Don’t get left behind: Strategic priorities for the future-ready CIO

Business executives are a stressed out lot; there’s so much going on in the macro-environment of a global business, or even a business that covers many states. Restructuring of strong trade unions, unpredictable leadership stances of major economic powers, and the unabated pace of startups disrupting industries – it’s all happening. Cutting across all these transformations, however, is the transformation of digitization.

In a recent Gartner study, IT leaders predicted a steep rise in digital processes in the enterprise. IoT, Industry 4.0, deep learning, machine learning and cognitive computing, artificial intelligence, hybrid cloud, virtual reality – these are real buzzwords. CIOs can easily get disoriented by the overload of information coming from industry reports, technology conferences, competitors, market success stories, and vendors.

It becomes critical for CIOs to understand the most important strategic building blocks for their enterprise IT, and to align their budgets, hiring, and operational focus towards these priorities. In this guide, we will cover a few strategic priorities for CIOs who are prepared for the exciting future of enterprise technology.

CIO as a transformation leader

Before anything, here are findings from two important reports.

  • Gartner’s 2016 CIO Agenda survey revealed that less than 40 percent of CIOs said that they were overseeing their enterprise’s digital transformation practices and progress.
  • Deloitte’s 2016/2017 survey highlighted “significant” gaps between CIOs’ understanding of how they were delivering value via IT to how their business actually wanted the benefits as aligned with its expectations and priorities.

CIO as a transformation leader

It’s commonplace for enterprises not to have an identified transformation leader as they embark on expensive digital transformation journeys. Instead, CIOs will need to step up and own the transformation, because:

  • They are more equipped in key aspects such as vendor management and contract negotiations to keep costs in check.
  • They understand the existing IT ecosystem of the enterprise better than anyone else.
  • They inspire confidence among business leaders and, hence, are better placed to manage collaborative effort.
  • They have a holistic view of business priorities and IT capabilities cutting across departments such as HR, finance, marketing, product design, and innovation.

IT leadership, of course, is a team sport. However, when it comes to digital transformations, it has to be the CIO who controls the reins and keeps the IT vehicle on track.

Understand IoT and prepare for it

future-ready cioA couple of stats to put things in perspective:

  • Cisco estimates that by 2020, there will be close to 50 billion connected things in the world. That’s close to six connected things for every person on Earth!
  • IDC estimates that by 2020, the size of the global IoT market will be $7.1 trillion. That’s more than twice the current size of entire global IT market. That’s how big IoT will be. And yes, this is more money than the “Fast and Furious” and “Transformer” franchises combined!

For enterprises, it’s not merely about augmentations in existing products and some new product. It’s an entire new methodology of collecting data from a variety of work environments, wearables, and machines. Then, the collected data is analyzed using advanced algorithms to reveal new insights that can lead to untapped market potential, remarkable product improvements, and unmatched understanding of customer preferences.

IoT is an entire new sphere of opportunities for enterprises to achieve unimaginable levels of cost control, supply chain efficiency, workplace productivity, product quality, and service levels.

Do things faster

Demand for speed is an undercurrent that pervades all aspects of modern business, right from product design to hiring. Enterprise IT has to deliver on the expectations of business, and it can do so only by bringing the power of velocity into its operations.

A Society for Information Management review on IT Trends in 2017 found that how CIOs ranked IT flexibility and agility at No. 4 on the list of IT management issues, up from No. 7 the previous year. However, “speed of IT delivery” ranked eighth in the list of IT priorities, down from third the previous year.

The implication: CIOs and IT leaders know the importance of speed but are still not prepared to commit to it. Concepts like DevOps are matured enough to enable CIOs to manage velocity without disruptions in the workplace. Future-ready IT leaders would do well to align their strategies to accommodate the business need for shorter IT project timelines.

Quality of IT workforce

From several years, CEOs across industries and geographies have not thought twice before claiming that “talent” is their companies’ biggest asset. CIOs acknowledge this, but also realize that they need to ramp up the quality quotient to stay strong in the era where technology is the single biggest success factor for businesses. The most critical challenges for CIOs are:

  • To implement means and ways to up-skill and cross-skill workers.
  • Prepare employees working in system and network admin and menial troubleshooting for more value-adding roles that can’t be automated.
  • Cultivate a culture where high performers are amply rewarded.
  • Reassess and reinvent mechanisms of IT training for the workforce.

Systems security, business continuity, and safety from ransomware

WannaCry, Amazon Web Services S3 outage, British Airlines’ IT outage – these are the scariest nightmares that have become a reality for IT leaders in 2017. IT systems uptime is close to 100 percent, with near real-time response to outages, ensuring absolute business continuity. This is the biggest concern of the CIO. Major cloud service providers are the best equipped to keep your enterprise’s data secure, because:

  • It’s much more critical for them to keep systems updated and secure from the latest malware than your own datacenters.
  • They can afford to invest in people and practices that enable them to respond to challenges such as malware, ransomware, outages, and so forth.

Some practices to keep in mind

  • Insist on seeing third-party security audit reports of your cloud vendors.
  • Devise means to ensure that your in-house IT and vendor systems are updated and patched to stay secure regularly.
  • Begin consolidating and then closing your on-premises systems and datacenters to move digital assets to much safer cloud options. Don’t do what The General did in “Prison Break” season four and have all your digital assets in one place and then not even protect it well enough so it is stolen from you! Scofield is not that smart!

The future of IT is exciting, and it’s equally challenging. We hope this helps all CIOs and IT leaders maintain a holistic perspective. We know you have plans in place, but perhaps we offered you a couple of other insights on this topic just in case something untoward happens.

Photo credit: Freerange Stock

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