Modern IT departments have an amazing opportunity. The speed at which technology currently evolves combined with the rising importance of technology in the business puts IT departments in a prime position to impact their companies more than ever before.
Unfortunately, that’s not happening in most companies.
In fact, the research firm, Gartner, estimates that, “Enterprises realize on average only 43 percent of technology’s business potential.”
The big question: How can IT departments drive that number up?
If IT departments hope to maximize their impact in this day and age, they must focus their attention on the right priorities–which falls squarely on the CIO’s shoulders. So, what key areas must CIOs focus on in the near future? To help you answer that question, I’ve solicited feedback from industry experts and compiled their advice (as well as some of my own) below. Here are a few strategic priorities that CIOs must focus on in the near future.
1. Adapt to the “BYO” reality
In the past, IT controlled the business user’s devices. That has changed. Now, users bring in their own devices (with or without IT’s knowledge), and use them for work-related tasks. The big problem: Controlling these user-owned devices is nearly impossible.
“I think one priority is to tackle the BYOA and BYOD movement that is going on since it is having an impact on the workplace,” says Andrew Dixon, SVP at Igloo Software. “We find that once a user brings their own device, they will also bring their own applications, …and this welcomes security concerns for the IT department. This is also becoming an issue with CIOs where their job is to manage workflows and information.”
Trying to control BYOD at the device level is a losing battle. You can’t possibly monitor every device that comes into your office. Rather, the key lies in controlling your data. Secure the data on your servers, and then give users access to that data in the form of mobile web apps. This lets them access the data on any device, but doesn’t store any data on the device itself.
2. Learn how to properly apply new technology
As technology rapidly evolves, many CIOs feel pressure to apply new technology to their business…just because it’s new. However, the true challenge for CIOs is determining which new technologies help the business, and which to avoid.
“As a former CIO in the insurance industry for many years, my experience was that strategic priorities did not tend to shift as much with technology changes as they did (and do) with the potential for applied business value those technologies offer,” says Frank Petersmark, CIO Advocate at X by 2. “Put another way, the rapid changes in technology become the tools and processes CIOs will use to enable their companies to achieve its strategic goals and objectives.”
Petersmark goes on to explain this concept further: “For example, technology trends such as Big Data, Cloud services, and mobility all become means to ends in the hands of experienced CIOs whose strategic priorities include customer intimacy, flexible and agile infrastructures, and customer service and responsiveness respectively. Yes, all of these trends are important in their own technological spheres of influence, but they need to be applied in the context of their value to a particular organization and its strategic goals for their markets, customers, and employees. The key for CIOs then as now, is to take these technologies and turn them into something strategic for their organizations.”
The key to capitalizing on new technology involves a deep understanding of the business and the problems business users face. Before jumping into a new technology, CIOs must ask one question: “How does this help us address our current problems or meet our goals?”
3. Prepare for the cloud (future-proof your architecture)
Many companies have no plans for the cloud. They prefer to keep their applications and data in-house and manage everything themselves. Don’t worry, I’m not here to convince you otherwise.
However, regardless of your plans, you must still prepare your company for the possibility of a future cloud move. After all, who knows what the future holds? Maybe cloud hosts evolve to the point that your company feels comfortable moving your data and applications off-site. Or, maybe you set up an internal cloud on a different database.
The main point: You must create portable applications today that won’t hold your company back in the future…whatever that may hold.
This boils down to architecture. When building new applications, use open architecture that runs on any database or platform. That way, your applications will run in-house, or in the cloud. More importantly, a move to the cloud (or another database) won’t require new applications.
4. Address “Shadow IT”
With the rise of readily available cloud-based software and services, many companies face a growing “Shadow IT” problem. In short, end users are bypassing the IT department altogether, instead purchasing third party SaaS options to meet their needs.
“Research has indicated that origination of demand for IT services from non-IT teams is on the increase,” says Sanjay Maradi, author of the book, “Ride The Flat World – How CIOs can help businesses succeed”. “This means other departments such as marketing, finance etc are either beginning or considering engaging independently with IT service providers. If this is not addressed immediately the relevance of CIO would diminish.”
Many companies view “Shadow IT” as the problem that needs fixing. As I explained in this article, “Shadow IT” isn’t the problem…it’s a symptom. When end users aren’t satisfied with the services and support they receive from IT, they look for other options. They key isn’t about controlling “Shadow IT”. It’s about your IT department better supporting the business.
5. Adapt to a multi-screen world
Will smartphones and tablets ever replace the PC? Who knows? However, there’s no denying that mobile is rapidly becoming an integral part of our daily lives.
Smartphones and tablets have already taken over many tasks formerly performed by PCs. The fact is, businesses must now adapt to a multi-screen world. These days, you have no idea how internal users or customers will access your applications. Maybe they’ll use a PC. Maybe they’ll use a smartphone or tablet. Maybe they’ll use all three. You don’t know, and can’t control it.
You must now develop applications that adapt to the device on which they’re viewed. Some turn to responsive design. Others use the adaptive approach. Multi-screen development is the future, and CIOs cannot afford to ignore this trend any longer.
6. Build for interoperability
“Interoperability is a big element of our IT strategy,” says Michael Clapperton, CIO of George Little Management. “Customers are more demanding on the products they use on the desktop as well as mobile devices, at the end of the day we all have to communicate with one another and systems need to send and receive usable data. The day of closed systems is coming to an end.”
I couldn’t agree more: Closed applications and systems built on proprietary languages/frameworks are on the way out. Future development efforts must not only focus on the system or application itself–it must focus on how that system/application works with others.
This boils down to architecture. At the most basic level, avoid proprietary architecture or frameworks. Rather, make sure your development efforts involve open architecture and frameworks that communicate easily with other systems.
7. Focus on creating value (and eliminating non-core activities)
While this may sound like a recurring CIO priority, I believe it’s now more important than ever. As mentioned previously, IT departments must better address the business user’s needs, or risk being bypassed. To do so, CIO’s must eliminate non-essential activities that stand in the way.
“Another element we look at is the ability to outsource non core activities and focus on value creation,” explains Clapperton. “I don’t mean sending IT work overseas. The long term benefit of that movement is waning, I am referring to moving as many services to the cloud as possible. I no longer want to own or maintain software or hardware. There is no reason for small or mid sized firms to own equipment for standardized services.”
This priority is fairly self-explanatory. Ask yourself, “Does this task/activity improve our company in any way?” If not, figure out if/how you can eliminate that job and place your focus on mission-critical tasks.
I believe that IT departments have an enormous opportunity to really make a difference in their companies. How? Much of this comes down to shifting their focus away from maintaining the status quo, and on to key strategic priorities (like the points listed above). Of course, if you can think of any other priorities to add, I’d love to hear it in the comments.