Cloud computing is often sold as a way for companies to cut their tech bill by only paying for the IT they use.
Veteran IT chief Ian Cohen has other ideas - telling silicon.com that any company looking at moving to cloud computing purely as a way of saving money should "forget it".
JLT CIO Ian Cohen says any company looking at cloud purely as a way of saving money should "forget it"Photo: Jardine Lloyd Thompson
Cohen is speaking from experience. As group CIO of Jardine Lloyd Thompson (JLT) he is helping the global risk management and insurance broker to make greater use of cloud-based services, such as Salesforce.com's CRM platform.
When businesses shift to cloud services, the oft-talked-about savings won't last, Cohen said, as any reduction in cost or overheads is quickly swallowed up by fresh demand for IT services.
"If you go into cloud thinking you will save money, forget it. What invariably happens is that you create more efficiency and headroom. However, demand that previously could not be met can now be enacted and thus your activities simply increase to fill the available resources - be that time, people or infrastructure," he told silicon.com at Salesforce's recent Cloudforce conference in London.
"People will be using your systems to do more. That's the killer sell as to why people should be looking at cloud: the ability to flex your enterprise into a more extensible model at light speed."
Cohen cautioned that shifting operations to the cloud is not straightforward for any business - there will always be resistance and challenges, particularly for a heavily regulated business such as JLT.
"It's early days. We are working around some of the issues with some of the naysayers and a lot of it is around security and audit, all the usual cloud stuff," Cohen said. "A lot of concerns are still around data location, traceability and auditability. It's still a challenge if an auditor comes in and simply asks, 'Where is the data? Let me see it'.
"We are a regulated business so we have to be more prudent than some other organisations but that doesn't mean we can ignore cloud technologies and the opportunities they offer."
One of JLT's largest cloud computing projects involves the integration of Salesforce.com's cloud-based CRM system with a contact centre operation. Contact centre systems will record information on each interaction that JLT has with its clients, irrespective of the channel they use, and this information will help JLT staff to determine what went right and wrong with each interaction.
"By capturing information about each interaction in a consistent fashion, JLT staff can better understand the complete client relationship - even those interactions that did not result in successful new or incremental business - and understand why," Cohen said.
"In the past you were limited to what was in the broking or finance system - essentially just the closed business - but with Salesforce.com we have the potential to understand the entire lifecycle of all our engagements, and to offer an even better service to our clients as a result."
For JLT, this granular insight into its dealings with customers will help the insurer to better understand its clients' businesses and their needs, Cohen said.
"You enrich the relationship [with the client], by understanding what is of real value and delivering on the promise. It's information that adds the real value to a relationship. An organisation needs to learn to behave like a publisher, assembling timely and client-specific and relevant content, and then delivering this in the form and format that is of most use to the client."
The cloud is not only helping JLT to understand its clients, it's also bringing additional clarity and accuracy to its everyday risk management operations. JLT teamed up with Xactium to develop a risk manager application on Salesforce's Force.com cloud platform that standardises the way risk assessment information is collated across the entire group.
"One of the biggest problems for anyone working in risk assessment is that the type of data you get back is very variable, so creating a framework that was structured and template-driven, while still being flexible and open, was attractive to us," Cohen said.
The march of the tablets
Like many other businesses, JLT is feeling the effects of the consumerisation of IT - the growing trend of staff using their own PCs and gadgets at work.
Cohen's attitude is that CIOs who try to stop staff from using their own devices at work are fighting a losing battle, and would be better off investing their time in devising ways that staff can use their own devices safely at work.
"Consumerisation is going to happen, it's an inevitable tide of change. You can't be King Canute, you can't stand there and wish it away," he said. "I can either say, 'That's wrong and you're in breach of policy' or I can provide ways to do what's required in a safe and secure fashion on whatever device is presented.
"You have to create environments where stuff just works, and currently we are adopting a sandbox approach that can apply to any device - iPad, Android, Windows mobile etc."
JLT's sandbox approach includes secure personal information management working practices, as well as virtual desktop tools to protect
its data from the potential dangers of consumer devices.
In a reflection of how PC sales are being cannibalised by a rise in the popularity of tablets, Cohen said the make-up of computers used by JLT staff is slowly changing. "When I turned up, you had your HP laptop and your BlackBerry. Now everyone on the JLT board has a tablet - which happens to be an iPad," he said.
JLT itself issues both laptops and iPads to staff, with Cohen estimating that more than one hundred iPads are used within JLT.
Finding a place for social media
JLT's attitude to social media has changed as of late. Although Twitter and Facebook remain banned within the office - something Cohen would like to change with time - the group has recently started to roll out Chatter, Salesforce.com's business-focused social software, internally.
Its popularity among JLT staff had not necessarily been a given, particularly as many of its employees are not of the millennial generation that were brought up using social networks.
"The insurance industry has a population of a certain age. To be polite you would probably call them digital immigrants rather than digital natives," he said.
However, getting staff to use Chatter has been a lot more pain-free than many other systems, according to Cohen, thanks to the fact that most employees have either used Facebook and are comfortable with how to use a social network or have learnt a lot from their kids.
"We didn't need to educate people on Chatter because almost everybody knows Facebook and they love what Chatter can do," Cohen said. "We simply turned it on and the collaborative behaviours we were after happened automatically."
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