Like the cranks who frothily peddled the notion that vaccinations trigger autism, too many uninformed tech-strategy charlatans are still pushing the ancient and empty bromide that CIOs need to "request a seat at the table."
That load of crap will be buried once and for all in 2011 because CIOs who haven't earned that C-suite credibility and autonomy by virtue of their visions and their achievements will be long gone by the time winter turns to spring for the simple reason that businesses without aggressive tech capabilities won't be able to compete in the coming decade.
No matter how slick their marketing or how rosy their past, and no matter how big their market share or how high their CEO's profile, those IT-stunted companies will be pulverized in the coming year by a lethal combination of faster/smarter/better competitors and uninspired and disengaged customers.
2011 is the year in which the CIO profession—once and for all, permanently and without any do-overs—casts off all of the residual crutches that have for so long often rendered CIOs last among C-level equals. Among the all-time stinkers in that smelly pile are ones like "we're a support organization" or "the business just doesn't understand IT" or "we can run what we have, or we can innovate, but we can't do both."
In that context, I'd like to offer up my list of the Top 10 CIO Issues For 2011.
It's a product of hundreds of conversations, discussions, and arguments with IT executives and their teams, tech vendors of all sizes, LOB executives, and some academic types as well. It's not based on any formal research, I'm 100% to blame for any findings with which you don't agree.
I'll start with #10 and move in ascending order up to #1.
In addition, at the bottom of this column and just before our traditional "Recommended Reading" list, I've included for the sake of comparison my list from one year ago on the Top 10 CIO Issues For 2010. So here's #10 from our 2011 list:
#10: Optimizing Opportunities With Optimized Systems. Like all high-performance devices from automobiles to power tools, the very fact that optimized systems can offer stunning levels of performance does not make them ideal for every application. In 2011, CIOs will need to scrutinize where these highly engineered and integrated systems can deliver breakthrough capabilities matched by breakthrough levels of business value, and then move quickly to exploit those opportunities. At the same time, the growing popularity of these systems are going to trigger a wave of new-product introductions that are sure to include some appliances that achieve results that no on really cares about—so CIOs will need separate the killer apps from the lemons.
That cautionary note aside, I believe these optimized hardware-software combinations will be extremely successful in 2011 and cement their positions going forward as indispensable tools for high-achieving businesses. For an in-depth analysis of why these machines are becoming so popular, please see Global CIO: Larry Ellison And IBM Lead Surge In Optimized Systems.
Next up, are you as global as you need to be?
#9: The Importance Of Being Global. How much time did you spend with customers outside the U.S. in 2010: will that number go up or down this year? How much time did you spend with your development and R&D teams around the globe in 2010: what did you learn? What did you apply? What patterns are you seeing in how different types of opportunities are emerging in different cultures, and how corporate strategy has to take those into account? Conversely, which of your team's processes and models have be be rigorously uniform in every country in which you do business, with zero variation? How will those dynamics change in the coming year? Do you feel your team is a a U.S.-based team with representatives around the globe, or are you a truly global IT organization drawing on unique strengths and capabilities from each country? Would your CEO agree with your assessment? While always important, these issues of global engagement and global capabilities will be more important in 2011 than ever before because in an increasingly fast-paced and competitive world, top-performing companies will be relentlessly wringing the best ideas from the best people, regardless of their locations: can you keep up?
#8: The CIO As Chief Acceleration Officer. Does your company move as fast as its customers and prospects? And if not, how can you expect to be able to compete? What about unacceptably long levels of latency in product development, launch of marketing campaigns, or ramp-up of production lines—could faster information flow, and better access by the right people to the right information, wring out a lot of that latency? If that's not the responsibility of the CIO in 2011, then whose responsibility is it? Every CEO and LOB head I spoke with in the second half of 2010 said that speed of operations, speed of design, speed of execution, and speed to customer value are among their top priorities this year because customers expect, want, and need that type of rapidly accelerating access to products, services, information, and opportunities. So for CIOs: how would your CEO rate your contributions to speeding up the business? Would you grade out as a high-performing Chief Acceleration Officer? Are you prepared to enhance that evaluation in 2011?
#7: Enabling The Massively Adaptable Data Center. Let's see: you're juggling private clouds with some emerging hybrid clouds while transforming your traditional data centers, and then you're got the big vendors all over you with visions of hell if you pick the wrong side in the Stack Wars (consolidate around one vendor and gain end-to-end compatibility and simplicity, or maximize heterogeneity to weave together the best of all worlds?), and on top of that you've got to make a call on these big honkin' new highly engineered systems from IBM and SAP and Oracle and HP and others, and determine where/how/if they fit into those complex data-center strategies. Meanwhile, you've got to be crafting future plans around the massively mobile world swirling around us. In the midst of all that, the only certainty is that your business's ability to compete is tied very closely to your ability to get this volatile blend right in 2011.
