20 Innovative Ways IT Can Impact the Business in 2015

20 Innovative Ways IT Can Impact the Business in 2015

The business perceptions of the overall “need” of the IT department have shifted. In the face of shadow IT, the IT department can no longer survive solely as a necessary cost center.

“Internal IT needs to step up and lead the corporate digital transformation,” said Marc Malizia (@MarcM0313), CTO of RKON Technologies.

“Business solutions – not technical constraints – should drive technology decisions so that data and applications can best serve the business,” concurred Ginna Raahauge (@GinnaRaahauge), CIO at Riverbed.

For the past four years we’ve been hearing the mantra “IT must serve the business.” Although how IT supports the business has changed year over year. To understand what to expect we reached out to industry experts for their New Year recommendations.

1: Start thinking like a software company even if you’re not

“Everyone’s customers today are leading increasingly digital lifestyles. If it hasn’t happened already, it won’t be long before you’re forced to deliver your offerings as some kind of digital product or experience. Whether you call it ‘digital transformation’ or the ‘application economy,’ your customers’ rising expectations are going to stretch your IT group in entirely new ways,” said Michael Klynstra (@mjkmjkmjk), vice president of marketing for Geneca. “IT needs to step up and take a leadership role in working with the business team to understand how to industrialize their ability to create software-driven products and services.”

2: Get your data house in order

“All businesses want a 360-degree view of their stakeholders, which are their suppliers, customers and employees. The challenge is gaining access to all of this accumulated information, which is often stored in multiple locations in different formats and hard to access,” said Fred Kirwin, business systems analyst for Eliassen Group.

“Despite the promise of (infatuation with?) business analytics, it’s still the case of ‘garbage in, garbage out,’” warned Don MacLennan (@DonMacLennan), CEO of Bluenose. “Data
stewardship remains something the line of business buyers cannot solve for themselves.”

“As data grows, companies are realizing that supporting larger amounts of data by deploying a larger server is no longer sustainable,” said Chris Gladwin (@Cleversafe), founder and vice chairman of Cleversafe.

“One emerging technology, data virtualization, is solving this data hurdle problem. Data virtualization eliminates the enormous infrastructure, bureaucracy and time drag that it takes to provision data for development environments,” said Kyle Hailey (@kylehhailey), performance architect at Delphix, who notes that their data virtualization solution is already being used by 100 of the Fortune 500 and they’ve seen application development productivity increase from 20 to 50 percent.

“IT needs to solve data management issues so that businesses can ensure adoption and satisfaction of innovations such as Internet of Things, wearables, M2M, and other real-time apps,” said Sean Bowen (@seanatpush), CEO and co-founder of Push Technology.

3: Create some actionable use of Big Data

“The value of any business today resides in its data. We’re constantly producing it, exchanging it with customers and partners, and then we often store under-utilized information in a data warehouse, never to be seen again,” noted Matt Miszewski (@mattmiszewski), senior vice president of sales and marketing for Digital Realty.

For example, “process improvement still happens manually, which is unbelievable given that so much data is collected through the IT systems that support these processes,” said Anne Rozinat (@arozinat), co-founder of Fluxicon.

“There is tremendous value hidden within free-form content. From survey responses to call center records and every tweet in between, extracting insight from this content is like panning for gold. Harness the power of these nuggets to track vital market trends, provide early signs of product or service issues, and respond quickly,” advised Dave King (@daveking123), president of Confirmit Americas. “Ignoring such insights is not an option.”

4: Empower end users with access to real-time business analytics

“IT can enable the democratization of analytics as they hold the technology needed to optimize both the time it takes to provision data to business users and the governance of data they’re accessing,” said Drew Rockwell (@Lavastorm_CEO), CEO for Lavastorm Analytics.

“Organizations will begin to rethink permission systems and put technologies and practices in place that will allow employees ubiquitous access to a broader set of data housed in the cloud,” projected Nathaniel Borenstein (@drmime), chief scientist for Mimecast.

“Business intelligence and business analytics are being placed in the hands of everyone in a ‘self-service’ model for operationalizing data,” noted Jake Freivald (@infobldrs), vice president of marketing for Information Builders. “Let non-technical end-users make informed business decisions quickly with accurate information.”

