On a trip to India late last month, I had the privilege of speaking at our company's Interop event in Mumbai. My presentation's theme: Top 10 Business Technology Priorities: The Perspective Of U.S. CIOs.
While it's a bit presumptuous of me to speak for U.S. CIOs, I have met with and interviewed scores of them during the past year, and I have at my disposal rigorous surveys of U.S. business technology executives to back up my qualitative impressions of what's on their minds. So using that information, I not only presented my top 10 list to a CIO audience at Interop Mumbai, but I also sat down with half a dozen local CIOs. Here I present, in inverse order, that non-definitive top 10 list of U.S. CIO priorities--and how they measure up against the priorities of Indian CIOs. Your challenges will vary, of course, and I encourage you to weigh in.
No. 10: Improve Collaboration
What do Ford, Procter & Gamble, and Cisco have in common? Their CIOs all cite improving collaboration among their companies' far-flung employees and supply chain partners as one of their top priorities. The overarching goal: increase productivity and tease out innovation.
The technology has arrived: the rise of Microsoft SharePoint and other robust collaboration platforms; the maturation of high-quality telepresence as well as desktop videoconferencing systems; the emergence of unified communications; and the widespread adoption of Web 2.0 tools such as Chatter, Yammer, Socialtext, and WebEx.
The big question: Once companies have established these platforms and tools, will their people use them? In a survey of 53 client companies released earlier this year, the Corporate Executive Board found that user adoption of Web collaboration technologies--wikis, social networking, predictive markets, and the like--lags initial deployment by five to eight quarters. InformationWeek and Gartner research is similarly skeptical. Collaboration isn't like CRM or ERP, whose use can be dictated and enforced from on high. Collaboration is more personal--people must intuitively see the value of these tools and must be engaged in their selection and build-out, or they simply won't use them.
No. 9: Explore Cloud Computing
Note that I didn't say "embrace" the cloud. Companies still have a lot of exploring to do, and obstacles like security and compliance to overcome, before they'll make major investments in software, infrastructure, and platform as a service. But don't dismiss cloud computing as just hype.
For starters, software as a service--the true multitenant, subscription variety--is gaining traction in the U.S. Close to 80% of respondents to a recent InformationWeek survey say their companies are using some form of SaaS, up from 61% just two years ago, with CRM and email leading the charge. The top benefits: ease and speed of implementation and upgrades; the ability to scale up and down quickly; and the ability to eschew some supporting capital investments.
Use of infrastructure as a service is less widespread but also on the rise--59% of our survey respondents are using some form of IaaS, up from 37% two years ago. One pioneer is Eli Lilly, which is buying large chunks of Amazon server capacity on demand to support compute-intensive drug research, then scaling down when that capacity's no longer needed. But rather than migrate whole hog to public cloud services, most U.S. companies are looking to build hybrid clouds, capitalizing on the flexibility of cloud architectures while keeping their most sensitive or critical workloads behind their own firewalls.
The CIOs I talked with in Mumbai took issue with the fact that cloud is so far down on my top 10 list. Most of them see it as priority No. 1, 2, or 3, possibly because they have less sunken investment in legacy IT systems and are more receptive to turning to third-party providers.
Global steel, energy, shipping, and telecom conglomerate Essar, for instance, has virtualized most of its servers and is an early user of Microsoft's Azure, trying out some noncritical applications on the platform as a service. "We think cloud is going to be inevitable," says CN Ram, Essar's CIO, adding that security is among his biggest concerns. Sandeep Phanasgaonkar, CTO of Indian financial services company Reliance Capital, sees front-end apps moving to the cloud first but back-end apps remaining on-premises for some time. Most companies, he adds, are dipping their toes into private clouds, but he sees the real benefits accruing to those that can take advantage of the economies of scale of public cloud services.
No. 8: Get Your Arms Around The Consumerization Of IT
It should be a familiar refrain by now: Consumer technology innovation is outpacing business tech innovation, and many employees are using their personal devices and applications for work because they don't like their company-issued technology.
CIOs need to step up rather than get their backs up: Set clear policies that govern which specific devices and apps will and won't be supported; establish how the data on those personal devices and apps will be managed and secured by the company; and formulate a plan for how employees will be reimbursed or subsidized for sanctioned personal tools, if at all. The theory, at least, is that employees who use the devices and apps they're most comfortable with are more productive employees. CIOs need to embrace personal technology, not treat it as a pestilence.
Consumerization is top of mind for Indian CIOs, too. A Wipro senior VP, Anand Sankaran, delivered a keynote address on the subject at Interop Mumbai, and several of the CIOs I met and talked with said they're starting to come to terms with this issue, even if tablets aren't nearly as widespread in India as they are in the U.S.