As many businesses in the Middle East are building businesses that target not just regional but global growth, technology is playing a larger role than ever in advancing these organizational aspirations. According to a latest forecast by Gartner (News - Alert) in March of this year, Middle East IT spending is projected to total $211 billion in 2014, an 8 percent increase from 2013. In this scenario, the role of the CIO has become increasingly important. But this role has changed fundamentally over the past decade. In an era of cloud computing, big data and increasing dominance of mobile devices, the way an organization interacts with IT is now very different.
According to Gartner, the last ten years has seen IT change from the department that takes care of technology to support the business, to an era where the CIO is increasingly expected to play a key role in achieving competitive advantage. The research company states, “In the past, the CIO's role was primarily to run the IT organisation. In the future, it will be to ensure that the enterprise, as a whole, achieves strategic value from the use of technology and information.”
A key component of this new CIO role is the ability to proactively encourage the business to embrace innovation at a time of fundamental technology change that is creating significant upheaval and disruption. How can an organization exploit new social network models, ubiquitous broadband and limitless storage? What is the best way of using the plethora of new devices to improve productivity and performance – both within the organization and through collaboration with business partners? How can a data driven organization transparently share data and ensure self-service access for every employee? And, critically, how can innovation and collaboration be achieved without compromising essential compliance requirements? One thing is clear: the next generation digital business is completely dependent upon and enabled by real-time, anywhere access to high quality information. Organizations cannot achieve innovation and competitive differentiation without IT; but to understand the true potential and opportunities requires a complete, accurate and end to end view of information and processes throughout the enterprise.
The CIO is in an excellent position to identify and create value from enterprise wide synergies in these areas. But before any CIO can go to the business with ideas for innovation that will deliver competitive advantage, the underpinning data infrastructure has to be in place. And that requires a very different approach.
In the past, IT was doing its job if systems were running well across all locations; timely backups were taken and data stored securely on disk. Gradually this evolved to a centralized strategy where IT exploited more sophisticated and efficient storage to migrate data to central locations and impose greater control.
This is no longer good enough: IT needs to ensure that all end users – and increasingly business partners – can not only access data efficiently but also collaborate with that information in real time. From the construction workers requiring real-time access to 3D models on their tablets whilst on site, to the rescue workers relying upon accurate geographical data when responding to an emergency, fast access to trusted, accurate information is key.
Data in the Cloud
This fundamental reliance upon real-time, anywhere access to information via a huge diversity of devices, combined with the pressing requirement for innovation, changes the emphasis for the CIO and IT department. For IT, it is now essential to offload the basics of hardware, software and support and concentrate of the role of exploiting IT to deliver value.
It is therefore important to deploy a data management model that does not demand continuous IT resource. Organizations that require a significant number of people – and cost – to maintain and manage the data infrastructure will struggle to make the evolution from supporting day to day business needs towards delivering innovation.
Streamlining the data infrastructure – and reducing the reliance on IT personnel – frees up budget to spend on delivering real business value. As a result, an increasingly important component of this data management strategy is to seamlessly move corporate information from on premise into to the cloud – and ensure secure access from any location.
Taking this step not only reduces the internal IT cost but also exploits a third party’s dedicated solution to provide the required multiple copies of data, a multitude of failover switches and multiple connections to the Internet.
A cloud model also delivers that anytime, anywhere access to data users now require. However, this is not a simple step for organizations. It is certainly not practical to move all corporate data into the cloud at once. Organizations need to take a phased approach to data migration – and consider the impact on end users.
While cloud-based data makes it far easier to deploy new applications to remote workers using a multitude of devices, it is essential to make this move seamless to users. To avoiding incurring significant support requirements and undermining the value of the third party model, the business must not deploy any end-user technology that requires management. As Gartner says, “At every replacement and upgrade decision, [the CIO should] assert preferences that will demand less management and less intervention.”
However, many organizations are completely unable to make this move due to the inflexibility of the current data management infrastructure which cannot support both on premise and cloud-based data in tandem. Indeed, one of the toughest issues facing many CIOs is to admit the need to change strategy and technology – often long before a technology refresh would typically be scheduled.
The reality is that the second wave of digital, combined with demands for IT to deliver measurable corporate value, mean that some technology decisions taken even within the last 24 months no longer look good. The onus is on the CIO to face up to the fast evolving business demands and technology environment and admit the need to make changes.
Ten years ago the CIO was reactive; responding to demands from the business to determine on-going strategy. Today that role has changed fundamentally: successful CIOs are increasingly adopting a consultative approach, proactively engaging with and educating the business to demonstrate opportunities for competitive differentiation enabled by the digital economy.
For the CIO, this creates any number of new challenges – from identifying and implementing technologies that can address all the business demands of today and the future, to explaining the value of those technologies to the business and, increasingly, to business partners to encourage the broader use of enterprise data as a competitive asset.
Underpinning this new role is information: the creation and exploitation of information and process assets are vital components of digital enterprise innovation and effectiveness. To confidently and successfully take new ideas for competitive differentiation to the business, the CIO must first create a holistic view of information and processes across the extended enterprise and ensure the right data infrastructure is in place to deliver that anytime, anywhere information model.
About the Author: Allen Mitchell is the Senior Technical Account Manager, MENA at CommVault (News - Alert) Systems with a proven track record built over 20 years in the technology industry. His experience includes 14+ years focused on Data and Information Management issues and solutions for enterprise business.