Big Thoughts, General Technology, Innovation

My top 5 predictions for CIOs in 2011

We are living in amazing times. Technology is changing the way we work and play at a considerable pace and there is no letup in sight. Rather, the change we anticipate ahead will be greater and more profound than anything that has come before. If you, like me, are lucky enough to be part of implementing that change then you’ll likely agree that we are extra fortunate.

To me, being a CIO in the early part of the 21st century couldn’t be further from being in “just a job.” If you’re doing it right and having fun while you’re doing it, you and your team can be inventors of the future. And that’s really important and interesting work.

As we look to 2011, the to-do list and choices for CIOs are getting longer and more complex. The pace of change is adding a level of uncertainty that doesn’t make any specific path clear. Knowing this, as most of us do, is not particularly helpful. But that’s not the point to focus on: the enlightened CIO must help go after the most valuable projects and be a trusted adviser to those who commit dollars to organizational goals.

It’s in this context that I present my top 5 predictions for CIOs in 2011. I’ve pondered whether they should be characterized as predictions. Regardless of what we call them, these areas will be featured on most CIO agendas in the year ahead. Think of them as unavoidable big ticket items that will consume considerable discussion and may be deserving of a deliberate strategy.

1. Cloud computing enters the mainstream

Okay, so one doesn’t need to be a soothsayer to know that cloud computing is at a point of inflection. Emerging from a period of hype and niche investment, cloud computing is positioning as a transformative and central technology in the arsenal of enablers of value.

Worthy of particular note, with mobile increasingly at the center of our computing future, a strategy for the mobile cloud will be an essential subset of this space.

I’ve said it before, if the CIO is not driving the agenda on cloud in 2011, there are many in the C-suite who will be. This is because cloud computing provides solutions for reducing cost, simplifying and optimizing infrastructure, and shifting the role of the CIO from back-office manager to enabler of business opportunity.

The risk is no longer the cloud. The risk is not having the cloud as a priority in your strategy.

2. Real business intelligence

I have a term for business intelligence that I prefer and I believe conveys a more urgent sense of its value: I call it unleashing data. Somewhere on some system in your organization lie answers and patterns in data that could be worth millions of dollars. In an era where we create more data every two days than was created from the start of recorded history to 2003 (apparently that’s about five exabytes of data), to say data is underutilized is a gross understatement.

Now, more than ever, we have tools to mine organizational data — whether structured or unstructured — and unleash its enormous value. What strikes me about business intelligence is that the CIO doesn’t have to create anything new; it’s about using what already exists.

3. The cost and value of technology

A notable manifestation of our recession recovery is the absence of rigorous business investment. Put another way, businesses have been shell-shocked into hoarding their profits at the cost of spending on necessary technology maintenance and new systems. Rather, the modus operandi is conservative spending and trying to get more technology value with less cost. CIOs are feeling it.

The year ahead will likely continue this trend as the economy remains unstable and uncertain. It’s not the end of the world for CIOs, but it does mean that more work must be applied to developing watertight business cases and for increasing the innovative use of technology. For many CIOs, this trend will require necessary business skills that will be challenging. Break open that old college business textbook. You might need it.

4. Integrating social into the enterprise

While I don’t think that integrating social computing deep into existing systems will hit an inflection point in 2011, nonetheless I believe this will be the year where the subject gets increasing attention both in the CIO discourse and in the emergence of new supporting technology.

The business advantages of social capabilities such as internal crowdsourcing, collaborative virtual spaces, video-on-the-desktop, social network analysis, creating serendipity, and consensus building are being gradually proven out on an ad hoc basis. The future will demand that a deliberate and rigorous plan be applied to it. The time to begin strategizing on a path forward begins now.

5. Temporary staffing

If you’re an IT contractor, 2011 will likely continue to be a good year for you. Closely aligned with prediction No. 3, CIOs are increasingly reluctant to fill openings with full-time employees. Loath to risk further layoffs in the future, they continue to be highly conservative about growing the ranks. Market confidence will need to be restored before we see a sizeable shift to full-time employee hiring in the IT sector.

As a result, CIOs will be managing more hybrid-staffed organizations. These organizations will constitute full-time employees, contractors, and outsourcing. While not radically different from many IT organizations today, what makes 2011 different is the uncertainty around the extent and duration of the contractor requirements. Will it be permanent? What effects will it have on institutional knowledge, loyalty, and existing staff?

You may agree or disagree with my predictions and you may believe I left something big out. I’m confident that’s true. So I’d like to hear from you. Add your comment below if you think there is another prediction that every CIO must be aware of for 2011.

As I did in 2010, I’ll revisit these in late in 2011 and make an assessment of how they fared as the top ticket items for the CIO during the year.

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