6 lessons CIOs and IT leaders learned in 2016

EducationSummary: As we start a new year, it helps to reflect on (and learn from) the past year. In this article, we take a look at the past year from an IT leader perspective. What are the most important lessons that IT leaders and CIOs learned (or should have learned) in 2016? What important takeaways from the last 12 months will help you succeed in the coming year? We answer those questions (and more) in this article.

photo credit: skeeze via pixabay cc

photo credit: skeeze via pixabay cc

They say you shouldn’t dwell on the past. But, you can learn from it.

2016 was a year of change. Some good, some bad, and others are still up in the air. However, before we write off 2016 and focus solely on 2017, let’s take a step back to reflect.

What lessons can you learn? What are the key takeaways from the last year? What can we learn from last year that will help us succeed this year?

Today, let’s explore this topic from an IT leader/CIO perspective. Here are 6 lessons you can learn from the past year, which will help you succeed for years to come.

Lesson #1: An investment in your employee’s skills will pay off for years to come

It’s no secret. Businesses face an IT skills gap, and it only expanded in 2016. IT leaders struggled to find the skills and resources to keep up with the ever-changing needs of the digital world.

Gartner echoes this point in their 2016 CIO agenda report: “Talent has now been recognized globally as the single biggest issue standing in the way of CIOs achieving their objectives.”

So, what’s the answer? What lesson can CIOs take from this growing problem?

“We learned to invest more in internal training for our IT teams,” says Mark Tuchscherer, President of Geeks Chicago. “Web and mobile technology is always evolving, and staying on top of the fastest-growing languages and trends is crucial–not just to remain relevant in the industry, but to save costs and become more efficient with regard to what’s built.”

It’s a great lesson, and one that will pay off dividends for years to come. As you continue to invest in education, your business will better adapt to new technology.

Lesson #2: Digital is a mindset, not just a set of tools

photo credit: dierk schaefer via photopin cc

photo credit: dierk schaefer via photopin cc

Digital transformation was one of the biggest trends of 2016. By its very nature, digital transformation revolves around digital technologies. You must create systems and implement technologies that will help your business adapt to the modern world.

But, IT leaders learned an important lesson over the past year: Technology is the easy part. A recent Forrester study finds that company culture is often the stumbling block in digital transformation efforts: “Culture and organization lag behind process and technology when it comes to digital readiness. For digital transformation to succeed, you need to make cultural change and educational aspects of transformation a highlight of your plan.”

It’s one of the biggest lessons we can learn going into 2017 and beyond. Digital business is the future, and it does require technologies to drive that transformation. However, it starts with the right mindset.

“2016 was a year where IT leaders learned that just as digital is hardly an option anymore, it is also a complex transition that goes far beyond the implementation of software systems or migration to the cloud,” says Shital Shah, President of Indusa. “Since the advent of digital does indeed transform business operations, IT (and business) leaders are seeing that digital requires a shift in processes, organizational structure, skillsets, and strategy. While digital invokes the idea of technology, it is also very much about our perspective and mentality to lean into the future.”

Lesson #3: Security belongs at the top of the priorities list

photo credit: pixelcreatures via pixabay cc

photo credit: pixelcreatures via pixabay cc

2016 was a year of major security breaches. Here’s a list of some of the biggest ones over the last year. Keep in mind, this isn’t a complete list–just a few of the big ones.

Now, cybersecurity shouldn’t be on this list. After all, it’s nothing new. We’ve seen massive breaches occur over the past few years.

However, I include it for one simple reason: Most security breaches are easily preventable. For the most part, hackers aren’t exposing new flaws. They’re attacking widely known vulnerabilities that haven’t been fixed.

The problem is, security hasn’t been given the attention it deserves. It takes a backseat to other projects and priorities.

In 2016, CIOs and IT leaders have realized where security belongs on the priorities list: At the top. With the total cost of a security breach averaging $4 million, business leaders must allocate the appropriate budget and resources to this critical issue.

“We learned that digital security should always be considered, both internally and for clients,” says Tuchscherer. “Each year, security becomes a more significant issue, and budgets for it should increase accordingly. Cyber attacks will continue to grow and so will be sophistication behind them.”

Lesson #4: When it comes to data, you don’t know what you don’t know

Data analytics has increased by leaps and bounds over the past few years. Smart businesses have used analytics tools to uncover insights and deliver self-service reporting to end users.