“When you do that at scale across an organization, you’ve not only identified hundreds of potential improvements, you’ve also started to foster a culture of ownership,” explained Ellie Fields (@eleanorpd), vice president of product marketing for Tableau.

5: Digitize and track all transactions for better targeted actions

“We’re going to see a rise in analytics around collaboration services as organizations call for more control, intelligence, and visibility around the information they’re distributing and the content employees are creating and consuming,” said Stuart Cochran (@stuartjcochran), CTO for Huddle.

Analytics-enabled digital document distribution empowers your staff with all types of interaction insight. For example, as Cochran notes, salespeople can see when and where a document is opened and read, giving them the opportunity to respond in real time. Or if there’s a long forgotten proposal that all of a sudden has a lot of opens it shows a customer’s renewed interest, alerting the salesperson that now would be the time to follow up.

6: Analytics-based security response program

“Corporations will be better protected if their security infrastructure is programmable allowing them to quickly adapt, respond, and move forward seamlessly as these types of widespread hacks and vulnerabilities unfortunately become the norm,” explained Karl Triebes (@Triebes), CTO of F5 Networks.

“We will see analytics-enabled SOCs (security operations centers) driving cybersecurity strategy and shaping today’s incident response,” said Haiyan Song, senior vice president of security market at Splunk. “Security teams will move away from a rules-based-SIEM (security information and event management) view, and link together all kinds of auto-processing information.”

7: Drive customer service

“Today, CIOs need to be part of every customer touch point,” said Mark Cattini (@Autotask), president and CEO of Autotask.

“Unfortunately, the overall enthusiasm to go digital results in web, social, and mobile channels that are poorly integrated or difficult to use,” noted Andrew Home, managing director for CEB.

“IT needs to help ensure coherent customer experiences across channels supported by processes that deliver a seamless journey from promise to fulfillment,” said Don Schuerman (@donpega), CTO for Pegasystems.

“Specifically, IT can positively impact a business by investing in solutions that provide greater visibility into existing customers,” said Praful Saklani (@pramatacorp) co-founder and CEO of Pramata, who notes that according to a Bain & Company study, a five percent gain in retention can increase a company’s profitability between 25 and 95 percent.

“IT teams can use data visualization technologies to discover patterns and relationships in unstructured information flows, such as hidden connections between people, documents, messages and timelines,” explained Alexis Clark, data scientist for Recommind.

8: IT spending and transparency for the business

“In 2015, IT buying power will disperse more and more to business unit leads (i.e., CMOs, HR directors, general counselors), moving away from sole CIO ownership,” said Chris Ortbals (@SungardAS), vice president, services product management at Sungard Availability Services.

In addition, “IT outsourcing contracts have slowly shifted from effort based models to outcome and consumption based models. This shift is enabling IT to better align capabilities and assets to business outcomes and providing business the ability to manage their IT spend,” said Steve Hall (@StevenHALL_ISG), partner, global strategy lead with Information Services Group (ISG). “Transparency provides significant value to organizations that fully embrace it by enabling business execs to make clear technology business investments that are directly aligned with the key growth areas and strategies.”

9: Empower business to develop their own mobile apps

“The demand for mobile apps is growing exponentially and putting tremendous pressure on IT,” said Burley Kawasaki, senior vice president of products at Kony.

If you’re not already there, demand for app development will soon outstrip supply. To save yourself from the inevitable, Kawasaki suggests using “codeless” model-driven mobile app development which will empower non-coders to rapidly assemble and configure enterprise mobile apps themselves.

“IT can now teach their business how to fish vs. just giving them a fish,” said Kawasaki.

10: Uncover the business value of the help desk

“With the exception of ‘maybe’ finance, no department within any organization has as much cross-departmental visibility as IT,” noted Chris Poe (@ChrisPoe), CIO of Atrion Networking Corporation.

“IT service data is often considered the most mundane, overlooked source of insight. The truth is that it’s like the central nervous system of the enterprise, extending to every part of the business and to every connected device,” noted Gaurav Rewari (@grewari), CEO and co-founder for Numerify.

