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CEO Vs. CIO: Big Data Security Battle

Many execs don't see eye-to-eye on new cloud computing environments now, but who has the advantage in the long term?
Here's a scenario that may sound familiar, particularly if you're privy to the inner workings of corporate management. A company's CEO wants to deploy cloud-based data processing technology, but his CIO balks at the idea, arguing the firm's data is too important to store offsite and in the ether.

"I'm seeing a lot of disconnect there" when it comes to big data and cloud services, said Ryan Caplan, president and CEO of Coldlight Solutions, a data analytics company based in Wayne, Penn., northwest of Philadelphia.

In a phone interview with InformationWeek, Caplan said that CEOs and CIOs often don't see eye-to-eye when it comes to cloud data systems.

"The CEO is saying, 'I want this. Everybody else seems to be able to do it. Why can't I do it?' And the argument I hear from the CIOs is, 'Our world is different. Our data is different. Our data is too secure. Our data is too proprietary,'" Caplan said.

In most companies, the CEO is the big-picture person--but one less concerned with the technologies used to achieve his or her vision. "The CEO is tasked with vision, expansion, and profitable growth of the organization at large," said Caplan. "The CIO has largely and historically been tasked with managing the information inside the four walls of the organization."

[Don't get sidetracked at the start. See Big Data Projects: 6 Ways To Start Smart. ]

This time-tested arrangement has made the CIO somewhat of a counterbalance to the CEO, but that's not always a good thing, particularly when it comes to big data deployments.

"What I'm seeing now is that it's impacting CIOs who are reticent to move into larger-scale processing environments, or take advantage of all things that cloud processing has to offer," Caplan said.

The CEO vs. CIO argument is far from new. A decade ago, in a July 2002 Strategy+Business article titled "CEO vs. CIO: Can This Marriage Be Saved?" writers John O. Boochever, Thomas Park, and James C. Weinberg wrote: "The unfunny truth is that CEOs and CIOs too often act as though they are partners in an enormously uncomfortable marriage."

The technical issues may be different today, but the prickly relationship remains.

So what issues do some CIOs have with cloud-based systems?

"I think there's a perception of security," Caplan said. "If you talk to the cloud providers, they'll tell you there's a perception--and probably an inappropriate perception--that locally stored data is more secure than data stored in cloud environments."

But, as Caplan pointed out, data isn't necessarily secure just because it's stored onsite. "We deal with clients who think their [onsite] data is secure, and you walk into their environment and it's accessible. You can get through one wooden door and you're in," said Caplan.

A CIO's reticence to try cloud services may also be because he or she isn't up to speed on the latest developments in secure storage, encryption, and data transfer. "And they're really just not willing to recognize that the world has changed," Caplan said.

Many companies, of course, have already moved information to cloud-based systems, including e-commerce and numerous Internet-based businesses. But some industries, such as healthcare, have been particularly reluctant to change.

"One of the huge challenges with healthcare is that even though the information can easily be stored in encrypted (form), the liability is just so strong that businesses won't risk moving data into a cloud-computing environment," said Caplan.

Ultimately, though, the cloud will triumph, he believes. "Efficiency always wins out in the end. Part of the business ecosystem is that scalability and expandability will win out over some of the near-term concerns," Caplan said.

His prediction: "In the short term, I think the CIO wins. In the long term, the CEO wins."

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