Perennial Issues Faced by IT Leaders
Enterprise tech constantly evolves, but IT leaders must address certain constants: careless users, changing budgets and constant pressure from the business.
By D.P. Morrissey
Today's CIO serves as a perfect example on the study of balance. On one scale stands vendor management, legacy systems, cloud and utility services and the art and science of keeping the IT machine oiled and in top running form. On the other scale stands some of the messier aspects of running a department, such as unintentional inside security risks, geographically dispersed contract workers, flat budgets and the seemingly never-ending needs of every business unit -- all at the same time.
Passion for the job is an absolute requirement, and so too are the hard and soft skills needed to negotiate with vendors on one hand and, on the other hand, convince business executives that the organization is on the best path to meet the needs of today's tech-savvy users and customers.
The technology may change from year to year (or even week to week), but CIOs can count on several issues year in and year out: careless users creating security concerns, crafting IT budgets in the best way possible to maximize value and the increasing expectations from the business.
The bottom line gets top billing -- and for good reason. Technology has the ability to grow revenue or improve efficiency in nearly every business unit, and CIOs are instrumental in providing insight into how this gets done.
"Organizations today are looking for results with a timeframe and velocity that meets the demands of the business," said Jonathan Murray, who served as the CIO of Warner Music Group for several years and was the interim-CIO of The New York Times in 2015.
Murray is currently the executive vice president and chief technology officer of Digital Prism Advisors, a digital transformation consultancy.
"(Meeting today's business demands) challenges traditional models and focuses instead on time to value, expecting change to happen continuously. No one cares about the amount of an IT budget if value is delivered. The most productive conversation is about building value continuously rather than the numbers," he said.
Murray is a proponent of efficient time management to improve business outcomes.
"Things we once thought were important like managing infrastructure, storage and the like are now just utilities we can purchase from Amazon, Microsoft or Google. They don't intrinsically add value to what the business is trying to accomplish and you're unlikely to be able to run them more efficiently or with a higher quality of service that those cloud infrastructure providers can," he said. "The resources of IT organizations are now far better leveraged by focusing on delivering new capabilities and solutions for the business."
New approaches to utility-delivered cloud computing free up resources to focus on writing code, delivering solutions, managing data more effectively and delivering richer analytics and insights to enable the business to make smarter decisions, he said.
Pardon the Disruption
Digital disruption is more than a buzzword. It's taking hold of every market imaginable, from retail to agriculture to non-profits. It's certainly impacted the music publishing and media industries.
"There is no industry that will not undergo deep and dramatic change due to digital disruption. It doesn't matter the category. I'm an advisor to the CEO and leadership team at Komatsu, who manufacture mining equipment, for example. Even this basic industry is transformed by a digital revolution in telematics, robotics and data analytics," Murray said.
Plants and machinery for a mine in Australia, for example, cost billions of dollars and hundreds of millions per year in operational costs. Even a small 5% improvement in efficiency is will yield big money in output. New digital innovations help drive this process improvement, he said.
"Every decision maker in every industry can benefit from better insight. Access to data helps them make decisions, satisfy consumers, compete in real-time. Real-time learning and insight facilitate real-time decision-making," Murray said.
Security is an across-the-board concern and best practices should be instilled in everyone from the CEO to seasonal, temp workers. Proper cyber-defenses require the right mix of technological safeguards and standardized best practices. According to a report compiled by AT&T's Cybersecurity Insights, unintentional insiders create significant risks. The report suggests changing policies and procedures rather than deploying new tools. These best practices can go a long way in ensuring all employees understand the consequences of careless online behavior.
Train Your Users. Mandatory security awareness courses teach people how to avoid phishing attacks and use social media safely. According to the report, only half of the business and security executives surveyed in 2015 said they conduct periodic employee security training.
Employee Buy-in Starts at the Top. CEOs, board members and top executives should lead by example. They need to follow the policies, talk about them and practice what they preach.
Enforce the Rules. Rely on highly visible enforcement of your security policies in the form of fines, terminations or both. Rules and policies around system access and authentication are critical.
Don't Ban Shadow IT. Learn why business units buy services on their own, and find more secure ways to address those issues. If getting new solutions through IT takes too long, streamline the process and accelerate application development.
Evaluate and Monitor Your Suppliers. Prevent a supplier's employees from endangering your data and intellectual property by assessing their security and compliance practices before (and while) doing business with them.
Meeting Needs, Moving Forward
As the CIO of Florida State College, Chris Markham has addressed IT concerns that crop up annually. The CIO and IT department can be more strategic about making users more productive and relieving them of many of the mundane and time-wasting administrative tasks that can consume an entire workday, he said.
"IT departments usually face a number of embedded inefficiencies: a multitude of legacy systems, manual processes, and a lack of customer centricity in the way services are delivered," Markham said. "Typical issues like outages, planned software upgrades, patching servers and applications and governance and compliance issues can take up too much of a CIO's time."
Yet if CIOs don't satisfy the basic technology transactional needs first, Markham said, then they can't move forward.
"CIOs that don't effect change are never going to embrace the Gartner strategy of run-grow-transform the business. Some will choose to simply run the business, and you really need a good balance of all three," Markham said.
D.P. Morrissey is a freelance writer who covers business and technology.