Authored by Mike Walker, Enterprise Strategy and Architecture Chief IP Architect

In my last post, I was examining The Evolution of Today’s CIO  and What kind of CIO’s will transform businesses?, and how it has morphed into a more strategic, business-driven role than ever before—one that directly affects top-line business goals. Today, I want to dig deeper into what this means for the future of corporate IT. Regardless of CIO Profile (i.e., Optimizer, Transformative or Innovative), what will CIO’s priorities be over the next three years?

My prediction is that by 2015, there will be a groundswell of CIOs that will have morphed into “strategy athletes;” that is, a stronger/faster/savvier version of today's CIO. We’ll see more CIOs who are entrepreneurial, adapting to and initiating major business shifts, and carrying equal responsibility with the CEO. These executives will no longer be measured primarily by the scope of their innovation; they will also be held responsible for the same financial metrics of the other C-level execs. That isn’t to say that all will suddenly convert over into a Transformative CIO or even that it required for all either. But I do think that there will be a majority that will move into this space. Not because of desire but out of need. 

Converging Priorities

When we look at this there are two angles we need to come from. First the higher level strategic themes and objectives. This is where you will see soft or intangible goals that are meant to span across the entire enterprise and to last for more than one year. The second type of priority is the actionable tactical priorities and much more tangible goals and objectives. These tend to occur within a fiscal year and have very concrete success criteria.

Looking at the strategic priorities I see a convergence of IT and business strategy that means both the growth and innovation will be at the forefront of business decision making—but will the CEO and CIO be on the same page? According to IBM’s CIO study, The Essential CIO, it’s highly likely.

The IBM report, based on face-to-face conversations with more than 3,000 CIOs worldwide, found that the three key business issues that will be top-of-mind for both the CEO and the CIO in the coming years will be data (BI and analytics), people skills to manage growing organizational complexity, and client relationships.

As far for the second level of tactical priorities, there is variability in what I see as far as percentages on the predictions however the themes still stay the same. I would suspect that this is due in part by specific industry segments, their market needs and regulation.

So for these yearly priorities how do these joint CEO/CIO business priorities sync with CIO technology priorities? Will the core CIO agenda go out the window? Hardly. According to Gartner’s 2012 CIO Survey, CIOs have reported that they expect to spent 46% more over last year, and 61% plan to improve their companies’ mobile functions. The top technology priority, BI and analytics, is right in line with the business priorities, and mobile and virtualization (cloud) rank 2nd and 3rd, respectively.

The respondents to a 2012 IDG CIO survey had a slightly more focused take: Nearly 40% indicated that cloud services would take top priority moving forward. And the IBM group? They put data, mobility, and the cloud at the top of their lists.

CIO Priority Projection

So what does this mean for the prioritization of IT spend between now and 2015? Well there is a lot of data out there with different priorities and subsequent rankings. There are three priorities that do surface to the top every time though. Those common priorities include:

  • Cloud – The cloud has finally emerged from the 2011 purgatory of supplier propaganda, and is now being taken seriously—very seriously—by CIOs around the globe. It’s proven to be a game-changer, making competitive advantage more easily attainable for organizations regardless of size.
  • Information – Once a very stale topic, BI is now going through a resurgence thanks to new technology innovation like cloud and social. We are seeing the legacy reporting and analytics morph into Big Data and Collaborative BI. These new trends are helping companies build better customer relationships, and drive new business. According to Gartner fellow Dave Aron, “It is about more data, faster data, and the ability to crunch it in faster time.” These new technology enablers are allowing this to occur.
  • Mobility – In order to maintain a growth trajectory regardless of economic climate, more and more businesses have realized that having an employee base that can work from anywhere is key. Laptops, smart phones, and tablet devices have become the new standard equipment for organizations focusing on growth and innovation.

And since we’re on the subject, it seems like just about everybody is thinking about the cloud to some extent these days. It started out as a rather enigmatic concept, and was a catalyst for many a heated discussion in the industry as it emerged in the late 1990s. Now that the technology is becoming more ubiquitous, the benefits of economy, scalability, and administration are more clear and concrete. And as we’ve seen from the research, it’s garnered a position of top priority with technical decision makers.

With more and more CIOs now ready, willing, and able to invest in the cloud, my next post will look at the strategies around cloud implementation, and how to make true value-driven investments in the cloud to support strategic business goals.