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2017 CIO priorities: If you do anything next year, do this

Analytics, security, data privacy and IT specialization loom large for 2017. Here is my CIO guide for surviving another whirlwind year.

Just about four years ago we implemented what just might be the greatest use of advanced analytics/machine learning in the history of mankind. OK, perhaps I exaggerate a bit, but it was a terrific project. At the time -- remember, just four years ago -- the tools and technologies we used to deliver our results were bleeding edge.

I am here to report that today no right-thinking IT professional would use those tools or technologies, because they are obsolete.

This is the perennial challenge of life in IT -- constant change and mountains of uncertainty -- except now, the rate of change and the level of uncertainty are head-spinning. A mere four years ago in today's tech time might as well be 40 years, such is the pace of tech evolution in 2016.

With the caveat that the constant change and the mountains of uncertainty might render my opinions moot by next month, here are my thoughts as to where I would place some technology bets for 2017.

2017 CIO priorities: Tech trends

First, there are, I believe, some higher-level trends that will shape 2017 CIO priorities.

  • With the increasing pace of technology change, IT agility matters. We need to be nimble and adaptable and that usually means we have to constantly fight against complexity. In practice, one of our on-going initiatives should be to clean up our legacy messes.
    A few years ago we made the container and orchestration commitment. ... It is poetry in motion to watch my team do a one-touch deploy and to move services from place to place on demand.
  • With the advent of smart phones, tablets and ubiquitous wireless broadband, the individual has become the device as we now carry our compute with us wherever we go. And that compute generates a ton of data. When we add in the internet of things -- made possible by processors everywhere -- there are piles of data to crunch. As a result, advanced analytics, machine learning and cognitive systems become more important.
  • And, since much of that data is personal, information security and data privacy also becomes more important.
  • Finally, as more and more services become available in the cloud (whatever the word cloud means) we have entered the age of IT and business specialization. We must identify the few things we need to do better than anyone else, innovate just those things and then leverage the innovation, specialization and expertise of others to provide what is not our specialty.

2017 CIO priorities: The to-do list

With those trends in mind, I suggest your 2017 plans include specific projects in:

  1. Advanced analytics: During my career I have learned an important lesson about analytics projects. That lesson is this -- we cannot build the business case for the project until after we complete the project. It is typically difficult to convince the organization to invest (and advanced analytics projects can get pricey) in a project on a hope and so my approach is to start analytics projects at a tiny level. How do we pull that off? I start by identifying a problem or opportunity for which we probably have the data we need to analyze. Then I find some willing volunteers -- local universities and colleges are always looking for data for student projects and local users groups might have a contest you can sponsor -- who will perform the analysis and develop the model. This way, if we hit an analytics home run we did it at a low cost. And, if we strike out, it cost us almost nothing. But, if we do hit a home run, we have started to build the business case for funding the internal capability required to gain insight from data.
  3. Information security and data privacy: Because the technology always evolves and because we carry around our legacy messes, there are always new threats. As a result, we need to stay on the top of our information security game. In parallel, the threat mitigation technologies and tools also always evolve and so your assignment for 2017 is to start to play with -- in a proof-of-concept way -- some of the interesting new security technologies. This gives you the chance to not only measure the effectiveness of the tools but also see how well they play with and overlap with what you have today. Data privacy is the growing regulatory and market requirement that sometimes can be "forgotten." That means we need to be able to purge a person's data from our systems -- just at the time when our advanced analytics or machine learning projects want that data. My advice for 2017 is to test ways of anonymizing customer data while retaining the characteristics critical to the segmentation and profiling you want to do with that data. That way, you strike a nice balance between compliance and being able to better understand customers and the market.
  5. IT and business specialization:  For 2017 take one thing you think that only you can do and turn it over to an IT service provider  with specific expertise. Many of us have gotten out of the data center management business. Some of us have moved email to someone whose primary focus is email delivery. This coming year, pick one thing you thought you would never give up and move it out. A couple of years ago, we turned network security over to someone who eats, sleeps and drinks network security. Doing this allows you to focus even more on what makes you and your services special and unique.
  7. Containerization: Finally, get good at containers and orchestration. A few years ago we made the container and orchestration commitment. This required us to learn a lot about a wide range of technologies, but we now operate a hybrid platform as a service that has resulted in rapid deployment, simplified management, lower risks and incredible agility. It is poetry in motion to watch my team do a one-touch deploy and to move services from place to place on demand. This knowledge and capability have allowed us to get to weekly product releases. (We could do them even more frequently but why?)

The big trends are going to be here for a while and we have used the four things listed above to align ourselves to those trends, while delivering high value and significantly improved credibility.

If you can only do one of these things, great. If you do all four, you will have an incredible year. Good luck.

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