Never before has the role of chief information officer (CIO) been so ripe with possibilities — and challenges. No longer is the CIO only concerned with designing the IT infrastructure, and keeping the servers and internal networks up and running and free of viruses; today’s CIO is faced with even more strategic concerns that often influence the overall direction of the enterprise. In fact, some consider the CIO to be one of the most influential people in any organization, as he or she is usually in the position to effect true and lasting change on how the organization operates and will continue to operate into the future.
Such a position is not without its trials, though. While today’s CIOs face challenges across the spectrum, several stand out above others as the defining factors in how they will operate in 2014 and going forward.
Managing Mobile and Virtual Functions
Regardless of the size of the enterprise, the shift toward mobile and virtual environments is at the forefront of every CIO’s mind. We live in a mobile world, and between employees wanting to use their own devices to access company networks, and creating mobile environments that allow for efficient work flow and customer experience, IT departments have a number of important decisions to make. While in the past, organizations may have resisted mobile access, citing security risks or compatibility issues, those concerns are no longer adequate for avoiding the mobile takeover.
Compounding the issue is the marked shift toward virtualization — from cloud computing and software as service (SaaS) functions that allow for the delivery of one application across many devices, to virtualized servers, networks, storage devices and applications. CIOs have to make important decisions regarding how much IT infrastructure is located in house and how much is managed via colocation at Houston data centers, chief among them determining how much of the network is managed off-site. Other concerns include the impact of legacy applications, compliance concerns and the costs associated with creating the appropriate infrastructure.
It’s the age-old issue: IT departments are consistently being asked to do more with less money. Keeping up with the latest technology isn’t cheap, and CIOs are being challenged to find ways to maximize resources while ensuring IT needs are met. And the costs of expanding data centers and improving functionality go well beyond the physical equipment. Constructing an in-house data center, for example, places greater demands on power and cooling systems, therefore increasing costs. Additional security and personnel to manage the centers also contributes to the costs. Many CIOs are looking toward a hybrid model of in-house and external servers to effectively manage the processing needs of the business while keeping costs in check.
However, personnel remains a significant challenge. Qualified IT experts are not cheap, and competition is fierce for the best people. CIOs are often reluctant to expand their teams as well, noting growth has not yet returned to pre-recession rates. It’s this challenge of maintaining a qualified staff in the face of budget constraints that leads many CIOs to consider colocation services, as the fee includes qualified personnel to manage and maintain servers and other equipment.
Increased Security Risks
In the wake of several high-profile security breaches, if there is one issue that has every CIO concerned, it’s security. Every day, new and more sophisticated cyber risks appear. Even though security is a priority, many organizations simply cannot keep up with the ever-changing cybersecurity landscape. New technology, including diagnostic monitoring and digital forensics are helping even small businesses identify and mitigate security risks. Again, these tools require staff and money. Colocation is a solution for some companies, as providers are expected to offer the most stringent security protections, but for some companies, particularly those dealing with large amounts of personal data, security is still a serious and ongoing concern.
CIOs have more opportunities — and pressure — than before to bring their organizations into the 21st century and develop paradigms guiding operations for the foreseeable future. How they handle these challenges, and the myriad others that come their way, will determine the success or failure of their companies, and the future of enterprise computing.