Technology is the backbone of many enterprises. It is also a double edged sword if you are a CIO: everyone within the business relies on your team to deliver agility, services and insights, and you are constantly under scrutiny for the capabilities of company’s technology infrastructure and associated costs. In order to ‘keep the peace’ and create an efficient and successful business, CIOs are being required to develop their IT applications and infrastructure in a way that facilitates change quickly and easily – something that traditional methods of creating software simply do not allow.
Growing pressure from the business team demanding constant, immediate innovation (and for a reduced cost) has mandated an even closer collaboration between business and IT, and led to a significant ‘greying of the lines’ between the roles of the C-suite. It is no longer simply the CIO that has a vested interest in the IT infrastructure of the company, but the CMO who is looking to develop new software applications to maximise sales and marketing, or the CFO who looks to technology to offer ways to analyse risks and costs to make the company more efficient. The CIO stands at a crossroads within the business and must position himself as the bridge between business and IT – creating a common language to make the continuous and coordinated changes that are needed for the business to evolve and adapt quickly to market developments, without the need for (and cost of) wholesale system replacement.
CIOs must prove their value
Speed is becoming a key differentiator in business, whether to meet new regulatory deadlines or be the first to market with a new business idea. In 2006 for example, there was no iPhone; now in 2012 there are over half a billion iPhone apps. No wonder there is a great deal of pressure on the IT department to cut software development cycles (that once took years) to months, particularly as the economic downturn means that it is only short-term project expenditure that will likely be approved. While for start-ups and smaller businesses this may be possible without too much difficulty, for larger and more established enterprises making this kind of cultural and technological shift is far more difficult – especially when using traditional software development methods.
Moreover, many businesses continue to be challenged by data silos that have been created due to numerous legacy systems built up over time or through acquisition. This can prove a considerable challenge when looking to utilise valuable data to improve business insight, drive sales or to prove regulatory compliance.
For instance, when analysing a report on the day’s sales, a CMO might need to analyse the purchase basket of a segment of customers. However, if the systems (or databases) from which he needs to source this information cannot communicate with each other, the CMO may not be easily able to provide a holistic view of the customers’ purchase baskets. The technical nature of many of our IT platforms means that it does not always serve business needs. This restricts business users’ progress in using technology to ultimately improve business growth/profitability.
Meanwhile, CEOs are looking to the CIO to make a direct impact on business goals from every investment they make in technology. For the CIO, if their business IT does not have the capabilities to build applications quickly or process the high data volumes that modern enterprises generate, they find that their businesses lag behind more agile competitors, and the value of their position comes under scrutiny by the board.
The challenge therefore that the CIO now faces is that of ensuring that the business IT infrastructure is compatible with business demands, thereby removing the communication difficulties that often arise when business logic is transformed into code.
Businesses suffer from ‘Chinese whispers’ when building applications
Developing new technology infrastructure and applications is usually too slow to adequately serve business needs. Projects can be slow from the start due to ‘Chinese whispers’ between the planning and execution stages of a new software application, with IT programmers asking business colleagues to complete detailed requirements documents. Even with agile development processes that have become popular in recent years, traditional approaches to application development still do not serve non-technical business users. Hieroglyphic coding and syntax heavy technologies can make even seemingly simple new software applications difficult to deploy. But new approaches to enterprise application development that simplify archaic coding offer CIOs the power to overcome this hurdle and thus position IT at the very core of the business.
Today’s CIO is barraged with a litany of different technologies to choose from when looking to adapt IT infrastructure to reflect these modern-day business needs. The first option has traditionally been bespoke software development using coding frameworks such as Java or .Net. Even when accurately conducted, coding from scratch is a significant investment that can become an unwieldy, risky and time-consuming journey. For even relatively simple projects, a business may need to hire a handful of subject matter experts to manage front-end web applications, database processes and other technologies.
A second approach often considered is to customise enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to fulfil new requirements. However, more often than not, organisations have a highly complex IT landscape despite an ERP system already running at its core. ERP systems can lack the flexibility required for new applications, not match a company’s proprietary processes and customising these platforms is well known to be slow and expensive.
Alternatively, some companies choose to integrate best-of-breed components – combining tools for discrete functions such as data integration, a business process management, a business rules engine or an enterprise service bus. This approach may accelerate application development until the process of combining or maintaining the different sub-components of an application becomes inefficient. The cost of maintaining a series of disparate technologies and relationships with multiple suppliers is enough to force many CIOs to run away very quickly.
Recently, some vendors have started to offer solutions that combine many of these components to provide enterprises with a comprehensive application development platform overcoming the burden of integrating disparate technologies. These enterprise application platforms now include the capabilities to not only design new business processes but also manage the complex logic and high-volume data processing enterprises now require. They enable CIOs to implement new applications without overhauling the entire IT infrastructure.
This enterprise application platform approach to development often carries the support from members of the increasingly tech-savvy board for a variety of different reasons. With extensive application and data integration facilities, these platforms remove the need to replace whole legacy systems or re-design entire IT infrastructures. This reduces project risk and frequently appeals to the CFO, who can demonstrate cost-advantages over traditional approaches. Similarly for business users such as the CMO, these platforms are able to integrate and process data from a multitude of sources, and often include business-friendly interfaces, meaning that they empower business teams to control application logic and to achieve insights from data.
CIOs who wish to lead their businesses forward must look to quick and agile new approaches to developing IT systems whilst maintaining or even reducing current expenditure. This does not need to be the daunting challenge that it seems. With new approaches to software development that combine business-friendly graphical interfaces with leading data processing performance, enterprises have the tools needed to quickly and collaboratively develop applications that service their businesses.
CIOs are standing at the crossroads and must prove their value to the business by driving innovation with the smart use of new technologies and delivering value for money in their investment in IT.
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