Cloud sprawl: What is it, and how can you beat it?

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Today's workplace plays host to employees using a variety of cloud services side-by-side with corporate-sanctioned IT. This often results in incongruent information sourcing and storage, typically known as cloud sprawl. Whilst software as a service (SaaS) can boost smarter working and innovation in businesses, information disparity issues need to be addressed to sustain efficient working environments.

As businesses adoption and management of cloud services matures, some are still suffering organizational inefficiencies due to cloud sprawl. At the moment, different software is being selected for different solutions by different departments or even individual members of staff; there is a knowledge gap where businesses aren't fully informed about how cloud technology can respond to business challenges in a different way to on-premise solutions, and so the potential for better information management is not being realized.

From the mid-market to larger enterprise, businesses need to enable company-wide education about the benefits of cloud.

To avoid cloud sprawl, there are a host of things that need to be considered; things that IT managers don't often think about when moving to cloud. People are still figuring out what cloud means to their business, and this often leads to information sprawl as new and different clouds are being deployed. Eventually cloud computing will mature and become standardized and interoperable, but until then there are certain sprawling issues to be addressed.

Cloud sprawl is also partly down to CIOs losing control of their IT strategies and procurement processes. Software as a Service has enabled more business departments (whether HR, marketing or finance) to make purchasing decisions oncloud solutions. For the CIO, this can lead to chaos as there are lots of different systems running in siloes. This can lead to challenges meeting overall goals, with CIOs effectively taking on a supply management role as they fight to manage disparate systems and ensure interoperability and business agility.

With 'Shadow IT' (systems businesses depend upon not deployed or managed by the IT team) becoming increasingly commonplace in the industry, teams are now making decisions without the CIO. As a result, we are seeing fragmentation of ultimate decision makers; not the desired effect of cloud computing.

There needs to be clear direction from the CIO to the business in terms of where it is necessary for information systems to share data; they must be clear on the need to interrelate information.

Individual departments may work perfectly well alone, but they still need the CIO to provide mechanisms to connect with each other and ensure compatibility. Many SaaS solutions have overlapping and duplicate functions, such as social or messaging plug-ins, which is another feature of cloud sprawl.

The key lesson to be learnt from the cloud sprawl issue is about the interconnection of business systems. This highlights particular problems for SaaS since linking systems together is critical to achieving maximum return. Organizations need to learn that systems might potentially overlap, and that solutions being too siloed or having too many overlaps may cause sprawl.

Steve Browell is CTO at Intrinsic

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