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IT Embraces Cloud Apps to Improve Workflow

One member of the team wants to write and edit the plan as a Google Doc. Another has an outline in an iPad app. A third has notes in Evernote. And the presentation event will be hosted on Eventbrite.

Not only is everyone bringing their own device -- BYOD -- but they are making their own deals with cloud-based services.

Multiple applications featuring their own cloud appear to be cutting IT staffs out of the loop, but in fact, analysts say, all this new free-agency has created opportunities for more efficient, and more economical work processes.

As a result, Forrester analyst John Rakowski has advised IT staffs to view company employees as internal IT customers who now have more choices than ever, due to cloud-based applications.

The challenge, Rakowski has written, is to understand "your organization's processes, weaknesses, and strengths along with those of the industry. Combine this knowledge with your technical expertise to offer I&O (infrastructure and operations) solutions that demonstrate IT's ability to deliver value, cut cost, mitigate risk, and provide competitive advantage."

Mark Frydenberg, of Bentley University, sees a similar opportunity, pointing out that making a seamless experience between the enterprise and consumer cloud services is still a challenge.

Technology professionals who can integrate cloud-based apps, such as Dropbox and JotForms, into a company's workflows are delivering capabilities that are only going to get more valuable as both the BYOD and cloud trends accelerate, Frydenberg says.

"The IT guy used to be 'Dr. No' -- making sure that all the company's information was handled properly and securely," says "fractional CIO" Mark Weinstein. "Now he needs to be more of an enabler."

Chip Timm has seen this work from the inside.

The president of TR Technologies, Inc., who creates and supports information technology systems for businesses in the Chicago area, says that cloud-based services available on so many devices have made it “all about the data.”

"Making sure that the data is managed and aggregated properly is more important than ever," he says, now that more people are using cloud-based services such as Dropbox, and devices like the iPhone and iPad which offer cloud-based applications.

Top-level enterprise resource planning (ERP) is even more critical, he points out, because now it needs to be accessed by so many different devices.

Although individuals can now, because of cloud technology, conveniently move data among so many devices and services, this also creates a need to be more vigilant about watching the usage of that data.

Timm recalls one customer, an owner of a small business, who told him that cloud-based Google Docs and email provided all the technology he needed. He managed it all on his Mac: he used Google Docs for all of his data, and used email to send it to his team leaders.

Then the owner began traveling more, on business. Within a few months the company came back to Timm asking for help getting everything more consolidated.

While the Docs method worked fine for a time, everything was dependent on the data stored in the head (and in the laptop) of the owner, rather than having the data aggregated for all of his team so they could be productive in his absence. A system needed to be put in place that would allow all of the users to function with whatever portion was best for them.

"We ended up fitting them with an ERP that would combine all their critical data but still making it accessible to users on all their different devices," Timm recalls. "While we originally just managed their internal IT services, now we were finding ourselves managing the users and tailoring the service and data they needed to their own individual desires."

Timm has also seen how the BYOD trend with its increased use of cloud-based apps has created the need for more IT expertise, rather than less.

One large customer discovered, for example, that as employees began using more cloud-based services via their own devices, they increased their interactions with the company's IT resources. The improved usability of those devices encouraged more use.

Along with this came security concerns. Since the data was so much more accessible, the concern about employee access to data was now in the forefront. If they had access anywhere, what was to stop them from taking key data to competitors when those employees moved on? Managing the security of that data now was just as important as the access to the data.

Although the role of IT has changed dramatically, Timm believes that IT pros can now double down on what matters.

"All of this data must be managed," Timm says. "Data needs to be the focus, not the machines it is processed by, or the storage infrastructure."

That’s a tall order, since cloud-based services are changing the way data is processed and stored. But IT pros with skills in the emerging cloud environment will be well-positioned to make enterprise data and the cloud work together.

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