Using this data you can easily increase efficiency, decrease the cost of service delivery, and uncover new areas of growth, noted Rewari.

11: Use crowdsourcing to build user experience prototypes

“Crowdsourcing is a secret weapon. Use your own employees, or tap into a public crowdsourcing platform, to build user experience prototypes,” suggested Glenn Weinstein (@GlennWeinstein), CIO at Appirio. “Do this before you start picking specific technologies for the project.”

Appirio recently challenged their community to design a profile page for an internal gamification system. The audience participated and they got tons of ideas, and ultimately picked a winner.

“The winning design was incorporated directly into our final product,” said Weinstein. “All the internal software team had to do was wire up the page to back-end services and data.”

12: Deploy smart technologies for more efficient marketing communications

There’s a growing need “to build adaptable digital engagement solutions that encompass the entire customer journey across all consumer touch points,” said Jonathan Brassington (@LiquidHub), CEO and co-founder of LiquidHub. “Forward-thinking CIOs will utilize technology with high-end marketing capabilities to help facilitate better customer engagement, creating unrealized opportunities to build loyalty and attract new customers.”

“Smart technologies will not only create a consumer profile that enables targeted messaging in real-time, but by providing predictive future analysis, smart technologies also allow business to pre-target future behavior,” said Shekhar Deo, co-founder and CTO of EngageClick. “An example of this would be a seamless transition from marketing maternity clothes to a female consumer to marketing baby clothes.”

13: Let employees use the tools they want to use

“Historically IT departments lacked choice in the tools they enabled because only cumbersome tools like SharePoint and legacy filers satisfied internal compliance and security needs,” said Yuri Sagalov (@Yuris), CEO of AeroFS.

“No matter how well-provisioned IT mandates may be, employees ignore them in favor of easier ways to get work done,” noted Matthew Dornquast (@dornquast), co-founder and CEO at Code42.

“IT would benefit by understanding not only how their employees communicate in the workplace but also how employees communicate in their personal lives,” said Zaw Thet (@zawthet), partner with Signia Venture Partners.

“In 2015, IT can (and will) directly improve productivity and innovation by embracing how employees choose to interact with data,” said Code42’s Dornquast, “And adopting policies and technology in support of a better employee experience.”

“By minimizing constraint, giving employees choice, and being able to analyze their activity, IT will have the potential to increase productivity and workflow exponentially,” said Rajesh Ram (@ramrajesh), co-founder and vice president of product at Egnyte.

14: Develop a cloud first strategy

“Stop buying equipment that becomes obsolete before it’s barely beyond the break-in period. Eliminate over/under purchasing of gear and licensing. Pay for compute capacity only as needed,” advised Adam Stern, founder and CEO of Infinitely Virtual.

“2014 will go down as the year we turned the corner and accelerated the growth to standard cloud adoption at the enterprise level,” projected ISG’s Steve Hall.

“Organizations need to pivot from a cloud potential mindset to a cloud first strategy,” said Trevor Hellebuyck (@thellebuyck), CTO for Metalogix. “With a fully-enacted cloud first strategy to solving business problems CIOs can shift focus as IT transforms from a cost center that manages infrastructure to an organization that develops innovative and cost-effective business solutions.”

“If a public cloud is not an option, deploy an orchestration platform that can turn both virtual and physical infrastructure into an IaaS cloud for easy reuse, modeling, and sharing of whole environments,” said Alex Henthorn-Iwane (@heniwa), vice president, marketing at QualiSystems.

15: Embrace SaaS solutions

“The ‘build first’ mentality that dominated corporate IT for decades is on its way out, thanks to most vendors offering subscription cloud services for end user applications,” said Leo Reiter (@VirtualLeo), CTO of Nimbix, who also noted that most of these SaaS products are also mobile-enabled.

Mike Butts (@MikeButts), director of product marketing at KnoahSoft, suggests you “work side-by-side with vendors to tailor a solution that meets your unique business requirements and take full responsibility for ensuring that you get full ROI from the solution.”

“Look for collaboration solutions that help enforce existing policies and processes and that impose encryption, IRM, and other approaches to protecting valuable IP,” said Daren Glenister (@DarenGlenister), field CTO for Intralinks.

