“The accelerating consumerization of IT presents CIOs’ biggest challenge to date. Staying ahead requires a flexible architecture, a deep understanding of the user experience, and a preparedness to support both old and new tools - and ways of working,” says Robbert Kuppens, Cisco’s CIO for Europe, Middle East, Africa & Russia.

It is getting harder by the month for CIOs to predict the way their organizations’ IT requirements will change and develop, which means their best strategy is to be ready for anything.

Analysts have speculated that, despite the vast advances since the arrival of the Internet, this is only 5% of the way towards achieving its full potential. Inevitably, then, there are more seismic changes to come which can’t possibly be anticipated today.

In the same vein CIOs are having to adapt swiftly to employees’ rising expectations of the technology, devices and applications they use for work purposes. Equipped with their own smart devices and freely available apps, users are able to take control now anyway – for example, circumventing inefficient internal collaboration and knowledge-sharing processes by using publicly available tools like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Where once organizations might have tried to impose a ban on such activity, this is now proving to be a counterproductive strategy – at best difficult to manage, at worst alienating to staff. This in turn can affect an organization’s chances of being able to attract new generations of talent, who today have much higher expectations of their technology experience at work.

If corporate IT systems had managed to keep up with consumer technology, the so-called ‘consumerization of IT’ revolution might not have happened. Yet the reality is that consumer technology developments have outpaced business systems to the point that users have becomefrustrated by how comparatively poor
their IT experience is at work. In their own time, they are able to effortlessly connect with each other, access, share and interact with unlimited content, and run their lives efficiently. During office hours, out-of-date technologies and system lock-down prevent the same fluidity - stifling spontaneity, creativity and workflow.

All of this inflexibility is chipping away at companies’ efficiency and their ability to compete.

“If corporate IT systems had managed to keep up with consumer technology, the so-called ‘consumerization of IT’ revolution might not have happened.”

Viewing users as customers
Ironically many organizations look after their customers and partners better than their own staff. Retailers, banks, insurance firms and travel companies have long realized the value of exploiting alternative channels to differentiate their services and run a more efficient operation. Advanced web self-service applications combined with mobile channels, for example, are allowing such organizations to put timely, relevant information in the hands of customers – such as account summaries, spending analyses and stock, delivery and service updates. This allows clients and supply-chain partners to make informed decisions and complete transactions quickly and efficiently.

Allowing their customers and partners to serve themselves with information reduces companies’ internal costs and allows them to provide around-theclock customer services. Now such strategies are being further flexed too,to incorporate mobile channels and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter - out of competitive necessity. If customers can’t find what they need when they need it by engaging with companies using traditional channels, many will now turn to public social media to voice their frustration and seek peer advice. Companies have had to respond to this, becoming more spontaneous and creative in their use of social media to broadcast service updates and to track and manage customer feedback.

But even these companies are only just realizing that the same approach must now be applied to their own employees, who also want more choice about the channels, devices and applications they use as they go about their jobs.

Spontaneity rules
But what does this mean logistically for companies? Until now successful management of IT has been about control, and imposed systems and ways of working. But how can CIOs facilitate a more natural and responsive user experience without exposing the business to increased risk and higher support costs?

At a logistical level it is about putting in place the necessary controls and security measures to keep sensitive data assets safe, but at a business level it is about enabling more freedom, flow and a more instinctive user experience around collaboration and spontaneous content discovery.

The key to achieving both is an intelligent, flexible underlying architecture

Practical considerations
The CIO meanwhile must become an orchestrator of multiple environments, with a dual role that involves combining the power of freely available apps and information with the approved processes, applications and the intellectual property of the organization - on any device, any time, anywhere.

The ‘orchestration’ role of the CIO will be to make sure that the experience of the enterprise apps is intuitive and consistent, and uses secure data and robust internal infrastructure platforms to drive the end-to-end processes that put the organization ahead of the competition. This places the emphasis on the network as the place where convergence, innovation and reasonable control happen.

Ultimately the CIO’s remit is to deliver the right information and the right experience to employees, partners and customers in a secure and timely manner, at the point of need, yet also at the right cost, and to be more successful in doing this than the competition.

Providing unlimited choices won’t be feasible. This could lead to a loss of structure and cohesion, of continuity in information sharing and of control over security. It could also get expensive in support terms. But that doesn’t mean CIOs need to restrict users’ flexibility.

To achieve the optimal set-up, CIOs need to work closely with the business to determine where the genuine bottlenecks and issues are. Together, then, they must determine what is needed to enable users to fluidly and intuitively interact with appropriate content and services, and to serve themselves with the information they need to do their jobs effectively.

Keeping things manageable might mean applying the 80/20 rule when deciding which platforms to support. This will allow the company to satisfy the needs of the majority, while keeping administration, security and costs to a reasonable level.

This strategy will help avoid duplication and delays as users are forced to look in multiple places for the information they need. If they are connecting and sharing content via a disparate range of social media, for example, how can that pooled knowledge ever be exploited to wider potential?

“Ultimately the CIO’s remit is to deliver the right information and the right experience to employees, partners and customers in a secure and timely manner.”

Preserving consistency
Using a common social enterprise collaboration platform – one that combines voice, video and all forms of communication and content-sharing - as the basis for freer interactions offers a solution to the freedom-versuscontrol conundrum. Even though consumerization of IT has brought new exciting ways of working, companies still need standardized ways to interact, communicate and transact if they are to be effective and efficient. With too many choices there can only be chaos. With multiple instant messaging systems, or the scattering of knowledge across multiple social networks, for example, information and communications could become so fragmented that people start to turn off and look for something more holistic and mainstream.

Amassing the right technology skills internally is another practical necessity - but again it is possible to cater for a lot of options from within a finite portfolio. HTML5 and various new capabilities are common across the main mobile platforms, so by investing in skills in these areas organizations will be well equipped to deliver 90% of the required features. When it comes to implementing the necessary security measures to keep sensitive data assets safe, the goal here too as the range of devices and applications proliferates should be to manage this centrally - over the network. Mobile device management solutions, for example, enable remote-wiping of sensitive data, while virtualized solutions can be used to prevent this content from being physically downloaded onto vulnerable devices.

By taking a network-centric approach, CIOs can realize the business goal of making more possible, rather than introducing new restrictions while at the same time minimizing risk and keeping costs in check.

With optimum combinations of devices supported, and order maintained via the network, CIOs can start to make real progress with other priorities of the business – such as enabling more dynamic knowledge sharing and information flow.

Be prepared
Today’s CIOs have their work cut out trying to maintain a single source of truth across a growing array of application and data layers - especially as companies embrace private, hybrid and public clouds.

The best way to maximize the benefits while limiting the costs and risks is to develop an enterprise-wide IT service organization which can bend and flex with the changing needs of the business. Again, for this to work effectively, and to ensure that resources are distributed and used economically, this service must be underpinned by a flexible, intelligent, unified platform.

Crucially, this strategy of focusing on a malleable IT infrastructure which can be repurposed, scaled, upgraded and managed via the network, rather than in a series of fixed silos, also enables companies to prepare for the unknown. As the rate of change continues to accelerate, spontaneous adaptability is vital.

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