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Big data, mobile IT, cloud drove fast-moving 2011, set stage for 2012

Driven by mobile IT, big data and clouds of all shapes, the pace of change sped up for CIOs in 2011 and set the stage for an equally disruptive 2012.

Even for a group of executives accustomed to constant change, 2011 was a dizzying year for CIOs. It was the year of mobile IT. It was the year of big data. It was the year of social media and networking, of BYOD or "bring your own device," and VOC, or "voice of the customer" -- the latter two being trends where the user experience fundamentally changed the role of IT.

These technologies also helped shift old paradigms. "IT and business alignment" finally gave way to "IT-business integration" or "business technology," as IT organizations and businesses acknowledged that one did not exist without the other.

In 2011 the hype of cloud computing turned excruciatingly real, as CIOs grappled with how to use this infrastructure without jeopardizing their enterprises. IT organizations moved beyond thinking of the cloud as a place to put the email service to seeing cloud as a way to rethink their data centers and their delivery strategy for IT services. A growing cohort of tech-savvy employees also forced CIOs to reassess IT's traditional role as arbiter and sole provider of enterprise technology. Before the year was out, the need to mine big data had muscled itself to the top of many a CIO agenda, upending long-established best practices for data management and raising questions about the value of relational databases for analytics.

If there were an overriding theme for the CIO in 2011, it would be "re-imagination." Confronted with such disruptive technologies as cloud and tablet computing, challenged by business users more than willing to provision their own devices and applications, and at the mercy of their business's need for speed, CIOs by and large did not retreat. They put on their thinking caps and understood -- sometimes in a "eureka moment" -- that their IT organizations had to reinvent themselves to meet the demands of 2011 and beyond.

Saying yes to mobile IT with BYOD, iPads in the enterprise

When CIOs talked about mobility in 2011, most weren't referring to corporate-issued smartphones or consumer-grade cell phones creeping into employee cubicles. They were talking about the advent of what they rightly recognized as a disruptive technology: the iPad. Having been behind the curve on the iPhone, CIOs seemed determined not to be caught unawares by the latest iteration of mobile IT. Users, the C-suite and CIOs themselves were through with IT saying no.

If you consistently apply technology where you are really not transforming the business, it is going back to making an omelet with unbroken eggs.

"IT needs to think about moving away from this command-and-control paradigm to one of accommodation," Randy Nunez, senior network engineer at Ford Motor Co.'s Mobile Computing IT Enterprise Technology Research division, told in an interview about Ford's decision to adopt a BYOD program.

Typical of the dozens of CIOs whom interviewed in 2011 about the impact of mobile IT was Rick Roy, CIO at Madison, Wis.-based CUNA Mutual Group. He realized the need to "get on top of mobility" during a trip to the Apple store in downtown Boston when he was visiting his college-age daughter. "I had a bit of a personal epiphany," he said. "Looking at the users in that store, the people buying those devices, getting a quick demo from one of the salespeople as to what the device could do -- I came to the conclusion that we'd better pay close attention because it was pretty compelling."

By the time the calendar flipped to 2011, Roy already was deep into a meticulous analysis of the $2.8 billion insurance company's 4,000 employees' computing devices and use patterns. His goal was to identify which mobile devices made sense, and where. "You have to be very crisp on the value and the benefit," he explained in a 2011 podcast about his mobility device strategy for His IT team surveyed employees and inventoried the equipment they used to do their jobs. The effort ultimately identified 18 types of users (or "personas"), and those became the foundation for a mobility program that will include replacing half the laptops at CUNA Mutual with iPads.

The requirements for a mobile device strategy should be gathered from the bottom up, but Roy found that strategy should be set "pretty much top-of-the-house." Among his biggest challenges was an IT organization that was used to being in charge and that had long been sold on the benefits of standardization. A standardization strategy isn't tenable in a fast-changing mobile world, he said. "We needed to think about a more flexible delivery model." The alternative would have been to relinquish IT's role "as thought leaders with regards to technology."

Weighing the benefits of private, hybrid and public clouds

For State Street Corp. CIO Christopher Perretta, a more flexible delivery model materialized in the shape of a cloud. Like many companies, State Street's hardware and software use was growing faster than the reduction in costs that naturally accompanies technology development. Cloud computing offered a mechanism by which IT could vastly increase the bank's capabilities and capacities without the commensurate increase in cost, he said. But this couldn't come at the expense of data security. In his case, building a private cloud was the answer to the bank's demand that IT "go faster" but still maintain control of data. Like CUNA Mutual's Roy with mobility, Perretta left nothing to chance. A small pilot was followed by a pilot that simulated two data centers with 500 machines that were tested with 120 use cases.

"It's one thing to test it in the lab; it's another thing to have the people whose job it is to keep our systems up and running on a day-to-day basis [testing the solution]," Perretta explained in an interview about his launch of a private cloud. "With any change, the pain of making the change to the organization had to be less than the pain of the current environment."

Questioning accepted wisdom with predictive analytics

In 2011 there were plenty of CIOs, like Atifeh Riazi, who found themselves testing the limits of their organization's capacity for change. Riazi, CIO at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) --the largest housing authority in North America, with some 13,000 employees, is using business intelligence (BI) and predictive analytics to challenge, as she puts it, the "urban legends and sacred cows" of public assistance programs. Everything -- from how best to reduce operating costs to which investments will actually improve the quality of life of NYCHA residents -- is being examined with BI and predictive analytics. These tools in turn are applied to large sets of internal and publicly available data.

Riazi uses a variety of BI tools that include SAP AG's BusinessObjects, IBM's Cognos and WebSphere, and Visokio Ltd.'s Omniscope application, which runs correlations on large data sets on her desktop. The products, however, are not the point: "It's about opening minds," she said. And that goes for CIOs too: "We have to get out of our comfort zone, which means IT is not about deploying hardware and software."

CIOs have been "making lots of omelets with unbroken eggs," Riazi said, paraphrasing a statement from Nassim Nicholas Taleb's The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. They have deployed ERP and customer relationship management systems, and other major software and hardware, but the processes, policies and culture of the business remain the same: "You have some automation but ultimately you are still in the same place," she said. The real goal of IT is not about deploying hardware and software, but about business transformation, she added. "You have to break the way work is done, and you have to break it every few years, and you have to go back to the basics and question, 'What am I doing today, does it make sense, should I do it? And if I should do it, should I streamline it, should I privatize it, should I get out of that business?' These are sacred cows. These are questions that you have to ask. But if you consistently apply technology where you are really not transforming the business, it is going back to making an omelet with unbroken eggs."

CUNA Mutual's Roy concurs: "When you're in the corporate world, I think it's easy to get comfortable with what you have. Yet the reality is [that] the speed of innovation, the velocity of change that we're seeing and the acceleration of that velocity is just so enormous. I have become an advocate for testing things even though they may not be ready for prime time because it helps us be better leaders -- certainly, better thought leaders."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer.

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