“Convince other executives to make investments now in modern, more agile, cloud-based solutions for back office systems such as billing, BI, HR, etc.,” said Brendan O’Brien (@brendan0606), chief evangelist and co-founder for Aria Systems. “Modern back office solutions put the burden of ‘customization’ in the hands of business users via configuration mechanisms and take engineers out of the equation.”

16: Leverage a private cloud for growth

“Develop a strategy to build a private, on premise cloud, that allows for automated provisioning and rapid scaling,” advised RKON Technologies’ Malizia. “A cloud management tool, such as OpenStack, should be leveraged to enable management of the on-site cloud, as well as foster the integration to public cloud providers. This platform will allow quick and agile provisioning of systems on the internal private cloud, while providing the ability to burst to the public cloud to address the overflow demands of the business quickly and economically.”

17: Know what to turn off

“IT activities that ‘keep the lights on’ consume precious resources. Some IT organizations allocate more than 80 percent of their budgets and talent to simply maintaining the status quo. Eliminating valueless assets gives IT newfound time and capital to keep pace or even lead business innovation. Business owes it to IT to identify what is no longer needed or valuable,” said Bob Dvorak (@bobdvorak), president and founder of KillerIT, a division of Forsythe Technology.

“On average, 28 percent of all deployed software is unused while $224 in wasted licenses sits completely unused on every PC. A conservative estimate of the total cost of the deployed yet unused software within companies of 500+ desktops is $6.6B in the US,” said Sumir Karayi (@1E_Global), CEO of 1E, the firm that conducted the study. “By gaining complete visibility into their software estate, organizations can effectively manage their software assets on an ongoing basis to accurately measure application usage, reclaim unused or prohibited software, and redeploy licenses as needed, while ensuring full software vendor compliance.”

18: Where there is less value, dare to be adequate

“To free up resources and mindshare to devote to areas where IT can have maximum impact, CIOs should systematically reduce the time and investment in less impactful IT activities,” suggested CEB’s Home. “This requires a clear-sighted view of IT’s sources of comparative advantages, and frank conversations with leaders elsewhere in the business about where IT need to be leading-edge and where ‘good enough IT is good enough.’”

19: Don’t let improvement become the enemy of innovation

“It may seem heretical to suggest, but our bias towards continuous improvement may actually impede innovation,” said Bask Iyer (@baskiyer), CIO at VMware“IT professionals need to look at every situation and ask why we should be content with continuous improvement. Why not push for game-changing innovation instead? If you set the expectation to a 5 percent or 10 percent improvement, that’s all you are likely to get. But if you set the expectation for transformational innovation – and foster the process – you might just get it.”

20: Build an app-centric IT environment

“By driving this app-centric ethos, organizations are putting performance first and employees can perform their job duties faster and more effectively to generate profit,” said Joel Dolisy (@solarwinds), CIO for SolarWinds. “Organizations can excel in an app-centric IT environment by enabling IT to build deep troubleshooting capabilities to identify issues with latent applications and proactively break down traditional IT silos that prevent full visibility into the application stack.”

Intermedia president Michael Gold (@Intermedia_net) fears that the explosion in application use will cause productivity to dwindle as it will take significant time to deploy and manage numerous applications.

“IT needs to look into services that streamline the process of administering and managing applications to boost overall productivity,” said Gold.

All this does not come without risk as Jonathan Dambrot (@PrevalentNet), CEO and co-founder of Prevalent notes you must manage third-party risk through the entire vendor lifecycle. He advises a standardization process for automating 3rd party cybersecurity monitoring and evidence collection.

Conclusion – IT positioned to be the primary driver of innovation

“IT must recognize that it is now the primary driver for innovation throughout the business and must be prepared to support that via accelerated rollout of functionality in every domain — cloud, mobile, social, and IoT,” said Bernard Golden (@bernardgolden), vice president of strategy at ActiveState.

“By demonstrating the ability to rapidly meet the demands of the business, the CIO will move upstream to driving innovation, not simply implementing it after the decisions have been made by other organizational leaders,” said RKON Technologies’ Malizia.

DISCLOSURE: David Spark and his company Spark Media Solutions worked with Riverbed, ActiveState, and Juniper Networks.