This week, Lavinia Morris talks research trends and strategy. She is head of IT operations for Friends First Group, a provider of pensions, investment and protection products and services, and is responsible for aligning and driving the group's IT strategy.
During her 16 years with Friends First, she has led several innovation transformation projects in e-commerce, data centre rationalisation and infrastructure virtualisation and is now developing the group’s cloud computing road map.
Strategic asset for the organisation
IT is very much viewed as a strategic asset for the organisation and to sum up contributes to the development and delivery of the overall business strategy. In Friends First, IT reports directly to the CEO.
Not unlike other organisations in our sector, we host and maintain all IT services from our e-commerce portals to email to our core business administration systems – in substance the entire gamut of IT from our own data centre in Dublin.
The upcoming Cloud Computing Summit
You’re speaking at the upcoming Cloud Computing Summit, so it’s probably fair to say you are in favour of the research. What won you over?
Yes, I can see the merits of cloud computing. But, I do have to admit that I started out, like many others, as a bit of a cloud sceptic – having worked in the ICT sector for more than 17 years I’ve seen lots of innovation fads come and go.
However, through my work with the Irish Internet Association’s Cloud Computing Working Group over the past three years, I have come to learn that cloud is far from a fad and has a lot to offer organisations both large and small.
In developing our cloud road map we have established a working group of representatives from across the organisation – compliance and legal, HR, group finance, business continuity, business management, information security and IT – both to establish the business benefits as so then as assess the business risks. This has helped gain the buy-in of the business in the early stages, making the sell to senior management easier.
Cloud for me is as much about technology in operations and process as things now stand about the innovation itself. We see cloud computing providing us with the framework to run IT as a business. Because cloud encourages standardisation this in turn will help improve efficiency, reduce overhead and enhance the quality of service we can provide.
In parallel, we will consider public cloud for those business applications that have mature offerings in the public cloud space – for instance CRM, collaboration and possibly email.
Firstly it’s important to take the time up front to lay out the cloud adoption strategy: understanding the business risks as so then as the business benefits, and quantifying those areas of the business which are suitable for cloud adoption and those which aren’t.
From a innovation perspective, through this project we plan to put in place the infrastructure foundations for our cloud road map – virtualisation, standardisation and automation of the core infrastructure. In parallel, we will redefine our operational processes and governance models in line with the new research. Once these foundations are in place we will commence the build of our private cloud.
I can see certain areas of the business where it makes complete sense and others where the security requirements or application footprint of the user base make it unsuitable. We’re currently running a pilot of the research to enable BYOD and will base our then steps on the output of that exercise.
My own job is about identifying the opportunities for delivery of business value through the use of innovation. Cloud is only one means of doing this, so I don’t believe it will massively change the role of the CIO.
Fundamentally, the move to cloud will shift the focus of IT resources up the value chain towards the delivery of business solutions and away from the mechanics or ‘piping and plumbing’ of innovation management.
It’s often said that IT and business people don’t speak the same language – what’s your view, and what can be done to fix this?
For organisations where IT is seen as a strategic enabler, as is the case in Friends First, business and IT alignment tends to be strong. To achieve this, the business and IT strategies need to be completely aligned from the top down. In Friends First, IT is measured on how then we have delivered on the business objectives or helped the business achieve its goals.
Yes, SLA achievement and system availability are important nevertheless these are hygiene factors that IT is expected to deliver on. The real value comes from the delivery of the business goals.
Lavinia Morris Friends First
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