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Note to CIOs in the age of continuous IT: Prepare for existential change

Danny Bradbury Journalist, Independent

Running the IT department of the future will be like changing a car engine while the car is hurtling down the freeway. Enterprise IT leaders must use technology to transform the way their companies do business, but must also keep existing systems running and reliable. How can they do both smoothly and efficiently?

One thing is clear about the future: If you want to live in it, you have to invest in it. Becoming strategic partners remains a perpetual future goal for CIOs. More than two-thirds of them (68 percent) said that they'd focus their time on growth-oriented activities within three to five years, according to CIO's State of the CIO 2016 report. Increasingly, the "I" in CIO will stand for "Innovation."

The CIO of the future must begin by being more customer-centric, rather than focusing on specific infrastructure components or technology products, says Edwin van Bommel, a principal at McKinsey.


A framework for innovative IT

Van Bommel has a framework for modern CIOs that he calls the three Ds: discovery, design, and delivery. Discovery involves analyzing internal detail to understand what your IT department is delivering and what customers really want. Design involves creating processes to deliver solutions that make sense to the business.

"Good design is something that adds something to the life of a customer," he said during a recorded presentation entitled Building a Fast-Moving Digital Enterprise. He adds that businesses are littered with technology services that are never used because they were never relevant to the customer.

Finally, companies must measure the performance of their technology solutions and enhance them in a continuous cycle of improved delivery. This requires the development of key performance indicators that can be used to constantly benchmark performance, van Bommel concluded.

CIOs must engineer these changes while also maintaining existing capabilities, explains Gary Davenport, president of the CIO Association of Canada. He highlights digital transformation—the ability to change the business dramatically using a constellation of new, low-cost technologies—as the next big challenge for enterprise IT leaders. CIOs will need a refined set of skills to cope, he warns.

CIOs must wrestle with a range of new technologies, including:

  • Big Data
  • The Internet of Things
  • Cloud computing
  • Artificial intelligence

They all demand the CIO's attention, because their competitors are surely exploring them. "Getting ahead involves using those technologies to make a difference to your business," Davenport says.

Agility and reliability, simultaneously

Gartner's bimodal IT model, with its focus on two streams of IT, promises to help companies explore new technologies like these while maintaining their existing capabilities, argues Stephen Abraham, CIO of the Medical Council of Canada. "All CIOs should be creating a bimodal IT organization, ensuring quality, predictability, and sustainability for mission-critical applications, but also investing in innovation, flexibility, and agility," he says.

 One hundred percent predictability means zero percent innovation.

Walking the line between innovation and stability is important. "One hundred percent predictability means zero percent innovation, and vice versa. Find the right balance for your organization," Abraham adds.

Automate for success

Automation can play a role in both sides of tomorrow's bimodal IT operation. CIOs can use automation tools to handle everyday processes, says Doug Robinson, executive director of the National Association of State CIOs, a membership organization for state government CIOs in the U.S. These tools include:

  • Patch management
  • Change management
  • Desktop support
  • Performance monitoring
  • Self-provisioning

IT service management and cloud orchestration can help enterprise IT leaders to automate some of these tasks. "In the past, CIOs have focused on system-centric solutions where they buy, operate, and run," he says. "In the future, it will be about contracting and managing in a hybrid world, where they maintain some infrastructure on-site, but they'll move to a cloud environment."

Automation can also help with the race to a more agile, innovative environment, making collaboration between development and operations staff easier, notes Davenport. Automating this collaboration with DevOps will become an increasingly important part of the future CIO's toolkit, he says.

At retail giant Target, DevOps is now part of a daily conversation, thanks to its champion, CIO Mike McNamara. In the past, just provisioning a server would have taken 10 different teams, according to Target managers. DevOps is making these tasks far simpler: It started off as a grassroots effort in the firm, but as interest grew, it created an internal DevOps incubator called Dojo to encourage a more automated, integrated way for development and operations staff to work together. Now, it's fueling innovation projects such as Cartwheel, Target's mobile savings app.

Effective enterprise IT leaders

While technology tools will no doubt be important, an effective management structure will be a crucial piece of the puzzle for CIOs. Davenport argues that in a fast-moving world where technologies evolve more rapidly than ever, an IT department won't be able to maintain stable, reliable systems all alone.

"Gone are the days when IT groups did everything and when one supplier could do everything," Davenport says. "It's important to have a supplier management strategy to leverage their efficiencies whenever you can, and diminish the leadership time that you spend on keeping things up and running so that you can concentrate on the future." 

CIOs must also build solid teams underneath them with a wide complement of skills to share an increasingly broad range of disciplines within IT. Ultimately, these preparations will help IT leaders cope with what promises to be an existential change, Davenport argues.


This article was originally published on Business Insights.

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