Over the past 24 months there has been a veritable tempest surrounding the rise of the cloud. From cloud-lovers to cloud-haters, the debate has rumbled back and forth on the likes of security, sovereignty and sustainability. In truth, all advancements in technology are met with debate – it is in our nature to question the unknown. But as ever, we will learn as we go and what we’ve picked up so far is already shaping the future of IT.

Going Mobile

Space and cost-saving are two key benefits of the cloud. For me, however, the true value of the cloud is mobility. By this I don’t mean BYOD (bring your own device) or souped-up wireless devices; focusing on the technology rather than what it enables would miss the point.

Mobility is access to information at the point of need – at the point of thought. Indeed, it’s about creating the possibility for employees, customers and users to access and manipulate information appropriately – whenever, wherever and on whatever device they choose.

To put into context this ‘appropriate’ use of information, let me use the example of a commonplace situation. A business call taken in a car would currently entail the user speaking on a handset, presumably accessing or recording information on the same device afterwards and in most cases waiting until arrival at the destination to fully make use of the transaction.

Imagine instead the same user was able to view conversation-relevant data on the windscreen and access an instant list of actions on the dashboard. You see, as technology develops ever onward, it is the information that is crucial, not the device.

Ubiquitous access to data is certainly an exciting prospect for us all – with the possible exception of the CIO, whose task it will be to manage it! Indeed, with 360° access to information the possibilities are seemingly endless. But what does it mean in real business terms?

It certainly means an end to the traditional workplace. We’re already seeing a far more mobilised workforce, with people utilising flexible working with greater ease than ever before, without any loss to productivity.

The Extinction Of The Office

Once upon a time, employees used IT in the manner in which they were instructed. The technology was functional and had no real overlap with that used in home lives. Similarly, workers compartmentalised their lives into ‘work’ and ‘play’, but today the boundary is blurring.

Work and office are no longer coupled and people are increasingly aware that time is, in fact, more valuable than money. With email, internet and social media making it easier for workers to conduct elements of their social life at work and vice versa, we are hurtling toward full scale work-life integration.

The implications of this alone are incredible; whole pockets of under-utilised members of society – stay-at-home parents, the physically impaired and those living in remote, rural areas – are suddenly empowered.

It is likely that in the future people will work as “free agents” or form into clusters of small to mid-sized businesses (SMBs) – a HQ-less network of freelancers. The days of the grinding commute to the city centre or company campus are numbered.

Enterprise mobility allows far greater freedom, meaning that the office doesn’t have to be a room with a desk, a chunky PC and a decorative fern. Similarly, concerns about fuel shortage and availability of land in cities will likely cause enterprises to radically re-think their real-estate strategies.

The global market for enterprise mobility is expected to exceed 174 billion by 2017. By 2020, IDC predicts that “third platform technologies,” (mobile, cloud, social and Big Data) will comprise 80 percent of all IT spending compared with 20 percent in 2011.

CIO 2.0

However, as technology becomes infused into every aspect of users’ worlds, managing the requirements and expectations has become more challenging. Indeed, in an increasingly talent-short market, the IT department will have little choice but to accommodate the working habits of its staff. Securing workers may not only require embracing their chosen hardware, but also their chosen software.

Users will guide enterprise IT development in mobility and this presents a challenge because most of today’s IT professionals didn’t grow up in this era. CIOs are trying to understand shorter development times, shorter refresh cycles and better user experience where the bar is being driven constantly higher.

Tablet apps have unfortunately created a mindset in the user-community that IT services are both easy to acquire and cheap. The Cloud has created a ‘plug and go’ perception in the user’s mind, but for businesses to adopt this mindset will require a hefty management rethink.

CIOs are correct to highlight security, cost and lessened control over data as potential threats – greatly added to by personal devices – but a one size fits all IT policy is a thing of the past. Similarly, it would be foolish to assume that by allowing staff access to email via phone or tablet the journey is complete.

IT and business strategy will need a serious rethink in the coming year. Cloud and mobility aren’t going anywhere and CIOs who have put up barriers and adopted a CI-nO attitude will be left behind unless they adapt to the change accordingly. Fully embracing user-driven IT services requires a light-touch approach to technology management and finding the balance between this and good corporate governance will be the challenge.

From a workplace perspective, the crucial overarching enabler of the cloud is more than just BYOD, it is full scale enterprise mobility.