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There are 3 answers to a question; Yes, No and I don’t know. Societal pressure however, oftentimes prevents us from responding with the latter.

Our fear of admitting that we do not know is instilled in us from a very early age. When we were kids and didn’t do our chores, our parents would ask why and of course we were compelled to come up with a really good answer. “I don’t know” would have never been an acceptable response, even though it was most likely true that you had no real idea why, you simply didn’t.

“What do you mean you don’t know, you have to know, answer me right now.” “Um, uh…I forgot.” That answer would also have likely produced the same undesirable response from our parents such as “Reeeeeeealy, then you are grounded for two weeks.” Either way, you were in trouble and nothing short of an asteroid landing in your back yard was going to distract them enough to change that.

As grown adults (and accomplished professionals), we still have difficulty admitting that we may not have an answer to a question when it is asked. What’s worse, we will answer a question even if it is the wrong one or if there is no right answer at all such as “are you dumb or stupid?” There is really no right answer to that question. Even “I don’t know” in this case would be a bad answer…because that would make you both.

Perhaps it is ego combined with cultural conditioning that instilled the belief that “I don’t know” is simply not an acceptable answer, or even a “real answer” in the opinion of many. Society tends to scoff at “I don’t know” and will oftentimes go so far as to label someone that dares give that answer as incompetent (and yes, even dumb or stupid).

Regardless, “I don’t know” should be an acceptable answer. Possibly, we need time to contemplate various options or analyze something further before we are able to give an appropriate answer. Or maybe as I said previously, it was the wrong question to begin with. This pressure is especially evident with regard to the question over Cloud computing.

The media hype around Cloud computing is applying pressure directly and indirectly on executives to have an answer to questions related to their “cloud strategy”. Boards of directors caught up in the Cloud frenzy are also applying pressure to have an answer, much like a room full of parents asking why we didn’t do our chores.

I have watched as executives stumble over themselves in a desperate attempt to answer questions about their Cloud strategies. While I acknowledge that it is far easier to critique a response when you are not the one in the hot seat, a simple “I don’t know” (or “we are evaluating our that”) would have been far more graceful than falling flat on your face in the middle of the dance floor as you trip endlessly over technical jargon and meaningless clichés.

So, What is Your Cloud Computing Strategy?

Not only are we unwilling to answer with “I don’t know”, the question is technically the wrong one to ask.

Cloud computing, in and of itself is not a “strategy” at least from an Enterprise perspective. While Cloud computing may be part of an IT strategy in support of one or more Enterprise strategic objectives, it is in actuality, an Enterprise “tactical” initiative.

For example, the Enterprise strategy may include a charter to “improve operating efficiency through a 20% reduction in CapEx”. However, IT’s reduction in CapEx is not a strategy. Rather, it is an operational efficiency as a result of a well-defined and executed IT strategy in support of an Enterprise Strategic objective. This may be achieved through the Cloud or server optimization through consolidation and virtualization, etc.

The IT Strategy charter would read something such as “improve operational efficiency through server virtualization and consolidation and Cloud computing to handle non-standard workloads in order to reduce CapEx.” A reduction in CapEx then is the result of executing the IT strategy but to the Enterprise, it is still simply a tactical initiative that supports the Enterprise strategy.

The Enterprise strategy should inform the development of an IT Strategy that will optimize technology resources and improve the ability of IT to support a broader range of Enterprise strategic objectives.

So the appropriate question would be “what is the role of Cloud computing in supporting the company’s strategic objectives”?

I know that it may just seem like semantics, but this subtle difference has potentially enormous ramifications. It places the focus of the discussion about Cloud computing where it belongs…dare I say…as a “strategic enabler”. You know…that old chestnut.

It also provides a way for executives to answer the question a bit more gracefully, such as; ”Well Mr. Reporter or Mrs. Board Member, Cloud Computing in our view is a tactical initiative that may support one or more Enterprise Strategic objectives and we are currently evaluating which of those may be supported through the adoption of some form and degree of Cloud computing.”

That’s how the pros say “I don’t know.”