in technology NOW. They are comfortable and proficient with IT technology and are highly trained in cloud design and implementation. These newly-skilled tech staff are highly sought after, highly competitive professionals in an IT job market that is ever changing and quite simply, international in the composition of the talent pool. These young professionals today ‘know their worth’ and are willing to jump ship in a heartbeat if they feel better challenges lie ahead.

Upper management is slowly realizing that today’s IT professionals are very mobile and flexible, especially with cloud technologies. They easily telecommute and work from home. They can be employed here, yet be based oversees and visa versa. They easily adjust to new work challenges and hence new opportunities, in a way many in management cannot. In order to retain skilled IT staff, we as an organization need to understand today’s current, global IT supply and demand and adjust accordingly in defining ways to enhance the working situation, foster an atmosphere of learning and creativity, thoughtfully recognize individual strengths and successes and find ways to add value to the working experience.

Rule 4: Where are you?
Many high-level, leadership positions migrated to the cloud, and as a result, organizational budgets saw the benefits of investing in cloud technology. There are a number of benefits for using cloud technology. Money saved by phasing out older technology can be reinvested to align a company strategy and better environmental aims into ‘greener’ pastures.

With upper management buy-in at the President/ CEO, IT becomes a more strategic player within the organization itself. And, executives at all levels see more ROI and what was ‘invisible’ technology becomes real, tangible and measurable. Many companies change outdated tech structures when the CIO is under the CFO, and these changes often have little input from or impact on the overall business side of things. In today’s business settings, it is often the CIOs, CTOs, and VPs of Technologies who are defining core business practices and mission. Along with upper management, they are involved in developing a competitive strategy, helping to build an organization’s worldwide presence in a cost effective manner… by enabling new innovative technologies, by strategic involvement and business alignment. Back to the question—Where is IT? We are still here with increased responsibility for research and study, design, development, implementation, support or management of computerbased information systems, software and applications, security and business strategy.

Rule 5: We All Live in One World
What we do today is literally saving the world through more sustainable business practices and higher energy efficiency. We are all participants in this game changer: better farming, smarter consumption, healthy living, and better lives for our children. Overall, we are becoming a greener planet. Avant-garde technologies, its early adopters and IT folks are the front-line players who bring new and innovative approaches, enabling tools and applications to help organizations and customers alike to achieve their sustainability goals.

I am happy with what we have accomplished within the last two years at Rainforest Alliance: we have moved infrastructure and some critical applications into the cloud, saving hundreds of thousands, while having better performing applications and servers, cutting more on support than even we had planned!

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