Summary: As business technology goes through a fundamental shift, the role of the CIO is changing. In the coming years, CIOs will face new challenges and take on new roles. The most successful CIOs are those that recognize and adapt to these changes. In this article, we explore 5 such challenges that CIOs must face in the near future.
Some view it as an opportunity. Others view it as a risk. Whatever you call it, no one can deny that it’s happening: Business technology is undergoing a major shift.
Driven largely by the explosion of data along with the rise of mobile and the cloud, the role of the IT department is changing. CIOs and IT leaders face new challenges. They face shifting roles and responsibilities.
More importantly, these changes present an opportunity. Technology has never played a larger role in the business than it does today. CIOs and IT leaders have the opportunity to deliver more business value than ever before. Successful CIOs are those that recognize and adapt to these evolving challenges.
So, what are these challenges? What areas and priorities must CIOs focus on in the coming year? As this is such a broad topic, we’re breaking it up into two parts. We’ll cover the first 5 challenges today, and the rest in a future article. Sound good? Okay, here are 5 of the biggest challenges facing CIOs and IT leaders in the near future:
Challenge #1: Address the growing need for agility
The role of the IT department is shifting. In the past, IT departments were viewed as a back-office function that supported the business. Their main responsibility: Keeping the lights on.
These days, that’s changing. As technology plays an increasingly important role on all aspects of business, modern IT departments must permanently shift their focus from maintenance to innovation. They must move quickly. They must drive business forward.
“The challenge I see for IT leaders heading into 2015 is dealing with the ‘frenzy’ associated with always improving our hardware and software systems so that it will make the interactions with our internal and external audiences as easy as possible,” says Jason Lamb, IT Systems Operations Manager at Eliassen Group. “Successful IT teams in 2015 need to have the ability to constantly pivot and change directions if that activity will help the overall organization fulfill its objectives. Being reluctant to embrace almost incessant technological change because of the disruptions that can result during implementation is not acceptable. IT leaders, the good ones, need to be willing to embrace risk.”
How can CIOs address this challenge? While IT agility depends on a number of areas, it all starts with the next point: Break free from technical debt.
Challenge #2: Break free from technical debt
One of the biggest problems facing the modern CIO: They’re business runs on a hodgepodge of applications that they can’t replace. These applications are so heavily modified and intertwined, they’re hard to maintain.
Since maintaining these applications is so difficult and time consuming, it slows the business down. IT can’t move quickly, and they can’t adapt to changing technology.
“If it seems like it takes longer for your organization to get things done, it is because it does,” says Alan Willett, President of Oxseeker, Inc. “This is due to many reasons but the biggest two are pretty simple. First, your organization has strapped to its back significant technical debt. (No, I am not looking over your shoulder, I have just seen this in every organization I have worked with!) The weight of that debt slows everyone down. Second, all of those great applications you have been buying and building have added some wonderful features to your business. However, they have also become so integrated that it is hard to make a change without making twelve impacts elsewhere.”
What can CIOs do about this? First, take an application audit. Determine which applications users actually use, and which you don’t need. Understand which applications you can replace, and which you cannot.
Then, map out a plan to either replace or rejuvenate these old applications. For help in this area, here’s an article that explains 5 ways to rejuvenate old applications.
Challenge #3: Balance data accessibility with security
In the past, data was stored in-house, and locked down. IT controlled data access.
These days, that’s changing. Employee-owned mobile devices have infiltrated the workplace. We’ve entered a mobile world, where employees expect data access from anywhere, on any device.
This creates a problem: How can CIOs secure their data while adapting to the new mobile reality?
“An ongoing challenge for CIOs and IT leaders, and one that will only get harder in 2015, is data security,” says Ryan Kalember, Chief Product Officer at WatchDox. “This issue takes center stage for most companies and will become particularly challenging as the BYOD era evolves to include wearable devices. Beyond the growing ubiquity of mobile devices in the workplace, it’s the 24/7, always-on work mentality combined with telecommuting and the constant demand for information that leaves organizations in a tough spot – finding the balance between accessibility and security.”
How can CIOs address this growing issue? It comes down to a simple idea: Treat employee devices as doorways, not destinations. Secure the data, not the device.
“As more workers access and share company data via personal mobile devices, unauthorized apps and unsecured cloud services, the more they put data security at risk,” explains Kalember. “IT leaders then are faced with the critical need to protect company data and prevent incoming threats without hindering mobility and the productivity gains BYOD affords. One approach CIO’s and IT leaders should consider is to secure the data, not the device. By applying data-level protection to a company file, IT can rest easy knowing the data is secure no matter where it travels or who accesses it.”
Challenge #4: Adapt to a connected world
Over the past few years, we’ve seen an explosion of web-connected mobile devices. We’ve also seen businesses struggle to adapt to this new reality.
Why is this a problem? Because we’re moving beyond mobile devices, and into the “Internet of Things (IOT).” Soon, most devices will connect to the web.
“The addition of sensors and connectivity to physical things is driving massive gains in efficiency,” says Ryan St. Hilaire, VP of Product Management, Absolute Software. “By the year 2020, connected ‘Things” will outnumber humans by 5:1. This new Internet of Everything is posing significant security risks for many organizations. In fact, a recent Gartner report found that 73% of IT leaders expect the Internet of Things to pose a security threat in the next 3 years and 50% of them don’t feel prepared to manage and secure these connected things. IT and operational technology must work together to increase the security posture of an organization to manage and secure the convergence of devices and things.”
While we’re still in the beginning stages of the Internet of Things, CIOs can’t sit back and wait for it to arrive. How will your company adapt? What will you do with these new opportunities? What will you do with explosion of data? Much like mobile, this new trend holds amazing potential for those companies who are prepared.
Challenge #5: Bridge the skills gap
“A major concern is our ability to hire and retain a skilled workforce,” says Wayne Dennison, VP of IT and CIO at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. “Recruiting is becoming more and more difficult in the higher education sector and our ability to pay competitive salaries and compete with companies for skilled individuals is growing more difficult all the time.”
This is a common theme among businesses across all industries. How bad is it? A recent study finds that 93% of businesses face a skills gap. There is a growing shortfall between the supply of qualified IT professionals and the demand for modern IT skills.
To make matters worse, this problem is growing. As technology evolution accelerates, finding employees with modern skills becomes even more challenging.
What can CIOs do about this? It’s a broad topic, but here’s an article that offers 6 ways to bridge the skills gap.
So, what do you think? Is there anything you would add to this list? If so, please share your thoughts in the comments.