Published in Computerworld UK
With over 90% of all corporate processes now automated, the pressure on CIOs has never been greater. An ever increasing burden of corporate expectations rests on the IT support structure not simply to provide cost efficient, reliable desktop and back office processing, but to reflect innovation and agility. It's a race for CIOs to stay head of the curve, implementing those disruptive new technologies that will deliver competitive edge and a raft of other business benefits. Indeed, business workflows are increasingly being shaped by the very technology introduced to support them. In the past ERP (and other applications) have influenced areas such as the design of supply chain management. Today cloud computing is influencing new data storage, intranet, client/server and managed service models, while social networking is revolutionising corporate communications and collaborative working methodologies. No longer is it enough to rule the data centre, CIO's must be the pioneers of tomorrow's trends and leaders of change management.
Between a rock and a hard place
There is something of the rock and a hard place about this. On the one hand, all the nuts and bolts of running an IT infrastructure must be maintained and improved on a continual basis. Things such as IT governance, data security, end-to-end processing, improving price/performance and lower cost of ownership are among in the top 10 issues that perennially keep CIOs up at night. But now, in addition to maintaining core services, questions such as: 'What's next'?, 'How do I take advantage of the next thing?'' Can I afford to ignore it?' are intruding with increasing urgency.
Disruptive technology is not new: the PC was disruptive to the typewriter and Email was disruptive to the fax. It's just that the pace of change appears to be going quantum. The Cloud? Social Media? What does it all really mean to one's business? What's the bottom line once the hype is stripped away? 'How do I ensure that my organisation takes maximum benefit?"', 'How do I avoid making costly bandwagon-led mistakes?' 'What can I not afford to ignore at the risk of being left behind?'
Coming out of the clouds
Consider cloud computing, which certainly heads the leader board in terms of column-inches expended. It is no longer a question of if, or even when since an increasing number of enterprises has now adopted at least a partial strategy. The big question is how. As cloud technology matures, the questions (not to say potential confusion) multiply and become more complex: 'What are the security, cost and performance implications of public clouds as they converge?' 'What is the difference between a private cloud and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)?' 'Should I migrate to a private or public cloud?' To what extent have perfectly good terms like 'managed service' simply been co-opted and shoe-horned into this all-purpose holdall called 'the Cloud'? That being the case, how do you cut through the smoke-and-mirrors to compare cloud and traditional outsourced services in an apples-to-apples way?
The business end of social media
In a similar way let us look at social networking – a technology that is re-shaping the way that people communicate. Notably, much of the news coming out of world hotspots at the moment is being exported and shared via YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. However, while cloud computing is indisputably a game-changer for the business community, the B2B application of social media is somewhat less straightforward. Indeed, there are clear pros and cons to encouraging social networking in the workplace. The cons: staff distraction; industrial data insecurity and the potential negative PR arising from employees saying the wrong thing to the wrong people at the wrong time. The pros: renewed staff productivity, richer global, ubiquitous, cheap and speedy communications across and between staff, partners, customers and one's target market. This enhanced communication environment in turn offers a quantum leap of efficiency in everything from supply chain management to collaborative working.
One of the biggest questions is how do you measure the overall risk to reward ratio? What sort of analysis tools can measure the staff time lost to non-business instant messaging vs. the time saved by using integrated messaging and blogs to share project updates with a group of colleagues? How do you measure the business cost of a careless "Tweet" or the impact of a disaffected employee posting derogatory remarks about their company and its products on LinkedIn or YouTube?
Once you have decided that rewards outweigh the risks, what is involved in implementing a B2B or B2C social media environment? Questions like what other applications and systems need to integrated is more or less straightforward depending on the complexity of the infrastructure and maturity of governance methodologies, along with networking, support for remote working etc. Managing change from a face-to-face meeting environment to an interactive online workgroup model, may be a challenge (most change is). Then there is the question of what staff educational programmes need to be put in place to safeguard data and reputation protection. Establishing the optimal culture for an organisation to take best advantage of social media can be more critical than the selection of the programme's underlying technology.
Luckily others have been there before you and are happy to share their experience. ImprovIT has just launched its UK-based Collaboration & Social Networking Focus Group which brings together early adopter CxO's with the business technology and IT benchmarking expertise of ImprovIT and its global network of partners in a collaborative mission to define the best practice technology, methods and process models that will become tomorrow's standard for social networking in business.