Mobility and cloud computing are also top of mind for IT executives at midmarket firms, but analytics is their number one area for technology investment this year. IBM's 2011 Midmarket CIO Survey found that 83% of respondents are planning business intelligence and analytics projects. Ed Abrams, VP of marketing for IBM's midsize business division, attributes the finding in part to rapid data growth at smaller companies.
"[CIOs] are deeply engaged in or need significant help in the area of business analytics, specifically turning information into insight and managing structured or unstructured data," Abrams said in an interview. "They are really, really focused on how and where they take information and really turn it into something useful for their organizations."
Abrams said that unstructured data growth, in particular, is presenting new challenges for smaller businesses and driving demand for management and analytics solutions. In addition to traditional sources, he points to mobility and social media as two areas contributing to booming data at small and midsize businesses. IBM conducted in-person interviews with 622 CIOs for its report; all of them run IT at midsize firms with up to 1,000 employees.
Mobility hovers closely behind analytics on the midmarket CIO radar, with 72% indicating they have plans to invest in mobile devices or applications. That's an 11% increase from 2009, the last time IBM conducted its survey.
"CIOs are really trying to figure out how and where to integrate mobile applications and mobile devices into their organization," Abrams said. "We've probably moved from it being the wild, wild west to just the wild west." Abrams said that business-to-consumer applications are maturing rapidly, while business-to-business mobility strategies are still in their nascent stages.
There has also been a 50% spike in cloud computing interest among midsize executives since the 2009 report; in the 2011 report, about half of the executives interviewed said they have plans to adopt some form of cloud-based platforms or applications in the next several years.
"This again reaffirms that it has moved from an experimentation trend to one of true deployment," Abrams said. "We really are seeing, as a result of this, that cloud and cloud-based delivery is moving into the mainstream."
IBM's report identified four key mandates that midmarket CIOs are working with.
-- Expand: refining business processes and enhancing collaboration;
-- Leverage: streamlining operations and increasing organizational effectiveness;
-- Transform: changing the industry value chain through improved relationships; and
-- Pioneer: radically innovating products, markets, and business models.
Those mandates allowed for some additional analysis. For example, CIOs operating with a Leverage mandate showed stronger interest in internal collaboration, with roughly 70% indicating they believed changes in this arena could have major impact on their business. Similarly, this group placed a high value on refining external client interaction processes.
Executives with a Pioneer mandate, on the other hand, tend to spend less time on budget, fundamental IT services, or process efficiencies; rather, they're focused on profitability analysis and data-driven discovery of new revenue streams and business models.
Regardless of their corporate marching orders, Abrams said CIOs at midsize firms share common pain points these days. Among them: big data, tight resources, change management, and keeping their skills and knowledge current with emerging technologies. Data growth, in particular, appears to be challenging more and more companies.
"They've really got issues with big data," Abrams said. "There's just data coming at them from all aspects [of the business] that they need to manage and separate the value from the noise."
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