#6: Customer Engagement Soars To Unprecedented Levels. As if it weren't already tricky enough to get all the far-flung pieces of your own organization to work together harmoniously, securely, and collaboratively, 2011 will see a huge acceleration in customers demanding to be more intimately involved in product design, supply-chain synchronization, technical support, roadmap planning, joint opportunities, and scheduling optimization. Once again, while this new challenge has to be embraced by all members of the executive team, the CIO is absolutely indispensable in moving this from a daunting and unfamiliar prospect to a source of unique and potentially enduring competitive advantage. From collaboration tools to security and privacy policies to social-media innovations and governance issues, the CIO stands in an ideal spot to make a significant positive impact on these game-changing possibilities. But nobody's going to ask you if you "want a seat at the table"—you'll either have proven you're capable and be actively engaged in the discussion already, or you'll be reassigned to the infrastructure-maintenance team. Again, 2011 will be the make-or-break transitional year for CIOs.
#5: Social Media: From Grudging Acceptance To Hair-On-Fire Evangelism. I hardly think we need to engage once more in the debate about whether social-business tools are productivity killers or wildly effective business tools—rather, the issue for CIOs in 2011 is how aggressively and assertively they and their IT teams are charging to the forefront of business opportunity and organizational change to make social tools not just permissible but indispensable. Beyond the tools themselves, how about clear and compelling ways to measure the effectiveness of various types of social applications? Or social centers of excellence—are you leading or following on initiatives like this? How about skill sets within the IT team: do you have some passionate young folks on your team who think and behave natively in social dynamics and can help you and the entire IT organization learn how to effectively create tools and capabilities to gain greater understanding of customer sentiment, untapped opportunities, and marketing innovation? Are you and your team extending those analytical capabilities back into ERP systems, financial systems, personnel-evaluation systems, and cross-functional discussions? In 2011, if you're not seen as being a rapid promoter of social tools, then by default you'll be seen as an obstacle to their propagation—and this year, such obstacles will find themselves rapidly transformed into roadkill.
#4: Digitize The Enterprise. Earlier, we mentioned supply chains: what about IT-driven extensions of that idea like Intelligence Chains, Opportunity Chains, and Engagement Chains? As your company relies ever more heavily on the flow of timely information to the right people in the right forms, are you devoting as much time and energy to the synchronization of the movement and enhancement and redistribution of that information as you are to the movement of your company's physical goods and assets? Who "owns" this emerging capability? Regardless, the CIO is, once again, in an ideal spot to take a lead role in making it a reality. If you and your CEO sat down for a couple of hours and evaluated just how digitized your enterprise currently is, what percentage do you think you'd come up with: 50%? 70%? 90%? If the answer's anything less than 100%, is that acceptable? And shouldn't the CIO—you know, the Chief Information Officer--be the out in front in the effort to Digitize The Enterprise and thereby help accelerate and enhance decision-making, reduce cost, eliminate latency, and help your whole organization get closer to customers and prospects?
Next up, the iPad Explosion:
#3: The iPad Explosion: Creating A Robust Mobile Strategy. In 2011, Apple has a good chance to sell 40 million or even 50 million iPads. While lots of those won't get close to the traditional corporate world, even if only 20% of them do that would mean close to 10 million iPads inside the IT moat: will you be ready? And what about when RIM's new Blackberry Playbook hits the market at full force as well—and some Android tablets, and some Windows tablets, and heck maybe even some stone tablets to boot: will you, the CIO, have to stop the perceived barbarians at the gate, or will you and your team be ready to weave these powerful new tools into the corporate IT framework securely, consistently, and rapidly? Are you and your team looking for ways to optimize the iPad and Playbook experiences for your users and customers, or are you just planning to give them a tolerably good experience? Look at those numbers again: with all the different devices multiplying like bunnies in the corporate world in 2011, it's not unreasonable to think that at this time just one year from now, there could be 20 million—do I hear 25 million? 30 million?—tablet devices connected to corporate networks, looking for corporate applications, and making presentations to customers. Will this be remembered as your finest moment, or as the time when a new career became inescapable? (For related analysis, please see Global CIO: Apple Storms The Enterprise As iPad And iPhone Surge, and Global CIO: Steve Jobs Declares War On Google.)
