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With the onset of a new decade, IT leaders have the obligation to look ahead and take stock of both existing and emerging technologies and consider how these can and should be applied within their own companies. The challenge for most CIOs is to resist the temptation to drink the Kool-Aid and instead look at these technologies objectively and dispassionately. To help in this effort, two experienced CIOs, Rick Roy and Rick Davidson, have recently collaborated to put together their own list of promising technologies and implications for business.
- Cloud computing - CIOs have consistently looked for a way to variabilize their infrastructure costs while also being able to provision computing power and storage quickly. We believe the economics and speed mandates that most CIOs face will continue to accelerate adoption of this approach to provisioning infrastructure. The challenge will be the integration of applications and data across multiple SaaS and cloud vendors. There is still a lot of hype in this space, which will be the challenge for many CIOs as they look to sort through reality from vapor-ware. It will also take some time for the business models to catch up with the technology - e.g. how to put together contracts that cover privacy issues, limitation of liability, SLAs and related penalties, remediation, etc. Therefore, more rigor and maturity around the commercial arrangement needs to occur before the late majority will feel comfortable jumping onboard.
- Privacy - as more and more personal data is placed on the web (both for good as well as nefarious purposes) and an individual's web fingerprint becomes available to third parties, data privacy and identify theft will become an even larger issue. Governments will weigh-in on this and create legislation and associated regulations that allow individuals to opt-in/out. Additionally, some early technology start-ups are already offering the capability to mask your online identity. But before you pursue another technology solution to address this privacy challenge, you should consider the following - how do you eliminate data first (get rid of it), then secure the data, then monitor the security environment? Finally, will a new security model evolve that covers the risk of unauthorized data usage, particularly as more of our data ends up in the cloud? It will have to!
- Mobility - this is about integrating work and personal voice, video and data services into one device with 24X7 access. Mobility allows individuals to have information and a variety of communication services (synchronous and asynchronous) at their finger-tips, increasing the pace of information absorption and decision-making. This enables us to make higher quality and more timely decisions, both in our business and personal lives (inevitably meshing together). But with this level of always on access, look for the counter-trend with tools like Freedom that allow you to check out of the digital world for a period of time. Is there a generational difference here (over 40 and under 40?)? Is there a difference between our work life and our personal life in terms of mobile computing (i.e. always on for personal life, but only on during select periods of time for work life)?
- Contextual web - as more and more data becomes available, how do we sort through the data deluge to find what is important to us. Related to the privacy issue above, web browsers will provide us with the ability to identify our profile, both from a work and personal context. This will allow the next generation of web search tools to return only data that I care about, not what is necessarily interesting to the wisdom of crowds. A good example is Pandora's ability to tailor music to my particular musical tastes or the Genius capability in iTunes. Although this will save us search time and effort, look for advertisers to try to exploit this wealth of personal information as they promote products and services to a market of one.
- CIO's future role - as the infrastructure moves to the cloud and as companies like Oracle fully integrate the technology stack, what is a CIO left to do? Well, CIOs with a business focus will have the opportunity and obligation to sort out relevant technology solutions for their business. So, the skills required will be related to the application of new technology, not the development of it. The CIO's role will become the internal conscious of the systems integrator. This means not building or running the technology, but understanding what is possible and what is available, managing the RFP/contracting process and providing delivery oversight to ensure the right solutions are put in place to satisfy the needs of the business.
- Enterprise applications (ERP) - CIOs are fed-up with the current inflexibility in pricing and maintenance fees charged by the large enterprise software vendors (essentially, an oligopoly). Whenever this happens in a market, you can count on a disruption - either a new vendor entering the market from the bottom (i.e. going after low cost ERP solutions that would appeal to the emerging markets) or a new way of building and assembling applications (i.e. more open source applications). Look to India or China for the next large enterprise suite of applications. Additionally, smaller niche players will continue to extend the enterprise software space. As an example, Workday (HR IS space - founded by Dave Duffield) has a very compelling hosted solution (SaaS) with superior functionality to some of the larger ERP vendors. However, Workday and others will still have to address the integration issue, but this may be the lesser of the two evils, particularly if companies are able to simplify business processes so integration issues become less onerous.
- Email - in its current form, email is already a diminishing technology as young people believe it is too slow and not as accessible as text messaging. Email will still exist to some degree going forward, but look for the emergence of asynchronous video messages. Why not use your iPhone to record a video message and leave that with a friend or work colleague? The receiving party gets the benefit of not only hearing what you say, but seeing how you say it and it avoids the trap of misunderstanding the intended tone in a textual email. Diminishing bandwidth and storage costs will make this possible.
- Big data - more and more companies are starting to see that data analytics is not just the domain of IT geeks, economists and actuaries. Having accurate, timely and meaningful data at your fingertips will become a new element of competitive positioning. The web has created much more transparency with regard to pricing, availability and brand reputation. Companies will have to compete on the margins (narrow and fleeting bands of competitive differentiation) and the only way to do that is to better understand your business, your customers, your competitors, etc. Data/information is at the heart of this understanding. These data sources are increasingly diverse and the technology needs to be able to capture and quickly make sense of data coming from a myriad of sources (Twitter - stream of consciousness, get enough people tweeting on a subject and it goes viral). Companies need to be able to mine this data in real time and be proactive in terms of how they address what they learn.
- Technology education - U.S. universities are already slow to react to the needs of the market relative to IT. There is just no way that a four-year degree program can adapt their syllabus's as quickly as the market requires. Therefore, more and more training will be done online vs. in the class-room. As an example, Lynda.com is an outstanding online educational source for many technology and application areas. It costs $300/year and is an incredible source of high quality training videos. Online tech assessment tools like Brainbench will be used to test/validate the technical abilities of individuals with much more use of official certifications from these skill evaluators. Look also at the rise of private and online post-secondary educational institutions, particularly those targeting the working person (DeVry, University of Phoenix).
- Next Generation sourcing - IT has always been an industry which has innovated in implementing variable labor sourcing strategies. Prior to Y2K, the big shift was moving maintenance and some development offshore to countries like India. Due to a convergence of several of the trends listed above including cloud computing and technology educational alternatives, look for shifts in what work is sourced internally versus externally through managed services partners and cloud providers. Use of offshore talent will remain a resource for many IT shops, particularly as the war-for-talent again takes hold. But look for a shift in the nature and type of work performed by offshore partners.
As is often the case, the real value of new technology may fall short of the promise put forward by the parochial interests of its purveyors, but that shouldn't prevent us from investigating and evaluating emerging technologies with our eyes wide-open. If you have an opinion about any of the above trends or would like to offer your own, please let us know.
Rick Roy is Senior Vice President & CIO of CUNA Mutual Group. This is the first article in a series. Rick Roy also serves as co-chair of the Fusion 2011 CEO-CIO Symposium to be held in Madison, WI, March 2-3, 2011.
Rick Davidson has held several senior IT leadership roles over the last 15 years, including CIO positions in two Fortune 200 companies Case New Holland and Manpower. He has also had the opportunity to drive change from the other side of the table, serving as a partner and director for two IT and business consulting firms The Feld Group and AlixPartners. Rick is a frequent speaker at CIO conferences, writes a blog for WTN Media CIO Sound-Off, has written several articles or been quoted in numerous magazines, including CIO, ComputerWorld and Information Week. Rick enjoys aerobatic flying, playing guitar and spending time with his grandchildren. Rick is also on the advisory board for Fusion 2011.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. WTN accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.