Challenges for todays CIO’s

imageFor anyone who’s taken the time to read some of my posts, you would’ve seen up to now they’ve focussed on our series of IFB2014 events which have included some great strategic views of the development of technology particularly that which is used in the enterprise, we’ve heard great stuff from IBM, Microsoft and NetApp as organisations that provide real leadership to the industry.

But what about the guys who’s challenge it is to not only evaluate that kind of thinking and technology but more importantly see how that actually works in the real world and hope it addresses real business problems, not just the ones that the endless streams of analysts tell us are the problems we should all be fixing.

For our last IFB event, up stepped those very individuals, the senior IT people from some of the regions biggest and best known names, Novartis, Stobarts, Jaguar Land Rover and Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service as they shared some of the key challenges that face their organisations and how they are dealing with them.

A few things struck me from our four speakers;

  • Although they where from very different organisations ranging from 1000 users to 150000, from manufacturing to emergency services, the IT challenges they faced had a lot in common.
  • Interesting how the challenges they had reflected so closely the challenges that our Tech industry leaders had covered in our previous events.

What were their key challenges and how do they compare to the issues you see in your organisations on a day to day basis?

This post looks to keep you a taste of that, I’ve not quoted any of our presenters by name or aligned the thoughts to specific companies, as that’s not particularly important, hopefully though the following gives an idea of the

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Security

I think it was fair to say very high on the agenda of most of the speakers was the issue of security.

My first question when discussing  security is, what do you mean when you say security, it’s a wide ranging topic, it covers everything from locks on your server racks, to highly organised criminals stealing your data for gain of some sort or other.

Why’s it such a headache? because the impact of a security breach can be huge, one of our speakers pointed out the key pain points for them;

▪Harmed commercial interests and strategy

▪Loss of reputation

▪Regulatory investigations and fines to non-compliance

▪Reduced shareholder value

Where did the risks come from? i thought this graphic one of our presenters used summed it up quite nicely.image

Today’s attacks are multi-level and multi-channel by default.

According to the most current UK government research, 87% of small firms in the UK experienced a cyber security breach last year, and 93% of large firms were also targeted. Some incidents caused more than £1 million in damages.

What are IT organisations doing to protect their business? It’s certainly a huge focus area interestingly though a huge part of dealing with the issue wasn’t technical but more practical steps and staff awareness, making sure that staff understood the risks, having security at the forefront of peoples minds as they went about their business. Of course complimenting that with strong technical solutions was important, be they for data protection, mobility, governance, rights management, protecting the business from the perimeter of your network and beyond.

One interesting thought that they shared, was at what point do you stop as one of the presenters pointed out.

Balance the need to protect the business while not hindering their ability to transact business

Important to remember another key message throughout our events, IT can no longer be seen as a cost centre and alongside that certainly not an inhibitor to an organisation meeting its goals.

Security as all speakers stated was a huge issue and one, way too big for a sensible sized BLOG post, I have a separate piece in the pipeline based on some work with resilient Liverpool that we have recently carried out here at Gardners.

Knowledge

This was an interesting theme amongst our speakers, with slightly different takes on it, there was no doubt of the importance of Analytics. “BIG DATA” is certainly an IT industry buzzword right now  and the ability to mine data from many sources was a key point for our speakers and interestingly this is becoming easier for business of all sizes with a growth “analytics as a service” models to deal with specific data analysis tasks.

For one of our speakers, it wasn’t really about “Big Data” it was actually the opposite, more about “Little Data” picking on tactical business intelligence solutions, providing a practical starting point, easier to implement with much shorter return on investment. Solutions designed to fight the proliferation of spreadsheets and people creating little silos of knowledge, where more time was spent putting data into the latest 40Mb spreadsheet than was spent analysing its contents or even considering how many versions of business “truth” where out there!

