5 areas CIOs will spend most of their time in 2020

There will be many new areas CIOs will explore, but these five are in a stage that will be pretty important and will demand consistent attention by CIOs

5 areas CIOs will spend most of their time in 2020 - CIO&Leader
The much-awaited, much-predicted-about 2020 is here. The deluge of technology forecasts continue to be bombarded on the enterprise IT managers. RPA, AI, Hybrid, IoT, Analytics…the more you read them, the more they look the same. Just the combinations—and worse still, in some cases, just the permutations—keep changing.
But what do these boil down to for the CIOs? AI will impact pharma industry (ok…it could be insurance, happy?) the most. But how? What should a CIO in a pharma company do with AI? What could be the use cases? Can one try all of it? Probably one would—in ideal conditions. But in business—as in life—ideal conditions are conspicuous by their absence. 
Let’s for a change, talk of ground realities. Agreed, they will not sound half as exciting, half as impressive. But that is what we have to do. 
That is what CIO&Leader presents in this issue—five areas CIOs will spend most of their time in 2020. The technologies involved in those activities are mostly—if not fully—familiar to you. Even the areas would mostly not come as a surprise. 
So, what makes them make it to the cover? These activities will demand a lot of your most important resource—your time. And you will need to do them because they will help in addressing the business priorities through leveraging technology. Is that not the single-most important line in your job description?
Added bonus: Once you are on top of them, you can keep your mind relatively free to go after lots of blue-sky things. 
And they are not the typical ‘projects. They are activities in-between that are not just critical but strategic for your business too. They could contain multiple ‘projects’ as in one of them (optimizing cloud portfolio) or they could just be a lot of coordination (collating data) or continuous-brainstorming-translated-to-action (in devising slowdown strategies), or areas where figuring out what you should do could take a lot of your time (data protection compliance).
As we get into each of them separately, here’s a disclaimer: As in anything in tech today, they are not completely mutually exclusive. But then, that in something like this, is an advantage, if you plan well and keep your eyes and ears open all the time. To illustrate, as you spend time in collating data, you may actually have a much better idea about where data resides and that could get a long way in helping you in complying with some of the forthcoming privacy law requirements such as right to forget/data erasure. 
 
Optimizing Cloud Portfolio and Performance
 
Hybrid (private cloud-public cloud-legacy), multi-cloud is increasingly the preferred model across organizations. 
Hybrid is arguably the most common buzzword in enterprise IT today. While the initial preference for hybrid model was out of compulsions—do not underestimate their value in business, though—it is increasingly being realized that this is the preferred model. 
While the likes of HPE and IBM have been pushing for hybrid, the biggest endorsement came when two of the largest cloud service providers—Amazon Web Services and Microsoft—reached out to the enterprises who want to continue running their own data centers and private cloud. AWS Outpost and Microsoft Azure Stack are products that extend their respective public clouds’ manageability and experience to data centers owned and operated by the enterprises, hugely enhancing flexibility for the managers. 
Hybrid is accompanied by usage of multiple public clouds. A variety of reasons—conscious choice, availability of specific applications and mergers & acquisitions—is making organizations settle for multiple clouds. 
Whether hybrid or multi-cloud, it sounds great in theory. But to effectively run the business on them, these heterogenous environments should be able to give a seamless experience and ensure smooth manageability and full visibility. 
In short, the CIO’s challenge is to choose the right combination, ensure that they work together coherently for the business to be run on them smoothly and get the desired business benefits—and of course, smoothly keep running it. That is what we call optimizing cloud portfolio and performance. 
As businesses go for newer technologies, as they go for acquisitions and mergers, as the rules of data residency and data protection gets rewritten and as newer, smarter management tools become available, the CIOs need to continuously assess, choose, roll out and manage the new environment to get to optimal cost-value ratio. The journey has already begun. 
And since this is the area that will touch most part of business and will account for most of the technology investment, we see most of the CIO time will go towards this activity. 
While help is available—smaller cloud and hosted data center service providers are now getting into professional services around hyperscale service providers’ clouds—it will still need CIO’s attention and time a lot. We expect this—optimizing cloud portfolio and performance—to be the single-most important activity for large enterprise CIOs in 2020.
 
