Developers, IT managers and chief executives — and of course tech vendors — spend a lot of time trying to second guess.
I'm chairing a CIO conference at the moment and we've been asking the assembled IT chiefs to come up with the three key issues that are facing them as CIOs and business executives.
It's not an exhaustive list — it reflects the issues of a particular group of executives at a particular time — but I think it's a fascinating snapshot of what CIOs are worrying about right here, right now.
I've taken the list, tidied it and divided into tactical and strategic challenges — as in, the stuff that's giving CIOs headaches today and the stuff they're worried about in the longer term. Clearly, there's quite a lot of crossover between the two.
- BYOD - in terms of questions around personal ownership, employee satisfaction, and risk versus need
- Successful merger and acquisition integration
- Justifying legacy upgrades
- Getting value from outsourcing providers, managing those relationships, how to avoid loss of sovereignty when outsourcing
- Big data, both in terms of internal data and external data
- Dealing with shadow IT
- Integrating cloud and inhouse operations, and understanding the liability of cloud providers
- Ensuring IT security
- Reducing opex
- Data quality
- Dealing with the demand for innovation and telling the difference between cutting-edge and bleeding-edge, and dealing with the risk involved
- How to stop IT being viewed as a commodity
- Reducing complexity
- Managing expectations
- Presenting IT as an enabler
- Engaging with the business
- Talent management
So what does this list tell us about the trials and tribulations of the modern CIO? Firstly it's worth noting there really isn't much technology on this list — I don't see any mentions of specific vendors or point releases or hardware (nobody complaining about Windows 8 or iPads, for example).
Some of the tactical stuff is also business as usual – managing acquisitions is always a headache and one that CIOs are faced with on a regular basis, and something that no one technology is ever likely to fix.
Some of the issues are a reflection of IT industry fashion: that's how I'd categorise CIOs wondering what to do about big data, for example.
Others reflect current practice in the industry: outsourcing continues to dominate, hence the focus on managing those relationships effectively.
And, inevitably, cloud is throwing up a very similar set of issues for the CIO, around control and liability and integration, that outsourcing did before it.
BYOD was in issue raised by many, many CIOs and that's probably because it's an issue that they have to deal with right now, whether because of the potential to cut cost or because of pressure from staff (or the board) to implement it.
It's also interesting that shadow IT gets a look in, too, which is a broader issue of disintermediation for the IT department.
And the more strategic, longer term issues tell a story too. About CIOs who want to take business advantage of the latest technologies, without risking the firm on something too bleeding edge. CIOs who want to engage fully with the rest of their organisation, reduce the complexity of their companies while inspiring their teams.
And yes, they still agonise about their place in the world in terms of proving their relevance and worth to the business. Sure, it sounds like an impossible wishlist, and some of those issues haven't changed in decades, but CIOs are still struggling with how to resolve them.
What do you think? Have CIOs got their priorities right? Let me know by posting a reader comment below.