8 big challenges facing CIOs and IT leaders in 2014

EducationWhat’s the biggest tech trend facing businesses right now? Is it the rise of mobile? BYOD? Cloud computing? Consumerization?

The fact is, you could make a case for any one of them…which highlights the most important point: We’re currently going through a fundamental shift in technology. We’re seeing a number of disruptive technologies converging on businesses at the same time. When combined, these changes create a unique set of challenges for CIOs and IT leaders going into 2014.

So, what are the biggest challenges facing CIOs and IT leaders in the coming year? Perhaps a better question: How can they address these challenges? We asked these questions to other CIOs and IT leaders, and have listed these responses below. I’ve also included a brief tip on how to address each challenge. So, without further ado, here are the biggest challenges facing CIOs and IT leaders in the coming year:

Challenge #1: How to address physical and IT security

Modern IT departments are currently facing a fundamental shift in security practices. Applications are moving to the web. Employees are using their own mobile devices. Cloud-based, consumer applications are creeping into the business. The challenge of securing devices and data that are increasingly beyond their control is something that CIOs and IT leaders will struggle with in the coming year (and beyond).

photo credit: ePublicist via photopin cc

photo credit: ePublicist via photopin cc

“As we enter a brave new world that increasingly relies upon technology and the cloud, it is clear that a fully integrated business plan involving both physical and IT security is critical,” says Ray Cavanagh, a board member of the ASIS Physical Security Council and Physical Security for Cloud Computing Council, and VP of Crescent Guardian, Inc. “But, alarmingly, it is often given minimal attention and puts everyone involved at more risk.”

How to address this challenge?
What’s the answer? Cavanagh shares his thoughts on the matter:

“Both the IT organization and the security team must develop an easy-to-implement, organized plan that incorporates all aspects of security,” explains Cavanagh. “The benefits of such a plan can reduce criminal activity, service disruptions and other risk factors that could impede business continuity. While completely eliminating all threats is impossible, a comprehensive, integrated security plan that converges both physical and IT security can put companies in a position of power instead of fear, action instead of reaction.”

Challenge #2: How to adapt to an increasingly tech-savvy workforce

“Our work with CIOs and other IT decision makers reveals that today, CIOs serve a relatively tactical role for a relatively naïve user base,” says Raj Sabhlok, president of ManageEngine. “Many of today’s CIOs are responsible for technology provisioning, break/fix support, software and hardware upgrades and operational support, including email, application support and password management.”

While IT typically supported a technically un-savvy workforce, that’s changing. Younger employees are entering the workforce. Older employees are becoming more comfortable with technology. What does that mean for IT? As Sabhlok explains below, the CIO’s role is changing.

“Going forward to 2014 and beyond, the role of the CIO will evolve in response to an increasingly sophisticated, tech-savvy workforce,” explains Sabhlok. “Soon, CIOs will be responsible for provisioning game-changing technology, delivering competitive advantage for their business, and introducing new products and services to grow the business.”

How to address this challenge?

“Bottom line, CIOs can be game-changers for their organizations in 2014,” says Sabhlok. “Their changing user base will make this possible. However, to take full advantage of this opportunity, CIOs will need to move from a tactical role to a strategic technology visionary, adopting new responsibilities and skills that may well redefine future CIOs as Chief Innovation Officers.”

Challenge #3: How to integrate employee devices into corporate IT

Gartner predicts that by 2017, half of employers will require employees to supply their own device for work purposes. In order for that to happen, modern CIOs must answer a very important question: How can we securely integrate employee devices into corporate IT?

photo credit: Horia Varlan via photopin cc

photo credit: Horia Varlan via photopin cc

“One of the top challenges for CIOs and IT leaders everywhere, regardless of what industry they are in, is integrating employees’ mobile devices into the corporate IT space,” says Robert Cuneo, CIO of the Eliassen Group. “Commonly referred to as BYOD, how are we going to provide the appropriate security controls and measures that will effectively allow us to manage these devices? How can you take this heterogeneous equipment and provide effective security for it?”

How to address this challenge?
While there’s no shortage of advice on the topic, this article provides an excellent tip: Controlling the device is a losing game. If you want to securely integrate employee devices into corporate IT, treat the device as a doorway, not a destination. Let users securely access data on their own devices via web apps, which don’t store data on the device itself.

Challenge #4: How to capitalize on the growth of data

According to this article, 90% of all data in the world has been generated over the past two years. The fact is, businesses are now generating more data than ever before…but many have trouble doing anything with it, which renders the data useless.

“Another challenge all CIOs are grappling with as they prepare for 2014 is the status of their corporate data warehouse architecture,” explains Cuneo. “By that, I mean what is the plan CIOs are coming up with to deal with the growth of data within their organizations? How are corporations going about the process of filtering, mining and finding the quantitative data they need to make day-to-day decisions? What does that mean for you as an organization? Where is the industry going? Is it linear growth, or must you restructure what you are doing for your business?”

How to address this challenge?
This boils down to tools, and there are plenty to choose from. You’ll find all sorts of BI software aimed at helping you get the most out of your data. Which is best for your business? While the answer varies depending on your needs, here’s a short guide that might help. It outlines a few essential features that you should look for in any BI solution.