Preparing for the Privacy Regime
 
With the privacy wave sweeping the world and the landmark General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into effect in Europe, India too is ready with its own personal data protection bill, which was expected to be passed in the winter session of the parliament but has now been referred to a house select committee. But it is a matter of time before it gets to become a law—making all those organizations that collect personal data on individuals to ensure that they protect that data, use the data only what it is collected for and erase the data whenever the owner of that data—the individual (customers, potential customers or whoever it is) wants it erased, and comply with many other requirements such as storing a copy of the data within India. 
As a predominant quantity of the data collected and used by the organizations today is stored, retrieved and processed digitally, protecting that data would essentially mean getting an organization’s IT systems ready for it. 
Once the law comes into effect, most of the organizations—B2C businesses for sure but even others who deal in individual data even if they may not be doing business directly with the Indian citizens—will have to comply with all the requirements. 
The first task, of course, is what is called privacy by design—or preventing data leakage. This is familiar territory for CIOs and CISOs, but the difference this time is that the protection is needed for personal data of the user, not company’s strategic data, which was protected. The former did not just get lowest priority when it comes to protection, the volume is huge too. 
Visibility of data—even being in the know where what data resides—is a huge challenge for many organizations. That is the first step towards ensuring data erasure. If you do not know where the data is, how can you ensure it gets erased?
Another big challenge is what is called data minimization—restricting collection of data. Again, it is up to IT to ensure that. 
But by far, the biggest challenge could be creating strong boundaries for data within an organization. While in some businesses, it is already done. In many others, it is not done. In fact, let alone organizations, personal data moves freely across organizations as people move. Anyone who has donated to one organization or is a member of a hotel group or a credit card holder knows how the name, essential details and mobile number keep floating. The new law will require data collected to be used for specific purpose that the user has consented for. That will impact business models of many.
Of course, in India, a lot of data is collected on paper. Ensuring its protection is a Herculean task. It may sound impossible but that is what organizations have to ensure, even if it is collected by a third party.
The draft bill also asks for a Data Protection Officer, who is responsible for ensuring that the organization complies with the provisions of the Act, when it becomes one. That DPO, in the Indian context, would most likely be a technology executive, like CISO or Head, Information Security. 
Finally, there is the requirement of data localization—ensuring that a copy of data resides within Indian shores. That is an out-and-out CIO’s responsibility. 
In short, there is enough to keep the CIOs and CISOs busy for an entire year—from the time it comes into effect. And many of them have no idea of what it could entail. Easily the most challenging activity for 2020.
 
Collating Organization-wide Data
 
While we consistently hear about data-based decision making and data-centric business models—and clichés like data is the new dollar—the fact is that most organizations have a long way to go before they can make any meaningful data-based decision-making on the strategy plane. Unlike operational decisions, which are taken mostly by individual business or functional units, strategic decisions impacting the organizations have to be taken at an organizational level. 
And the challenge is—as most CIOs know—data still remain in silos—even after more than two-decades of automation in organizations. Despite standards, interoperability, systems, and consequently data, remain isolated because humans have chosen to keep them so.
But today, thanks to the sensitization by the top management about the business value of technologies that rely on good data—such as Artificial Intelligence, IoT and analytics—there is an urgency and clear mandate to get the data together.
If the increased expectation from these emerging technologies is acting as a catalyst, developments like privacy laws where some (personal) data needs to be carefully handled, have acted as an imperative to get the data act together. 
Many organizations—especially in some businesses, such as insurance, pharma and retail—have already got their data strategy in place. There is a clear mandate to collate the data. 
In fact, it is often the most important component of the now famous digital transformation journey. Especially those organizations—newer organizations and those with high technology maturity—that have taken a top-down approach to digital transformation, collating organization-wide data is the pre-condition to proceed further on that path.
No marks for guessing who is entrusted with the responsibility. This is going to be one of the most important activities for CIOs across the spectrum. 
But have they not started this already; what is new? Just in case you have forgotten, we are not predicting new trends but are just pointing areas where CIOs would spend maximum time on. And in that sense, they may not even spend most ‘hours’ on this activity; but this will remain on their agenda platter for the entire year. Maybe, will remain among the top five high-involvement areas for 2021 as well. 
But that is some time away; we will take it when it comes!
 
