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15 New Rules For IT To Live By

The old IT rulebook is obsolete, but the new one that accounts for the rise of mobile, social, and analytics hasn't been written. Consider this a first draft, so your revisions are welcome.

No. 11 | Use mobile to change the customer experience

If you operate any physical space that people visit--a store, convention hall, jail, amusement park, hospital, funeral home--you need to think about people accessing the mobile Web there, on smartphones or tablets, and ask how that access changes their experience. Should you try to ban mobile, discourage it, or embrace it?

Retailer Target recently sent a letter to suppliers, according to a Wall Street Journal article, asking them to help it combat "showrooming," whereby shoppers check out products at its big-box stores and then buy them from online competitors at lower prices. If you're a conventional retailer, will you encourage comparison shoppers by providing free Wi-Fi in your stores, or will you resist it, as Target is?

If you run an amusement park, do you have an app to make the park easier to navigate--and easier for customers to rave about on their social networks, turning them into marketing machines? Vail Resorts did exactly that for its ski resorts with its mobile EpicMix app. Royal Caribbean in February began providing iPads in every stateroom of one of its newly remodeled cruise ships, seeing the tablets as the best way to get people information about what's happening on board, as well as to send them promotions for restaurants, spas, and shore excursions that aren't getting enough traffic.

Companies are realizing they need to improve their mobile presence: 63% of respondents to our Global CIO Survey say they'll have a major effort under way this year or next to get applications onto mobile devices. Only 18% say they have a major implementation of mobile apps today.

No. 10 | Revive in-house, custom development

Smoley, the Flextronics CIO, looks over his IT career as mostly being in the packaged apps era. Compared with custom software built from scratch, packaged software was much more predictable. In that era, when a company wanted to add a capability, the default choice was to add a module to its core ERP platform. "'Why not SAP?' was the question you had to ask," Smoley says.

He thinks that mindset is changing. Cloud-based software alternatives are emerging, but Smoley also thinks companies will return to developing their own custom software more often. Agile development practices and established development toolkits and environments make it easier for small teams to do lightweight, focused custom projects.

Some of those projects won't even require heavy-duty coding--they'll involve configuring cloud software as a platform to meet the company's specific needs. Flextronics, for example, is experimenting with using its cloud-based ServiceNow IT help desk software as a platform to meet broader production needs, like tracking a manufacturing floor problem to make sure the right expert is contacted and the problem is followed through until it's resolved.

Skills are important here, as many IT shops' development skills have atrophied. Just 40% of the IT managers who responded to our annual U.S. IT Salary Survey consider app dev a critical skill, putting it 13th on our list of 15. Many companies don't have the in-house chops to do this kind of work, and working with outside developers adds complexity. The key is to start with small projects, developing a team with custom coding skills. "Once you have that base, it becomes a tool that you can use in a lot of situations," Smoley says.

No. 9 | Keep skills in touch with the times

Going back to our annual salary survey each of the past five years, it's striking that there's been almost zero change in the skills IT managers consider to be the most critical. Preparing reports, for instance, is still cited as critical by nearly half (48%) of the IT managers in our most recent survey, exactly the same as five years ago. Have we really made no progress automating reports in five years? Analyzing data remains at 56%, unchanged from 2008. Shouldn't the rise of big data analytics have driven up the importance of that skill? Developing applications was considered critical by 40% of the management respondents to our most recent IT salary survey, up only slightly from 38% in 2008, despite the surge in mobile applications over the past two years.

Worst is that seeking out new business opportunities was cited by only 24% of IT managers in our most recent survey, down from 29% in 2008--and dead last among the list of 15 skills we asked about. The skill considered most critical, cited by 80% of respondents in both 2012 and 2008, is aligning business and technology goals. If more IT managers focus on finding new business opportunities, the aligning part will take care of itself.

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