My conversations with IT leaders: Their top-ranking concerns for 2017

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CIO Manage Your Work, Manage Your Life

Innovation is not about chasing the latest gee-whiz technologies. It is about implementing needed solutions to stay ahead of the competition. All CIOs already face a heavy burden to maintain efficient IT systems. Now they are being asked to transform their organizations by adopting the latest digital breakthroughs. 

In recent weeks, I’ve discussed this innovation challenge with many of my CIO colleagues and clients to get their thoughts about the top IT concerns for 2017. Their helpful feedback has provided some valuable insights about the most important trends facing the IT industry.

Most CIOs are charged with overseeing a messy tangle of private, public, and hybrid cloud environments. Complex hardware, storage, and software systems need to be integrated to process massive streams of big data, along with social media feeds and multiple message formats running on all sorts of smart devices. No wonder this problem is so difficult. Furthermore, all this growing complexity has been magnified by the rise of smart bots, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

The imperative to enable a digital business transformation is ushering in a new era in which machines are taking a more active role in enhancing human endeavors, assisting in economic decisions, and renovating the customer experience, according to Gartner’s top strategic predictions for 2017. 

It’s all about security

Security clearly ranks at or near the top of the list for everyone. The CIO of a global design software company I spoke with cited both the real and perceived threats of network breaches as an ongoing concern for his team. That CIO is laser-focused on determining the best security actions within the context of each specific business unit at his company.

The chief information security officer of a major mortgage lending institution raised concerns about the increase in “unpredictable threats with new sophisticated capabilities.” He noted that certain nation states have achieved the capability to steal millions of dollars and wipe whole computer systems. “Now with IoT devices getting compromised and launching unprecedented-sized attacks,” he added, “we have to think of newer defense techniques.”

The security landscape is changing so quickly that this concern has become “top of mind for our board and a significant push for our IT group and our overall company,” according to the CIO of a leading independent crude oil and natural gas company.

The role of cloud and big data

Another key area of focus for CIOs today involves the rapid advances of cloud computing and big data. Cloud traffic is expected to explode to more than 14 zettabytes (or roughly 14 billion terabytes!) by the end of 2020, up from just 3.9 zettabytes in 2015, according to the Cisco Global Cloud Index. 

In turn, more companies are pushing into real-time business analytics and data visibility to enable better, more profitable decision-making. Many IT managers are also mulling their cloud rationalization strategies by parsing the best use cases for cloud computing, and mapping those cloud capabilities to actual business adoption.

CIOs still must overcome the difficult integration problem to connect data and applications across diverse cloud platforms. This includes “the protection of critical data as it moves outside the organization into cloud infrastructures and software-as-a-service,” according to the CISO of the mortgage lending institution.

The CTO of a top vendor management software firm added that her team is also grappling with how to best integrate their IT stack with their external clients, partners, vendors, and service providers. “We will continue to struggle with this in 2017 and beyond, and the Internet of Things will only exacerbate the issue,” she concluded.

The need for top talent

Finally, perhaps the greatest concern facing IT leaders today involves a human element – the pipeline for talent recruitment and retention. The CIO of the oil and gas company put it this way: “I have a nonstop need for experienced, high-performing people in many roles. Success for any company is based on ‘the who’ more than any other single factor.”

The CIO of a prominent women’s clothing company echoed a similar refrain: “The talent is hard to find and harder to hold onto. It’s talent that really moves innovation and projects forward, so this is critical.”

The head of operations and technology at the lending institution added that it is extremely important to train IT staff in a structured way, “because it is impossible to hire your way through the skills gaps we are facing.”

The life of a typical CIO is a daily battle to maintain one’s balance on a treadmill of innovation that keeps spinning faster. Falling behind the hottest industry trends or the latest security threats is no longer an option. 

Chad Cardenas is Co-Founder & President of Trace3, a premier provider of IT solutions and consulting services.