Devising IT-leveraged Slowdown Strategies
 
The economic slowdown is no more a point of debate. But unlike previous slowdowns, the economic slowdown this time around is not accompanied by fear, uncertainty and doubt. No one is questioning India’s long-term potential, but expectation is for a pull factor—policy intervention or a significant economic event.
This means two things. Organizations will not stop investing; yet, they will expect better profitability with minimized risk—the perfect opportunity for IT to prove its worth—that people have long discussed and speculated.
It is clear that it is a consumption side issue. It is a question of demand. There is lesser global uncertainty; there is both feel-good and optimism about non-economic aspects of the nation’s health. 
Which means the slowdown will not result in cutting down on IT expenditure per se—which is what CIOs have always feared about a slowdown. But rather, the expectation from IT is that it will help the business become more profitable by making the product better, process more efficient and strategy (based on definite data) more informed and more resilient. 
And this is one area CIOs will not pull their hair about, but smarter ones will seize the opportunity to demonstrate what IT can do. 
Can IT—based on data analytics—tell what business areas to be dealt in what manner? Can IT help in creating disruptively faster time-to-market? Can IT help in creating far more effective products based on real-time analysis of customer trends? It can make great improvements in almost all areas of business. 
Traditionally too, slowdowns have brought out the best in IT. 
Only difference this time around is that IT now can positively impact the business in creating new segments, making the business more resilient (risk mitigation), and even creating new business models—as opposed 
to just process efficiency enhancement earlier.
This is one area where all CIOs may not spend most of their time and energy on; but those that are smarter ones, will do. Unlike other areas, there is no best practice here. Each good CIO will be (or has the potential to be) the interim strategy officer for his organization.
 
Skilling & Reskilling Teams
 
After decades of being a cost center, corporate IT is being looked upon as a strategic enabler, finally. The expectations from the CIO is far more—and very different—from what it used to be just five years back.
And a lot of these expectations are to do with strategic use of emerging technologies. ‘Use case’ is already a much-used business (not IT) jargon. In a single phrase, it reflects the change in outlook towards technology. Today, the single most important expectation is this: The proactive use of new technology to build business value.
For this, CIOs do not just need people with new technology skills, they need people who can quickly spot new technologies, master them fast and help build use cases. While the last part is typically the responsibility of senior IT managers, the first two are increasingly becoming a basic requirement in most IT jobs. This is shifting the enterprise IT equation from specialist to generalists (maybe, except for security, which is a big area by itself). 
Apart from figuring out the use case of technology, many new areas have gone into active adoption stage. Many of those new areas like Cloud, Artificial Intelligence and Analytics—not to talk of Blockchain and new security challenges—require newer skillsets in people. Interestingly, these are limited cost value creators, as compared to high cost, keep-the-light-on areas. So, outsourcing cannot address these gaps. The only way for organizations who want to leverage technology to continuously stay ahead is to invest on training their own workforce. 
This could be the single-most important area for the CIOs to address in the immediate run. We expect this could remain a strong focus area in 2020 and beyond, as technology keeps getting updated and generalists take over the IT department in enterprises.
There will be many strategic new areas that CIOs will explore. We have addressed the areas that will remain a consistent priority through most part of the year. 
 

Skilling could be the single-most important area for CIOs to address in the immediate run. We expect this could remain a strong focus area in 2020 and beyond, as technology keeps getting updated and generalists take over the IT department in enterprises.


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