While immediate IT concerns such as PC and network upgrades are important, it's vital for CIOs to keep current with the business trends that affect markets and companies. These trends will inevitably translate into business-side demands that need technology to successfully support them.
For many CIOs, the primary trend today revolves around a continuing and increasing business demand for agile technologies, to match the quick pace of business. In an age where business decisions are made in minutes and hours rather than days and weeks, CIOs find themselves looking for ways to make sure that information is available quickly and comprehensively.
"Businesses are calling for more flexible responses, and an IT infrastructure that will allow IT to respond more quickly to changing business requirements and needs," said Andrew Bartels, a research analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. "Businesses need to be able to be more nimble and react more quickly, and CIOs will be looking for technologies that allow IT to do that."
For example, while balancing a budget in which maintenance, licensing, renewals and recurring infrastructure costs take 15% to 20% off spending, John Matelski, chief security officer and deputy CIO of the city of Orlando, Fla., must also build an infrastructure that can quickly respond to the growing needs of the city. "As land annexations continue to occur, and as new people and businesses relocate to Orlando, there is a need to expand the government services to these areas," Matelski said. "In order to provide these services (police, fire, waste management, etc.) new facilities are being raised, and technology is at the core of maintaining these facilities and services."
SOA becomes a way of life
Bartels said CIOs should concentrate on what he calls foundational technologies that will bring adaptability to their company, as well as set them up for the next generation of technology. He divides those technologies into three pillars: service-oriented architecture (SOA), server virtualization and unified communications, which use IP networks to unify voice and computing communications. Matelski, for example, has invested more than $2 million into a move to Voice over Internet Protocol for the city.
The enthusiasm with which CIOs have embraced SOA is emblematic of the corporate emphasis on business agility, said Kavin Moody, executive director of the Center for Information Management Studies at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass.
"People don't even talk SOA anymore because they're doing it," Moody said. "It's part of a series of things behind an architectural approach that supports agility as well as efficiency."
Scott Clayton, director of information services and technologies at VT Specialized Vehicles Corp. in Washington, N.C., has embraced SOA. He uses the technology to improve both internal and external communications, a vital component of his company, which manufactures made-to-order trucks and trailers. "The whole point is that business agility hinges on improving communications -- both person-to-person and person-to-database," he said. "IT needs to be a service not only to internal customers, but [also] external. Broadly, I want to provide an IT infrastructure that is service-oriented, and to do that I must have a back-end service architecture."
Applications such as a status inquiry tool built with SOA components allow both customers and internal employees instant access to the details surrounding a particular job, from whether the decals for the truck have arrived to where the truck is on the assembly line.
Collaborative technologies show potential
Also of interest for CIOs are the collaborative technologies found in Web 2.0 tools such as wikis and collaborative software. "It's on everybody's radar screen, but they're still trying to figure out where and how to use it," Moody said.
These technologies will allow companies to build a foundation for next-generation technologies, which will help companies move from their present focus on improving business processes to optimizing the business results. "It's not about making things more efficient, but about having a business objective and being able to assemble the software and process components, combine them with analytics and vertical industry knowledge to build an immediate solution," Bartels said.
Moody said the interest in agile technologies is an important step in getting to that next generation. "CIOs are laying the groundwork for that, and it's evolving at a nice pace," he says. "IT architectures are becoming more responsive and less of a bottleneck, which gives companies the agility to make innovation happen."
Carol Hildebrand is a freelance writer based in Wellesley, Mass. Let us know what you think about the story; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.