Embracing digital technologies and building an agile infrastructure

Every IT professional, regardless of having two or 20 years of experience, is familiar with Gartner’s annual predictions of the top challenges and priorities facing CIOs for the coming year. According to Gartner’s 2013 report, their focus lies in adopting digital technologies – including mobile, analytics, big data, social and cloud – to drive business results.

I spend a lot of my time meeting with customers around the world and find that IT leaders from some of the largest and most successful enterprises are all focused on building a mobile, social enterprise. The increasingly mobile-enabled world means people have access to critical applications and data anytime, anywhere and from a variety of devices. In addition, social media is changing the way businesses communicate and collaborate. Organizations are looking to leverage social media to speed up the sharing of information and enable better and faster decision making.

When I ask where their business priorities stand for the coming year, I consistently hear about a few other key priorities:

1. Security and compliance: With the increase in data breaches and the proliferation of malicious threats, organizations have for many years been focused on protecting their information. As organizations move to cloud environments, particularly hybrid and public clouds, this priority takes on even greater importance. The goal is to understand how to take advantage of the economics of cloud computing while maintaining security and compliance with regulations.

2. Cost containment: Maximizing the IT budget while getting the highest level of return on that investment is still a priority. IT leaders are looking for new tools and technologies to help de-risk transitions as they look to evolve their environments.

3. Complexity management: Dealing with complexity has long been the bane of our existence in IT. While new technologies hold tremendous promise they often add more complexity to our IT infrastructures. For example, virtualization promises better asset utilization, but adds a layer of abstraction over the physical infrastructure that can create management challenges.

4. Cloud migration: Organizations are embracing new application paradigms – such as cloud computing – to drive increased revenues and better customer services. Their focus is on managing the risks of the migration as they continue to run their business.

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If you look across the specific priorities our customers mention, a few themes emerge. IT organizations are focused on being agile, mitigating risks and increasing operational efficiencies. Business leaders are looking to IT to help the overall business be successful and profitable. It should come as no surprise that IT infrastructures today are expected to perform better, faster and more consistently than at any other time in history.

Increasingly, organizations are embracing digital technologies as a way to drive innovation and flexibility within IT. If you take a look at the companies that have “won” over the past few years – whether it’s Salesforce.com, Twitter or Google – you’ll notice they have all built a foundation upon an agile infrastructure. These companies were the most proactive in thinking about how they could serve their customers and quickly open up real-time communications. As companies compete for market and mind share, speed to market is essential.

Not every company will become the next Twitter, Google, or Salesforce.com, but every company should be aware of the following strategies if they’re interested in building an agile business:

  • Recognize the roadblocks: Everything from accommodating new and changing application workloads, to preparing for emerging trends like BYOD and big data. There will be roadblocks along the way and IT should work quickly to identify and solve them.
  • Learn how to juggle priorities: Companies must embrace new technologies while simultaneously mitigating risk to their business, reducing overall complexity, and ensuring the lowest total cost of operations.
  • Focus on the customer: If you think about overall priorities of any IT organization, it always comes down to one question. Do I help my business serve the needs of our customers better than anyone in my industry? If the answer is no, then IT needs to work more closely with business leaders to develop a plan of action to support the business objectives.

I’ve found that the most successful leaders implement these strategies and are constantly working to help their organizations establish and maintain a lead in the market. More than ever, I am meeting CEOs with a growing appreciation and understanding for what IT can do for their organization. It is these CEOs who understand how critical IT is to driving innovation, increasing customer loyalty, and enabling business growth. 

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