#2: The 80/20 Budget Trap Becomes The Competitive-Performance Gap. In years past, when our worlds of business and commerce and entertainment and communication and product design and innovation and travel and banking and education and collaboration all spun more slowly than they do today, CEOs tolerated the explanations offered by CIOs about why internal IT operations gobbled up most of the IT budget—often 75% or 80% or even more. The larger concern back then was keeping core operations humming along predictably and mechanistically, and there was a lot less pressure to be relentlessly optimizing and accelerating operations. As a result, there wasn't a huge uproar about the fact that only a small portion of the IT budget—15% to 25%--could be devoted to innovation and growth. But boy oh boyzee has that dynamic changed in the past several years, and it's really coming to a head in 2011: companies that don't invest aggressively on IT innovation will get crushed this year. And they'll get crushed for the simple reason that their lack of investment in and focus upon innovation will make them slower than their competitors and unacceptably out of touch with their customers and prospects. And so in 2011, this somewhat fuzzy notion of the 80/20 IT spending trap will morph from a wonky, internally driven debate about how to allocate various expenses into a life-and-death struggle with a decidely customer-centric and revenue-centric focus: if you continue pouring most of your precious IT dollars into internal maintenance and status quo, then you will lose in the marketplace because you will not be able to match the operational speed and execution-side performance of your competitors, particularly with regard to how rapidly, intimately, and profitably they engage with customers in new and sophisticated ways. In 2011, for CIOs who don't address this issue with passion and steely resolve, it will be a career killer.
#1: Seeing And Shaping The Future: The Power Of Analytics. So as we come to the very top of our list, a few interrelated themes emerge for 2011: speed as not just a competitive advantage but a competitive requirement; the elevation of end-to-end enhanced intelligence as an indispensable corporate capability; increasingly intimate online relationships and engagements with customers; and more-effective allocation of IT investments. All of these themes come together in our #1 issue for 2011, which is about the need for CIOs to harness the power of analytics to understand what's coming, instead of merely parsing what has happened; to design ways to propagate that new and compelling knowledge throughout the organization rapidly and with precision; and to extend, wherever appropriate, that web of foresight and intelligence and decision-making to customers as well because that provides a source of enormous competitive advantage. On the tech side of this, in-memory technology, spearheaded by SAP and IBM among others, is delivering astonishing increases in the speed and power and sweep of analytics applications—do you have a team evaluating these technologies and proposing how you can take full advantage? If not, when will you? If your CEO asks you what you're doing in 2011 to bring the business value of analytics to the organization, will you be eager to have that conversation? Does your entire IT team believe it's part of their mission to understand the business benefits analytics tools can deliver today, or do they see them as just one more burdensome chore to jam the schedule? Do you have centers of excellence built around analytics/IT expertise? Can you say with confidence that your company's capabilities in evaluating, deploying, and enhancing analytics are superior to those of your competition? If not, are you taking steps to change that answer in 2011?
So: for CIOs, the coming year is already bringing with it lots of new challenges, new demands, new urgency, and new worlds to evaluate and master. But as is ever the case, along with such challenges come opportunities for visionary CIOs who've been moving themselves out of the "support organization" mindset, who've realized that high-level business responsibility is earned and not doled out by virtue of tenure; and who've already taken steps to increase speed, customer intimacy, and business success throughout 2011.
And here's my complete list for 2011; just below that for the sake of comparison, you'll find the 2010 list along with a link to the extensive column describing it.
Global CIO: THE TOP 10 CIO ISSUES FOR 2011
1) Seeing And Shaping The Future: The Power Of Analytics
2) The 80/20 Budget Trap Becomes The Competitive-Performance Gap
3) The iPad Explosion: Creating A Robust Mobile Strategy
4) Digitize The Enterprise
5) Social Media: From Grudging Acceptance To Hair-On-Fire Evangelism
6) Customer Engagement Soars To Unprecedented Levels
7) Enabling The Massively Adaptable Data Center
8) The CIO As Chief Acceleration Officer
9) The Importance Of Being Global
10) Optimizing Opportunities With Optimized Systems
And for a look at the comparable list from 2010, plus our extensive list of "Recommended Reading" analyses, please click through to the next page:
Global CIO: THE TOP 10 CIO ISSUES FOR 2010
1) The Cloud Imperative
2) The 80/20 Spending Trap
3) CIO-Led Revenue Growth and Customer Engagement
4) Mastering End-to-End Business Processes
5) Business Analytics and Predictive Analytics
6) External Information versus Internal Information
7) CIO Priorities, CIO Compensation, CIO Evaluations
8) Vendor Consolidation, with Radical Exceptions
9) The Mobile Enterprise and the Mobile Mindset
10) The Transformation Quotient
I hope you've found this year's list helpful—or at least something worth debating. Here's wishing you much speed and customer insight in 2011!
Bob Evans is senior VP and director of
To find out more about Bob Evans, please visit his page.
For more Global CIO perspectives, check out Global CIO,
or write to Bob at [email protected].