However, we’re just scratching the surface. We’re just now beginning to understand what’s possible with our data. A few years back, we’d be amazed at the amount of insight we can pull from our data. I’d imagine that we’ll be saying the same thing in a few years.

As data volumes grow, we have an amazing opportunity to capitalize on this data and use it to create a competitive edge. As we’ve learned in the last few years, our data holds more value than we could ever imagine.

“We’ve seen the rise of predictive analytics, machine learning, and IoT,” says Shah. “These trends have unearthed latent data points – about production, machine status, customer trends, physical conditions, or the impact of interactions. They were always there, we just needed a way to access and understand them. These pieces of data on their own hold little value, but organized, tabulated, analyzed, and visualized appropriately, IT leaders have seen the enormous implications for how businesses can gain real-time insight into their operations as well as better position themselves for the coming days. IT leaders have learned that our exploration into data has just begun, and there is much more beneath the surface that we simply don’t know, but need to keep digging to maximize its value.”

Lesson #5: Self-service is the future

photo credit: Unsplash via pixabay cc

photo credit: Unsplash via pixabay cc

Over the past few years, we’ve seen an increased need for speed. As technology plays a larger role in organizations, the business users demand new solutions faster than ever. They expect new applications–from reports, to mobile apps, to portals, and everything in between–right away.

The problem is, IT departments have largely struggled to keep up. Already overworked, internal IT departments are struggling to meet the growing demand.

How bad is it? Gartner shared this surprising statistic at their recent Application Strategies & Solutions Summit: “Through 2021 market demand for app development will grow at least 5x faster that IT capacity to deliver it.”

Of course, the inability to deliver solutions in a timely manner gives rise to Shadow IT. If business users don’t get the solutions they need quickly, they’ll bypass IT altogether.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen businesses react to Shadow IT in a couple of different ways. Some view it as war. It must be stopped! The problem is, this approach is not only time consuming…it doesn’t work very well. Studies find that IT leaders vastly underestimate the use of Shadow IT in their company. While they may think it’s under control, it’s running rampant.

Another way to combat this issue: Controlled, self-service platforms. Over the past year, we’ve seen self-service platforms really take hold in the enterprise. More and more, IT departments supply end users with controlled, self-service platforms. These tools give IT control data and user access, while giving end users the ability to create their own solutions.

Gartner sums it up nicely in this report: “Today, the trend toward citizen development is accelerating in organizations of all types and sizes. Most are finding that citizen development projects can reduce IT workloads when managed appropriately; for example, citizen development projects that meet a ‘sweet spot’ for deployments can streamline the IT effort and enable corporate IT resources to focus on critical success factors rather than on small, and less business-critical, projects. Citizen development also enables IT to focus on moving ‘big rocks,’ rather than juggling ‘small pebbles.’”

Going forward, the lesson is clear: Self-service is here to stay. With the growing demand and rise of simple, self-service platforms, this is a trend of the future. After all, it helps both sides win. End users get solutions quickly, while IT maintains control.

Lesson #6: It’s all about value

Over the past few years, the IT department has moved from a business cost to a business driver. Modern IT departments aren’t there to simply keep the lights on. They drive the business technology.

As technology evolves, and businesses recognize the importance of technology, the CIO becomes an innovation driver. While they still must “keep the lights on”, they’re also in charge of pushing the business technology forward.

“As 2016 drew to a close, smart technology leaders understood that they needed to start looking at IT as a series of desired outcomes, not a collection of infrastructure and operations,” says Peter Eicher, Director of Marketing at Catalogic. “While everything is ultimately delivered via infrastructure and ops, these can no longer be the starting point for strategic thinking. CIOs and other leaders need to think first about how they can create value and drive revenue, to understand where they want to be as a business, and then figure out what is the best mix of technologies and staff skills to get them there.

The end result might well be casting off a long-valued vendor partnership to switch to a startup with genuinely better technology. It might mean taking the plunge into more agile DevOps coding methodologies, knowing full-well that the transition may be disruptive. Whatever it takes, the key will be to start looking at IT from the perspective of the beneficiaries – customers both internal and external – and not from the point of view of the IT providers.”


These are just 6 lessons that CIOs and IT leaders can learn from the past year, but the list could certainly be longer. If you would like to add anything to this list, I’d love to hear it. Feel free to share in the comments.

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