What CIOs today are doing to make innovation an imperative in their organizations.
IT leaders take on many endeavors ranging from keeping the lights on to maintaining legacy systems to protecting data to keeping customers happy. One of the more recent challenges – bringing innovation back to IT – will not only help IT move from a tactical budget line item to a strategic business partner, but will also make businesses more competitive and profitable, proving that IT is truly the innovation engine for the business.
That’s the takeaway I experienced following a recent panel discussion with several IT leaders and industry watchers on “The Innovation Imperative: Closing the IT Gap to Meet Demand and Accelerate Success.” CIOs and other IT leaders today must make a transition from performing tactical duties that simply maintain the status quo to adopting new technologies to enable innovative approaches that customers – internal and external – will embrace. This will keep IT relevant, boost CIOs profile with the business and reduce the risk of end users bypassing the IT department to get new technologies, creating security and other risks most businesses can’t take.
The drive to become more innovative is evident in the day-to-day efforts of panelists Ken Piddington, Chief Information Officer for Global Partners, LP, a leader in the storage, distribution and marketing of energy products; Myrna Soto, Senior Vice President and Chief Infrastructure and Information Security Officer with Comcast, one of the world’s leading media, entertainment and communications companies; and Harry Butler, Director of Infrastructure at Elbit Systems of America, a leading aerospace defense services company.
Technologies associated with cloud computing, mobile devices and applications, social media, collaboration and more represent their own challenges for IT, but these leaders see the opportunities the tools offer and put them to work for their business. For instance, Comcast’s Soto deals with the reality that the actual television is no longer everyone’s primary vehicle for watching TV. With myriad devices to consider, her company is exploring IP delivery for IP TV and “putting a lot of our content in the cloud and delivering certain content through cloud-based services.”
Elbit’s Butler has end users that want their tablets to do everything their PC does, “there’s only one problem – it’s not a PC.” That means he is working with desktop virtualization technologies to ensure end users get their Word, Outlook, PowerPoint and other applications on their tablets just as though they were working on their PC. “They’re very focused on the programs they want … they want the ones they already know. So you have to open that virtual desktop,” he says.
Chris Garibaldi, principal with Deloitte Consulting, also participated in the panel discussion and reports seeing the move toward innovation in dealing with his clients. Part of the push for IT is the evolving end user, he says, because “people don’t want to be constrained in how they can consume that information. They want to get that information on what’s most convenient to them.”
Global Partners’ Piddington agrees: “It’s a consumer product and you want to be able to deal with it the same way they deal with it at home … and you’ve got to either find ways to do that or they’re going to go outside and that’s when you have the security risk.”
Piddington touches on the importance of security in all these innovative efforts, which is just one of the factors IT leaders must consider even when moving toward a more innovative state. Another is the reality of “legacy systems” powering the back-end business that most IT leaders are dealing with today. Striking the balance between maintaining existing systems and deploying new technologies is part of the imperative, especially considering a majority of IT organizations devote upwards of 70% of their budgets to “keeping the lights on.” For Piddington, the focus is twofold. There are efforts to drive business growth and those that maintain critical, back-end systems.
“We have initiatives around big data, social, mobile and the cloud – taking those into play. What we focus on is finding a way to hit the edges and be able to implement those pieces, integrate them in and leave the legacy systems as is,” Piddington explains. “We’re really working on the edges as we’re trying to provide more revenue growth opportunities and the operational efficiency type pieces to increase our profit margin.”
These efforts and I’m sure many more are happening today and CIOs are earning their seat at the C-level table with the business. And if they aren’t working to be more innovative, they could be losing respect and budget dollars.