An interesting take on the knowledge discussion also came out and it is certainly an issue I see in many businesses on my travels. When an organisation has old, complex, bespoke solutions that have operated untouched for many years, this presents a very difficult problem, as an organisation supports ageing and fragmented infrastructure, ability to meet changing needs due to limited capacity, diminishes greatly.

Lack of knowledge on older applications results in extended service interruptions as recovery is slower

But maybe more critical than this and remembering that IT can no longer just be a cost centre

Lack of knowledge also hinders our ability to introduce functional enhancements in support of  business growth.

which leads nicely into the final two key points our speakers shared with our delegates.

Agility

It’s possibly been the favourite topic of all of our industry speakers throughout  the events and actually, it is something that all businesses discuss whenever I meet with them to talk about future technology deployment, whether they realise it or not.

Our speakers where no different, working in organisations that have to respond to pressures and challenges from all areas, be that budget pressure, pressure from competition, pressure internally, changing markets, the need to innovate, the need to react quickly to changing conditions, all of these areas drive the needs of business to develop an agile technology infrastructure, which not only delivers core services, but of course ensures IT is assisting in the revenue activities of the organisation.

Here’s some agility based quotes from our speakers;

“As our company changes from a local to a global mind set…people need to think global, enterprise and scalable for IT solutions..the IT organisation has to be flexible and agile to support the fast growing business”

“As an organisation that changes via acquisition and sale on a regular basis, the ability to meet the needs of this rapid change is critical…”

“Competitive advantage and speed to market is critical in our business and the challenge is… what “change the game” business opportunities can IT enable..what new and emerging technologies support these opportunities…how do we execute IT transformation to reach this”

“in a background of ever increasing budget pressures we have to look at how IT can help us deliver the very best service in these challenging conditions”

Although as we looked at agility i did like this quote;

CIO Strategy –  Knowing What to Change, When to Change it and What to Leave Alone

Our final area of agreement between our speakers was of course

Cloud

Contractually obliged as IT folk are to mention cloud at every given opportunity our senior IT team didn’t let us down. We finished the session with a short panel debate and the very last question to them was;

“What do you see as the next big challenge for you as strategic IT heads in your organisations and the biggest challenge you’ll have to deal with?”

Cloud was actually the answer they all gave, there is no doubt that cloud services, be them private, public or more likely hybrid deployments of cloud solutions, are top of the list of many a technology strategist, but actually they should be high on the agenda of anyone who is looking at the future direction of their business.

The agreed wisdom was that cloud solutions where not going away anytime soon and the flexibility and of course agility that cloud based services deliver is key to supporting the overall strategic goals of their organisations. But that came with challenges, how to find the right provider, how to manage the security and compliance of placing your business systems outside of your control, how to deal with what will have to be a hybrid solution as all of the organisations felt they where a very long way from cloud only solutions.

Cloud services are indeed a key component of any strategic planning in any organisation big or small and of course if you don’t have a cloud strategy, you really should.

Our speakers gave a real insight into the challenges that a senior IT head in an organisation of any size has to face and deal with on a daily basis, I think what each of our speakers did show was it was essential in their jobs, that they understood not only the technology industry but also ,and maybe more importantly, they thoroughly understand the needs of their organisation, so that IT could enable the business to achieve its goals.

It is that challenge that not only everyone who attended the event but also all those I get to speak with regularly should set themselves, make sure you understand the objectives of your business and take the time to learn about what the technology industry is trying to do to meet those challenges and provide solutions and innovations to business in the fast changing world in which we all operate.

Hopefully these little (so OK not so little) BLOG reviews of our IFB2014 events has given you a flavour of the business challenges that IT face and what the technology industry is trying to do to meet them.

The big question for me though is, now the events are over, what on earth do i BLOG about now! Any Suggestions?

If these post raises any questions, please feel free to contact me and if you haven’t already, please have a read back through our IBM, Microsoft and NetApp events to see what those very influential technology leaders are doing to address our CIO’s challenges.

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