The cloud revolution has made an enormous contribution to the evolution of sales and marketing software, as well as to business software of all types. There's a long list of benefits it's conferred on its users -- from the ability to outsource security and maintenance tasks to the avoidance of manual upgrade processes, to -- most significantly -- the switch in payment modes, to a model more affordable for more businesses.
It's also made deployment much, much easier: Sign the contract, log in and go. That's great.
However, it also has its drawbacks -- not technical, but organizational. As cloud software has become easier to deploy, one of the selling points often touted is that it can be implemented without assistance from IT. That seems good. Increasingly, though, the ability to bypass IT has become dangerous.
The average enterprise-level company used 935 cloud applications as of this June, according to a study conducted by cloud security vendor Netskope. Certainly, they're not all sales or marketing applications.
However, since cloud app use has ballooned in recent years -- up from just 397 in January of 2014 -- little thought is going into the identification of the best of these tools, in many cases, or the best ways of using them together.
They may solve the particular problem of the person introducing the software into the company, but that's typically where all thought ends about the software's role in the greater technology environment.
At a certain point -- sometimes driven by the CFO's questions about the many entries in the ledger for software -- businesses realize the need to rationalize those applications, and to consolidate and share data.
That's when the poor IT organization gets called in: It has to assess the scope of the problem; clean up the mess wrought by the proliferation of applications and the resulting re-siloing of data; and help the organization achieve what it could have achieved much more easily, had a more integrated approach been part of the plan from the outset.
That concern is starting to grow.
For example, 26 percent of respondents to RightScale's 2016 State of the Cloud survey identified cloud cost management as a significant challenge, a figure that has increased each year, from 18 percent in 2013.
So, how do companies avoid the crushing problem of rationalizing hundreds of cloud applications in a mirror image of the long, difficult IT engagements they suffered through in the past? Bring the CIO back into the conversation.
The cloud has forced CIOs to assume a more strategic role, even as it has enabled line-of- business managers to bypass them in the software selection process.
In the past, the CIO's involvement may have suggested a long time frame for implementation of new services, but smart companies now are realizing that the CIO plays a key role as a reality-checker, and as a pragmatist who can temper ardor for a quick solution by reminding managers about the long-term effects of introducing new software tools.
That might seem to cast the CIO in the role of a spoilsport. In actuality, it gives the CIO an opportunity to play a hero role for the business: The CIO is the CFO's hero for avoiding redundancy and maximizing return on investment; the sales manager's hero for enabling sales data to be used in a more integrated way to drive improved sales performance; the sales person's hero for working to reduce the number of applications that need to be used during the sales process; and the marketer's hero by helping ensure that data is as easily shared as possible, making it easier to deliver better leads and understand how sales uses them.
Doing those things gives the CIO a role in creating better customer experiences. A happier sales team stays with the company longer, and longer-tenured sales staffers are more likely to deliver the value-driven assistance that customers now require.
For these reasons, it's vital that the CIO be reintroduced to the technology selection process. The desire to bypass the CIO for expediency's sake is understandable, but the long-term impact of allowing a collection of cloud solutions to grow in an unmanaged way will undercut the cloud's advantages over time.
The cloud is a great thing, but it's no substitute for the wise counsel of someone who can help the business assemble a solution set that costs less money and gives the sales and marketing organization a collection of simpler, easier-to-use tools.