Challenge #5: How to balance legacy applications with evolving operating systems

“Many large firms have dozens of legacy applications that simply are not supported by the software manufacturer, if they still are in business,” says John Biglin, CEO of Interphase Systems. “In many cases, the software does not work with newer operating systems, browsers, antivirus software, database versions and the like. CIOs are faced with keeping legacy systems running while maintaining a consistent, reliable and secure IT shop. Older Operating Systems have well documented vulnerabilities that are mitigated with newer OS versions. We recently found a client running an “important” application on NT4. The CIO cannot upgrade it, but is responsible for its stability and security – rock+hard place.”

Unfortunately, this is all too common. Many companies are locked to legacy applications that they cannot upgrade. Why? Maybe it’s too expensive. Maybe the vendor is out of business. Maybe it’s too big of a risk. Whatever the reason, they’re tied to their legacy applications. CIOs must face the challenge of maintaining these applications while moving the company’s technology forward.

How to address this challenge?
If you’re stuck with legacy applications and you want modern features, here’s my advice: Take an “Extend and surround” approach. This approach involves gradually surrounding your old applications with completely new and modern applications (without altering the underlying system). It lets you modernize different parts of your systems gradually, as the need arises.

Challenge #6: How to handle unsanctioned cloud adoption

photo credit: francisco.j.gonzalez via photopin cc

photo credit: francisco.j.gonzalez via photopin cc

“Employees are adopting their own cloud services at an accelerated pace in order to make their lives easier,” says Biglin. “Since some services can be simple to use, and easy to implement, some many end-users do not check with IT in order to avoid being told ‘no’ or at least avoid being slowed down. Despite security policies, end-users have all kinds of cloud-based systems that they use each day the way they want to. This creates many vulnerabilities, procurement issues and other risks such as data leakage. CIOs have to engage enough to embrace newer tech options that users find while taking a hard-line on some services. This requires unprecedented levels of finesse with the user community.”

He brings up an excellent point: Addressing unsanctioned cloud adoption is more than simply making rules and policies. It’s about working with users. It’s about understanding what the users are trying to accomplish, and then either allowing it or giving them another (safer) way.

How to address this challenge?
This article focuses on some ways that IT accidentally causes this problem, and outlines some solutions. One key take-away: Make sure your IT department doesn’t develop a “culture of no.” Instead, focus on ways you can solve problems, rather than telling them all the things they can’t do.

Challenge #7: How to handle integration across platforms

In the past, business applications typically stored and accessed data on a single platform. Now, with the rise of mobile and the growing use of cloud solutions, platforms have exploded. Modern applications must now interact with an ever-increasing number of software platforms–moving the need for integration to the forefront.

“As cloud computing continues to explode – with companies like 451 Research predicting a 36% compound annual growth in cloud computing through 2016 – CIOs and IT leaders must face a growing problem: integrating all these cloud apps and services,” says Lou Guercia, CEO of Scribe Software. “While the cloud holds enormous potential to lower costs, improve time to value and increase flexibility, the truth is that as it stands, most businesses are jumping on the cloud bandwagon blind, and it’s costing them. Beyond the benefits are potential pitfalls for IT: a recent Oracle-funded study found that 52% of businesses said they had missed deadlines due to poor integration of cloud apps across vendors, and a stunning 64% were unable to integrate their cloud apps with other enterprise apps.”

How important is integration? According to Dave West, former Forrester Research president and research director, “Application integration problems are a top reason why businesses — and their enterprise architects and project managers — can’t deliver business innovation at the speed demanded by customers using all these application platforms.”

How to address this challenge?
I believe much of this boils down to the points mentioned in the “How to balance legacy applications with evolving operating systems” section. Businesses that try to operate with a mix of in-house and cloud applications will struggle with integration if they’re still using legacy applications. My advice: Fix your legacy applications first, and integration becomes much simpler.

Challenge #8: How to drive growth

Finally, I believe we’re seeing in a shift in the expectations placed on the CIO, as well as the IT department in general. Business leaders are looking more towards the CIO to drive growth and innovation, rather than simply keeping the business running.

“The new twist for 2014 is the focus once again on growth,” says Frank Petersmark, CIO Advocate at X by 2. “After several years of focusing on expense management and process improvement for operational efficiency – still important by the way – CIOs are being challenged with delivering growth-based capabilities and platforms. Initiatives that drive customer service and engagement will be highly valued in 2014. The list is long, but such things as mobile applications, customer self-service, and proactive customer engagement through social media will drive many of the new challenges for CIOs in 2014.”

How to address this challenge?
While growth-driving initiatives vary by company, I believe it starts with the proper mindset. Don’t view these challenges as problems, so much as opportunities. Brian Kelley, CIO of Portage County sums it up nicely:

“Management is looking to IT to leverage technology in a cost-effective and secure manner to improve productivity and efficiencies within the organization. The IT challenges on the horizon in 2014 provide the perfect opportunity for CIO’s and IT leaders to step-up and deliver!”

So, what do you think? Are there any challenges that should be added to this list? If so, I’d love to hear them in the comments.

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2 thoughts on “8 big challenges facing CIOs and IT leaders in 2014

  1. Perhaps you will be interested in this new book: Trust and Partnership – Strategic IT Management for Turbulent Times. (Wiley, 2014.)A
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    Please let me know if I can answer any questions about this important new book.
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