Cloud, virtualization pull more managers into strategic IT planning

In the 2010 CIO Careers and Salary Survey, managers say leading-edge technologies are drawing them into strategic IT planning. A healthy number, however, are not so gung-ho.

As leading technologies creep into their shops, more than half of senior IT executives and their staff had to devote more time to strategic IT planning in 2010 compared to the previous year, according to the CIO Careers and Salary Survey.

Of the respondents to SearchCIO.com's most recent survey (which included senior IT executives, midlevel IT executives, IT managers and IT staff), slightly more than half said they spent more time in 2010 than in 2009 on strategic IT planning as a result of such leading-edge technologies as cloud computing and virtualization. Another 33.7% said there was no change in the amount of time they spent on strategic initiatives; and another 15.6% said they spent less time.

 
No change
%
Spend more time
%
Spend less time
%
Sample
Senior 96 35.7% 137 50.9% 36 13.4% 269
Midlevel
70
30.6%
127 55.5% 32 14.0% 229
IT manager
86
33.7%
126 49.4% 43 16.9% 255
IT staff
30
35.3%
35 41.2% 20 23.5% 85
Total
282
33.7%
425 50.7% 131 15.6% 838

In working with such leading technologies as cloud computing, virtualization and social media, several senior IT managers have had to shift their focus from internal technology and business issues to those outside it, they said.

"I used to concentrate on what was between my walls -- how we controlled and managed it, how much it cost to buy and maintain, and how much staff I needed. But in today's environment, it is a very different blend of virtualization, cloud services and issues like choosing third parties for hosting critical cloud services," said Judi Flournoy, CIO at Loeb & Loeb LLP, a law firm in Los Angeles.

Flournoy spearheaded Loeb & Loeb's initiative last year to convert its Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, system to a hosted provider. The project, which used cloud services technology, saved money and made communications across the company's U.S. and overseas offices more reliable.

Growing interest in iPads

Senior IT managers increasingly are involved, not only with technologies that reach outside the company but also with employees who spend a lot of time outside the company and use mobile devices to access internal data stores. Users' growing interest in the Apple iPad and a raft of Android-based smartphones could change the trajectory of these managers' edge computing strategies. The security in some of these devices must be improved, however, if they are to become trusted participants in mission-critical applications, some respondents added.

"We are moving away from Windows [desktop systems], going more towards Androids," said David Storey, chief technology officer at InquisIT LLC in Fairfax, Va. "Android and other smartphones have appealing features that offer advantages over desktops. But they will have to do a better job with security if they want to gain a bigger piece of the business space."

Heightened interest in the iPad among Loeb & Loeb's senior executives has drawn Flournoy into pursuing more aggressive mobile computing strategies. This requires her not just to evaluate the capabilities of the device itself, but also to decide which new applications needed to be developed or bought, and to beef up the existing infrastructure.

"With such broad interest among senior executives [in the iPad], we are now making applications available for it, like our time entry application. We are also working on our back-end systems to accommodate internal wireless capabilities to better support it," Flournoy said.

Some IT professionals, however, said they have veered away from weaving newer technologies into their strategic IT plans because of either budgetary constraints or a lack of ROI. Still others have stayed away because technologies like cloud computing have proved to be more sizzle than steak.

"I have been looking into what real possibilities exist for us in the cloud. To be honest, so far it is more fluff than anything real," said Ivan Imana, vice president of IT at the Adelman Travel Group in Milwaukee.

Virtualized server is a no-go

Jon Clayton, director of IT at Ben Hill Griffin Inc. in Lake Wales, Fla., was consistently asked by upper management whether the citrus fruit grower should virtualize its servers as a way to save money and drive greater revenue. Clayton spent a good chunk of his time last year evaluating several server-based virtualization options, only to discover the company's existing server implementation was less expensive and at least as efficient.

"Virtualization was always an issue popping up. But when I came back and showed them it would cost twice as much to virtualize and maintain those servers compared to what we were currently spending, they didn't want to go there," Clayton said.

Similarly, InquisIT had ambitions to host a time-keeping application in the cloud, but the application and strategy proved not to be a good fit. The company is actively withdrawing some of its public cloud initiatives, according to Storey. "The company [hosting the cloud-based application] was in our line of work, and we got wooed with all the application's bells and whistles. But when it came to doing basic stuff, it didn't offer us the flexibility of the application I had built internally," he said.

Budgets were flat or down the last year or two, said Clayton and other senior IT respondents to the survey. Thus they are and will remain conservative when it comes to strategic plans involving new technologies. Many say they are focused simply on maintaining existing technology strategies until better economic times arrive.

Evangelist hats coming off

"I have taken my evangelist hat off for pushing new technologies because I am getting too much pushback [from upper management]. I am more focused on getting what we have stabilized and pushing smaller initiatives like IP telephony or centralizing departmental peripheral devices," said one CTO who requested anonymity.

Most companies in the survey have dabbled with social media technologies, pursuing such basic marketing-based strategies as putting company pages up on LinkedIn and Facebook for corporate awareness or recruiting new employees. Few see them as strategically important.

I have been looking into what real possibilities exist for us in the cloud. To be honest, so far it is more fluff than anything real.

Loeb & Loeb's Flournoy however sees such efforts as foundations for more ambitious efforts in the future that could contribute to revenue generation.

"I wouldn't say it is not strategic. LinkedIn and Facebook profiles and blogs are strategic because they help businesses leverage every possible vehicle to communicate their expertise and capabilities, as well as push content to clients," Flournoy said.

As might be expected, the survey found that the lower down in the organization IT professionals are, the less time they spend on developing or reviewing strategic IT plans involving new technologies. According to the survey results, 23.5% of IT staff spent less time this year than last on strategic planning, compared with 16.9% of IT managers, 14.0% of midlevel managers and 13.4% of senior IT management.

Conversely, the higher up in the IT organization respondents were, the more time they spent on strategic planning, compared to the previous year. There was one exception, that being midlevel managers. Some 50.9% of senior managers spent more time with strategic planning, compared with 55.5% of midlevel managers, 49.4% of IT managers and 41.2% of IT staff.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Ed Scannell, Executive Editor.

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