I recently attended CIOboston, a CIOsynergy event headlined as “A New Dimension to Problem Solving Within the Office of the CIO”. We talked about paradigm shifts propelled by technologies like the cloud, the necessary new engagement models for business and IT and the changing world of expectations to name a few topics. But before getting to all this, our moderator Ty Harmon of 2THEEDGE posed the simple question to the attending 50 or so CIOs and senior IT heads: “What are your challenges?” ww

Here are the answers that I have assembled. I think there is value in seeing what was/is top of mind for IT leaders in raw form:

  • How do we make the right choices between capital and expense?  Service offerings are growing and additive – the spend never ends.
  • How do we integrate multiple cloud vendors to provide business value?
  • User expectations are being set by the likes of Google and Amazon for great UX, 7X24 support, etc. – but it is my IT staff that is expected to deliver all that on our budget. The business does not want to see the price tag – but they want the same experience that is available at home from these giants.
  • IT needs to run like a business but this takes a lot of doing. It matters how we talk and collaborate. We have to deliver business results that must be measurable.
  • Adoption of the cloud is a challenge. How do we assess what is out there? It is not easy to do apples-to-apples comparisons and security is a big concern.
  • How do we go from private to public cloud? Current skill sets are limited.
  • We are constrained by vendors that are not keeping up with the new technologies! One piece of critical software may want an earlier version of Internet Explorer to run; another may use an obsolete version of SQL Server, etc. This clutter prevents IT departments from moving forward.
  • Business complexity is a challenge. IT is asked to automate – but we must push back to first simplify business processes.
  • “Shadow IT” is an issue. A part of the business goes for a “shiny object” rather than focusing on what is the problem that really needs to be solved. They do so without involving IT. Then IT is expected to step in and make it all work, integrate with other software and support it.
  • Proving ROI is a challenge.
  • Balancing performance, scalability and security is tough.
  • How do you choose old vs. new, flexibility vs. security? It isn’t easy.
  • How do we support more and more devices?
  • How do you fill security holes that are in the cloud?
  • How do you manage user expectations, find the balance for supporting them when you have limited resources.
  • Many heads nodded as these challenges were spoken of.  But all agreed that these are exciting times and IT will push forward through them and be recognized as the true business enabler that it is. What are your thoughts—were you nodding your head at these questions?

I was asked recently to speak on a panel entitled “What IT Skills/Roles Should Reside in the Business” Premier CIO Forum in Boston. The event, held earlier this week, was a well-attended and engaging event supported by SIM (Society for Information Management). There was an impressive roster of IT executives from across New England.

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Premier CIO Forum, Boston (March 25, 2014)

New technology is now requiring IT and the Business and to be extraordinary dancing partners” said Sharon Kaiser, CIO for ABIOMED, Inc., as she opened our session as moderator. My fellow panelists were Matthew Ferm, Managing Partner of Harvard Partners, and Hunter Smith, former CIO of Acadian Asset Management. We analyzed the “Dance between IT and the Business”. Who should lead? What are the right steps to follow? What’s the expected pace? It was a lively discussion, with a very participative audience.  Here are the highlights:

  • Speed, flexibility and leadership are key for today’s IT. Shadow IT, where pockets of a Business or go off on their own to buy, say cloud services or a product, is usually acting responsively to when an IT department is being unresponsive. Shadow IT also happens when individual employees download an application right onto their machine. The trouble with Shadow IT is that it also often silos IT. Many times the business will come back with a need to integrate a hastily purchased product, or even to get it to run.  The lesson here is to have a deep partnership between IT and the rest of the business, continually optimized, is needed. If IT is truly enabling, it will not be viewed just as a gate-keeper, but as a partner.
  • For engaging well with others you need skills in IT and the Business that complement each other.  Thus Business Analysis (BA) as a position residing in a Business is very helpful. It ensures requirements are vetted, understood and relatively fixed, and there will be ownership for what IT will be asked to do. But, IT also needs BA skills on their side, even if it may not be a job title. Most importantly, IT must understand business processes deeply so that the value of a project is understood, and where needed, valid input can be given on process simplification where warranted. The BA role in the Business must understand technology and how IT works for this to be a true partnership.
  • Security, Disaster Recovery, responsibility for LAN/WAN/server environments and access should all reside with IT.  Some roles, such as project management (PM) can be in either IT or the Business, since good PM will be driven by data and not by persuasion or vested interest.  Some roles, such as QA/Testing need to go beyond IT testing a technology developed to meet a business need. It must say, “yes, hit the requirements” to the Business testing out the actual use cases with a process workflow, so that base assumptions and expected value are actually vetted out.

These discussions showed that regardless of company size, the audience had similar experiences: rapidly increasing need for a close, agile relationship between IT and the Business, a huge technology wave of possibilities, and opportunity for re-thinking roles and responsibilities. One must experiment and evolve, as well as establish a strong communications and shared-goal mentality with the Business. I ended by noting, “If you treat IT as a commodity that is what you will get. If you treat it as the leading edge of your Business, you will have a weapon like no other.” The audience very much agreed.

— Azmi Jafarey, Chief Information Officer, Ipswitch

There are many reasons why organizations have shifted their approach to file transfer away from being a purely tactical point-solution (which was likely driven by a new/immediate need of a single business unit) to being viewed as a strategic project that’s now considered an important part of an organization’s overall business operation.

Jonathan Lampe recently published a very insightful article on CIO titled “The Evolution of File Transfer in 2011: From Tactical to Strategic”.  Jonathan makes a very insightful case that the increased focus on (and backlash from) data breaches and compliance regulations has played a big role in this evolution.

As Jonathan points out, the grace period for lapses in personal data protection is thankfully over!  And Managed File Transfer technology is being leveraged more and more as a strategic tool to not only facilitate the secure transfer of files, but also in a way that allows for much needed visibility, management and enforcement of company data, both within an organization and also between external partners and customers. And all with auditing and reporting capabilities that satisfy even the strictest of governed environments not to mention person-to-person, transformation and application integration too.

Some highlights of what to expect with the MFT evolution in 2011:

“First, there will be the ongoing challenge to present interfaces and metaphors that are relevant to today’s end users – the days of an FTP client on every desktop are long ago.

Second, there will be increased pressure to more closely integrate with enterprise middleware, authentication and monitoring/control technology.

Finally, there will be the ongoing need to present and manage more information about the flows of data, all within the context of tightening regulations around data privacy”.

Take a quick read of the CIO article…. It’s well worth 5 minutes of your time.