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From the CIO’s desk: Looking ahead to 2017

Today, successful organisations are focused on how they can digitally transform their business most effectively. This modernisation is having a profound effect because traditional industries are being disrupted by new entrants with a digital, rather than capital or people-intensive business model. Additionally, brand new companies can start and grow very quickly when their product is digital, rather than physical.    

For the past few years CIOs have been focused on mega trends that affect IT: mobile, social, cloud and big data. These are some of the building blocks of a digital business, but as we enter 2017 the complete picture of a digital business is becoming clear. This transformation has a significant impact on many businesses and this creates a huge opportunity for CIOs.    

While many recent business transformations have been led by business functions this one is different. This is not a change to a single process, the launch of a couple of new products or a pivot to take advantage of a new technology. No, this is a transformation that reaches across the company and beyond into the ecosystem where the company does business impacting partners and customers. 

CIOs have a unique view with responsibility for applications, process and data across the entire enterprise and beyond it. The only other C-level exec with this view is the CEO and that’s why the CEO is increasingly looking to the CIO to play a critical part in this transformation.    

In 2017 CIOs are poised to deliver more business value than ever before and we will be expected to shape the strategic conversations around our companies’ digital journey. There are five key areas of transformation that will enable a more dynamic, customer-centric experience and a distinct competitive advantage in the market.

1. Digital transformation

Digitalisation is becoming a key cornerstone of business strategy for companies of all sizes and types - as such, data is a significant factor in the success, or failure, of every business initiative. In the coming year, CIOs will be tapped for strategic insight and leadership across many moving parts of a business influenced by data, including journeys to the cloud and increased mobility. Successful CIOs will focus on the data, ensuring it is high quality, secure and accessible enough to be used for new purposes. 

The end-goal is to unlock insights from data, using it to drive actions by humans and machines and enabling these new capabilities to accelerate business transformation and create new competitive advantages.

2. SaaS sprawl

Let’s face it, we all have a few more SaaS apps than we probably need. In the recent past the cost of this has been in complexity, duplication of capabilities and difficulty accessing data for analytics. The stakes just increased. Now the problem of SaaS sprawl is squarely obstructing our shift to these new business models. During the coming year, CIOs will move from launching these apps to grappling with how to integrate, validate and streamline the data flows between them. 

Integrating data across cloud and on-premises systems is no small task and CIOs will benefit from using cloud data integration platforms and tools to derive value from scattered data. Ultimately, CIOs will not choose between a uniform suite and best-of-breed apps – with the right integration strategy and tools it will be possible to provide business applications that meet the needs of users and leverage the data to provide information and insight for the enterprise. 

3. Big data

Business results from big data are finally catching up to the hype and our expectations. Many more of the interactions humans have with each other and with businesses are now digital. That coupled with the unprecedented number of connected “things” is digitising our whole world and generating exponentially more data. Businesses quickly learned the value of big data and are racing to extract insights to grow, improve and compete; moving big data from an advantage to table stakes. 

Cloud is playing a major role in this transition by making big data affordable for most businesses. However, accessing data is only the first step. Businesses of all sizes need to continue in the pursuit of extracting more and more meaning from their data. It will be up to the CIO to build and lead a team that is using data to innovate and move the business forward by asking newer, bigger questions. 

As data takes over many of the manual processes in businesses, demand will continue to grow for business analysts and data scientists who have the skills to turn data into valuable insights. 

4. Analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning

Demand for faster insights is accelerating and creating a need to leverage machine learning to address areas where speed of response is most critical. With the accelerating pace of business, human paced processing is no longer sufficient – this is where machine learning fills the gap. In the face of petabytes and exabytes of data, machine learning algorithms can be implemented to find the best solution or next step available with velocity unheard of just a few years ago. Think about it, machines used to execute the few tasks in a workflow where a human couldn’t do it fast enough (think calculator), now machines can execute almost the entire process in many cases and humans are only required to fill in the gaps that the machine can’t do – yet. 

Don’t believe me? Think about maps 20 years ago, MapQuest could figure out the shortest distance between two points and this was a huge benefit for all of us, but you didn’t trust it to tell you where to go. Now with Waze many of us completely delegate the turn-by-turn execution of a trip to a machine that has much more information than we can possibly process. Will it be long before the human is needed to fill the gap of actually operating the car – of course not. However, the accuracy of these fast responses is entirely dependent on data quality. Un-validated or inaccurate data in a machine learning algorithm leads to misleading insights or directly to the wrong action when automated. CIOs will be expected to drive processes to ensure data is clean, and enable quality data that delivers fast and accurate insights and action. 

5. Security

As the sophistication of attacks increase companies need a more advanced way to protect themselves. This means expanding protection beyond the perimeter and focus also on protecting the thing that actually being targeted – the data. Rather than depending on traditional perimeter security to provide this defense, I think we’ll see a move towards infrastructure-based security being used to protect infrastructure (think network based security and good IT hygiene of patching) and a different approach and set of tools being used to protect the data. 

If used effectively, data is moving around seamlessly between processes and applications and is making its way beyond functional data warehouses and into enterprise data lakes. We can’t depend upon functional lines or application based access to control who can see what anymore.  Solving this problem becomes an enterprise wide job and that means CIOs will need to take the lead and work with business partners to ensure that data is categorised correctly and is protected at its source.  

I look forward to sharing more of my perspective in the coming year about the opportunities and challenges ahead for CIOs. I’m also excited to hear about your organisation’s digital transformations including the successes and learnings along the way. The CIO community can learn a lot from each other and I look forward to being sharing my experiences and learning from all of you. 

Graeme Thompson, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer,  Informatica (opens in new tab)
Image source: Shutterstock/everything possible

Graeme Thompson is senior vice president and CIO at Informatica. Thompson is a British IT veteran, with over two decades of experience in senior IT positions. Prior to joining Informatica he served as vice president of global IT at Oracle.