The omens all pointed upward at this year’s Gartner
Symposium ITxpo 2011: Attendance was up by about 1,000, the vendor headcount
increased by almost 100, and everywhere solution providers and consulting firms
and vendors espoused the opportunities new technologies such as virtualization
and cloud computing were transforming into signed contracts.

In fact, 85 percent of attendees surveyed at random by
Appiro said cloud computing will dramatically change the way IT works over the
next five to 10 years. Thirty percent said they already have more than five
applications in the cloud, while only 13 percent said they have no cloud-based
applications, according to Appiro’s poll.

Organizations recognize the advantages and benefits of
virtualization—and many are turning to outside assistance for their expertise
in recommending, designing, and implementing virtual and cloud solutions. However,
cost is not the primary motivator, said Dana Wolfe, client partner for Dimension
Data
, IT Outsourcing Group, formerly Strategic Services. Rather,
centralization and control are key reasons for companies’ move to the cloud, he
told Channel Insider.

And this makes cloud and virtualization an ideal
opportunity
for services-focused organizations such as Dimension Data. Customers
want true partners that have a proven record of success with other clients, and
seek-out solution providers that can demonstrate the benefits cloud will
deliver to their business.

“Cloud is not to IT what labor arbitrage is to outsourcing. It’s
complex,” Wolfe said, in an interview. “Providers need to demonstrate a
deep knowledge and understanding of what cloud can deliver (and cannot) to the
business. Cloud is not a technology solution. It’s a business solution that
leverages technology, and needs to be carefully evaluated as one. It changes
the face of IT, and how IT needs to assess cloud. Non-technology issues need to
be carefully assessed before embarking on a cloud strategy, and ideally as a
step as part of that journey. The technology challenges, e.g., security – are
more easily addressed through smart architecture.”

Birth of Brokerages

And cloud-computing providers increasingly are becoming
specialized, according to Gartner.
They are proficient in solutions such as email, human resources, and managing
servers, said Daryl Plummer, managing vice president and Gartner fellow. Specialists
that support consumers who pick the services they want to use from the
providers they want to work with will result in cloud brokerages, according to
Gartner.

“Cloud brokerages can aggregate, integrate, govern, or
customize cloud services to make those services more specific to the needs of
the consumers,” Plummer said. “They will re-imagine business, and post-modern
businesses will even re-imagine the roles that IT departments will play. Three
out of 10 IT organizations will become cloud brokers for their business, and
that is one way they will survive.”

This is good news for the channel: In a poll of show
attendees, 37 percent said a systems integrator is the best kind of cloud
broker, while 33 percent said a third-party technology provider is the best
type, and 30 percent said a cloud service provider is the best type of cloud
broker, according to Appiro. Many respondents see the overall value of
brokerages. In fact, 45 percent most value brokers because they connect
multiple cloud platforms for more value and ease-of-use, Appiro’s survey
determined, while 22 percent said a broker’s most valuable attribute is the
help it provides in finding the right cloud services to use, the study showed.

Input into the cloud decision should extend beyond the IT
department, recommended Wolfe. Solution providers and consulting firms have the
expertise and knowledge to help guide, oversee, and pull the most information
from these conversations, he said.

“There should also be a Cloud Steering Committee function
that ensures alignment with the business objectives throughout the program,
because it will be in a constant state of evolution as platforms mature,
applications become more adept to various cloud architectures, and the
enterprise becomes more comfortable with the concept,” he told Channel Insider.

Changing Role of
IT

Solution providers are also evolving. Some are becoming
increasingly more services oriented, adding a rich level of business-oriented
offerings and, in some cases, partnering with VARs on product implementations.

The non-technology issues are just as important—and often
more challenging—for some traditional, product-focused solution providers to
address, said Mark Popolano, Partner-Global
Innovation Center, CIO Advisory, at Kurt Salmon. And because cloud computing is
so transformational, CIOs must consider the repercussions that can extend far beyond the data center
and into the human resources department, he told Channel Insider, during the Gartner Symposium ITxpo 2011.

“A lot of CIOs don’t understand the human resource
implications,” he said. “Cloud computing allows us to automate the
infrastructure. It’s going to change the way you look at a company. We’re
agnostic: We get to see it all. We take a pragmatic, operational approach to
strategy. We get to advise.”

Some of that advice focuses on the shifting role of the
CIO, whose value is increasing as he or she becomes a “broker of everything
non-IT,” said Popolano, in the interview. “Nobody would build a building
without installing networking in it. It’s like electricity.”

Added colleague Vincent Kasten, Senior Advisor, CIO Advisory, at Kurt Salmon: “Technology is
fundamentally woven into everything [organizations] do. Having it as a separate
thing is artificial.”

Some organizations have recognized that value, and CIOs
are on the boards of directors and play an integral role in helping to direct
companies’ future direction, far beyond pure technology-adoption discussions.
Kurt Salmon mentors “emerging CIOs,” said Popolano, helping these executives
move from IT leadership at a Fortune 2000 company, for example, for a top
position at a Fortune 50 corporation, he said.

Re-imagining Roles

In fact, IT leaders must re-imagine IT and their roles,
according to Gartner.

“IT leaders must embrace the post-modern business, a
business driven by customer relationships where the customer is everywhere, and
must your business; a world fuelled by the explosion in information,
collaboration, and mobility, enabled by the cloud,” said Peter
Sondergaard
, senior vice president and global head of research at Gartner,
during a keynote presentation to an audience of about 8,500 CIOs and IT leaders
gathered in Orlando. “You must pursue simplicity by putting people and their
needs at the center of design. You must dare to employ creative destruction to
eliminate legacy, and selectively destroy low-impact systems.”

Part of that re-thinking includes the way in which
organizations partner with solution providers and system integrators, said Gartner’s
Plummer.

“A post-modern business is one that completely rethinks the
status quo of business and embraces dramatically new relationships with its
customers, suppliers, and partners,” he said. “In the post-modern world, your
business has no walls. It must be everywhere.”

Solution providers can help customers break-down barriers
to business opportunities by guiding them toward optimal use of the right
technologies and the integration of automation plus efficient, cost- and
energy-saving processes. By partnering with their clients, solution providers
cast an unbiased eye, one devoid of office politics and departmental loyalties,
and can help organizations get both a holistic and drilled-down view of where
they are and what they need to arrive at their desired destination. Judging
from the buzz and energy at the Gartner Symposium ITxpo 2011, that’s a message
organizations are open to receiving—and, more importantly, acting and spending
on.