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Investing in technology: Setting IT priorities in an uncertain economy

Investing in technology is one of the most essential exercises of IT prioritization, but there's often no practice run, especially when the economy is uncertain. The Great Recession has tested -- and severely strained -- IT budgets the past several years, but that hasn't stopped innovative CIOs from investing in technology areas that have propelled their organizations forward.

In this video Q&A, filmed at the 2012 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium in Cambridge, Mass., Editorial Director Scot Petersen sits down with Richard Soley, CEO at Object Management Group Inc. in Needham, Mass., to discuss investing in technology areas such as cloud computing, big data and mobility.

Soley emphasizes the importance of strategic planning in positioning IT investments, which allows enterprises to realize the most ROI from their IT spending while also learning more about their customers. And, Soley emphasizes, "be prepared to fail. The most successful companies fail all the time."

Read a partial transcript from the Q&A below, and watch the video to learn more about the importance of investing in technology in today's business climate.

You were at the morning panel today with other CEOs and the subject of the economy came up, specifically investing in technology in these uncertain times. How would you answer that question?

Richard Soley: You have to always be investing in technology and just can't necessarily put [money] into huge projects. If you are not doing experiments all of the time -- and not just with technology, but with every aspect of the business -- you are missing opportunities, throwing away customers, and you're destroying revenue and value. So, you have to always be investing; you just have to start small and be prepared to fail. The most successful companies fail all the time. 

Are there certain types of investments that make more sense now?

Soley: I think that, far too often, companies spend a lot of time investing in the cool new technology. So, speaking as the head of a standards organization that is always connected to the cool, new technology, [that means] today, cloud and big data, but yesterday, BPM [business process management] and, the day before that, service-oriented architecture. There is a tendency to look at the cover of magazines or what's on the first page of and say, 'Hey, we need to invest in that,' especially when the CEO calls the CIO and says, 'What's our big data strategy? I don't know what it is, but I need to know what the strategy is, because I read about it on page two of The Wall Street Journal.'

It makes more sense to focus on customer-facing technology. What is it that I can learn about the customer by mining the data? What is it that I can offer the customer in terms of new services? What is it that I can offer my supply chain so that it will give me more value over time and allows me to increase my share, revenue and profit? [A presenter] had a great line just a few minutes before I came down here, in which he said, 'If you're not embarrassed by your products, you've shipped too late.' And it is an overgeneralization, of course, but his point is that you've got to experiment. You've got to make small experiments all of the time, and that is absolutely true with technology, and it has to be customer-facing.

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Some tips to consider when measuring ROI:
choosing the tool that will be most relevant for the job it must accomplish, considering the ease of deploying and managing the performance monitoring tool and acknowledging that you cannot achieve your IT goals immediately but rather in small steps.

The complexities of mobile, cloud, and big data will only make ROI harder in years to come.