In Depth

How Clouds Can Change Management


When Serena Software Chief Executive Jeremy Burton wants to take the pulse of his company, he taps an icon on the screen of his smartphone. A dashboard pops up that shows him the company's financial performance plus up-to-the-minute reports on each of his executives' performance against goals he has set for them—what he calls their "Victory Plan." His lieutenants can tap into the same information trove wherever they may be. "The fact that everybody can see how we're doing, good or bad, builds trust and forces accountability," he says.

Burton is at the leading edge of a growing trend: management by cloud. Increasingly, CEOs and other executives will be able to lead their organizations from anywhere, and they'll have new tools that will give them more timely and relevant information on their operations. "This can be a great management tool, but it requires a change in attitude," says Amy Wohl, an independent technology strategy consultant to corporations. "It will require a company's IT department to give up some of their control in exchange for flexibility for the executives."

After Burton took over as CEO in early 2007, he decided to overhaul the Redwood City (Calif.) company's computing. Piece by piece, he replaced software running on Serena's own computers with cloud services run by other companies. The shift has had a profound effect, changing everything from how employees share information to how Serena markets its own software—it does so, in part, via employees' personal Facebook pages.

FINGERTIPS' NEW REACH

Most strikingly, the switch has transformed the way Burton manages the company. Thanks to his smartphone, fast wireless networks, and software applications in the cloud, he stays plugged into his company wherever he may be. His iGoogle (GOOG) personal Web page contains graphics showing the latest sales data, relevant news, his e-mail in-box, an instant chat feature, and the latest updates from business associates' Facebook pages. "I feel for the first time in my career that I truly have all the information I need at my fingertips," says Burton.

Burton says the technology lets him do two jobs at once: CEO and head of sales. That way, he can discover firsthand challenges in the field and quickly fix glitches. The move is paying off: He saw the sales force wasn't responding well to the recession, so he launched a retraining program. It's designed to help the staff spot the opportunities most likely to result in sales. He says executives have to get more involved than in the past: "You can't be the CEO in the corner office. You have to be in touch with your people."

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