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7 ways CIOs should prepare for the digital enterprise

Brian Eastwood | May 28, 2014
The whole world's gone digital. As today's companies try to keep up, many CIOs feel like a hamster on a wheel, constantly moving but never getting anywhere. This advice from the recent MIT Sloan CIO Symposium could offer at least a bit of relief.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - The debate about technology in the enterprise used to focus on hope vs. fear. Now it's fear vs. fear - specifically, the fear of becoming the next Target vs. the fear that technology will eat your lunch, says Narinder Singh, president of topcoder and chief strategy officer at Appirio.

Just as we recognized that MIT Sloan CIO Symposium also suggest that digitization drives innovation. As one example, Peter Weill, chairman of the MIT Center for Information Systems Research, points to Orange Money, which lets Orange mobile phone customers in rural, developing nations access previously off-limits financial services.

Companies that deny the power of such mobile technology - along with its social, analytics and cloud brethren - face a foreboding future. Discussions at the MIT CIO Symposium offered the following seven bits of advice for firms that wish to avoid that fate.

When in Doubt, Buy, Don't Build ...
With so many data systems and experts in a divergent market, many executives say it doesn't make much sense to roll your own analytics. This is especially true of "exploratory" work that requires little more than a database, a SQL store and a data visualization app, says Puneet Batra, co-founder of analytics startup LevelTrigger. As for where to focus that work, Batra suggests looking at marketing, operations or any parts of the business that happen to be "suffering," adding that analytics requires an agile approach.

This points to the larger trend of the CIO as a technology broker. CIOs increasingly serve as in-house service providers, as the intermediary for line of business managers and external service providers. This shows that the wall between IT and the business has fallen, Singh says - and it offers the opportunity to wield more influence over technology decisions.

... Unless You're Really on to Something
That said, the buy vs. build conversation shifts when you begin to differentiate, Barta says. He refers specifically to Tesla building its own ERP system, which the company did for both scalability and flexibility.

Yes, there are data experts, but there still aren't a lot of data scientists — and firms could fill that gap with "curious" employees who may lack a data science background but possess a high degree of business knowledge, says Don Taylor, CTO of Benefitfocus. As you build those data science skills, he adds, these employees "build ROI from the bottom up" and help CIOs demonstrate to executives and the board the value of data analytics.

Remember, It's All About the Outcomes
For all IT projects, not just analytics, the value lies in the outcome. These outcomes, in turn, must align with business objectives, says Douglas Menefee, cloud CIO advisor with Amazon Web Services. In an increasingly digital world, he says, this means looking at technology as a commodity that makes life easier for all employees and lets them focus on an ever-growing list of business challenges.


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