CIOs Need to Reset Their Priorities

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    If you’re a CIO, and your top priority is managing your IT infrastructure, two things are going on. First, you’re almost certainly not having a whole lot of fun. Second, you’re working for an organization that is probably undervaluing you.

    That was my key takeaway from a recent conversation with Dave Link, founder and CEO of  ScienceLogic, a provider of monitoring software for hybrid IT environments in Reston, Va. Link is obviously eager to relieve you of your infrastructure management headaches, so that takeaway certainly didn’t come from an impartial observer. But it’s hard to take issue with the views he shared.

    Link did a good job of encapsulating the “transformational shift” that underlies the need for a lot of CIOs to reset their priorities:

    Over the last 10 years, CIOs have done a nice job virtualizing their infrastructures, which traditionally sat on dedicated servers. They embedded five or 10 dedicated servers within one virtualized server. That didn’t necessarily make things less complex to manage, but it did shrink data center size, and allowed people to have more flexibility in using computing power across applications, in a more efficient way.

    We’ve now shifted from that environment, Link said, to one in which organizations are achieving the goal of utility computing, where they can essentially pay for what they’re using:

    So consolidation of the data center was Step 1. Step 2 is to really transform the traditional legacy, on-premises data center by moving more of those resources to locations that are outside of the data center and into public cloud services. Companies now routinely have systems with applications running in their primary data centers, and applications running in public cloud services, creating a hybrid cloud.

    We saw this coming about four or five years ago, and pivoted our business, which had traditionally been managing virtualized infrastructures in legacy data centers. We started working on a cloud infrastructure, such that if a CIO wanted to have one way to manage infrastructure, no matter where he chose to put it, he really needed to understand operationally how things were behaving at a glance, no matter where it was. That’s a pretty foundational shift.

    What’s driving the shift, Link said, is the effort to achieve cost-effective service delivery:

    They really want to align compute capacity to the need in a real-time utility environment—pay for it when they’re using it, and not pay for it when they’re not using it. Driving toward a more efficient compute utilization, and a more efficient economic model around it, is something we’re seeing a massive shift to.

    But the thing that’s really tough for them is how to manage it when it starts sprawling. They’ve been dealing with internal sprawl by means of virtualization. Now they have cloud sprawl, and they’ve orchestrated a set of computing headaches that they’ve never seen before from a management perspective. Most companies that provide management solutions are really good at managing the cloud, or really good at managing legacy. But very few are good at managing both.

    The idea is that CIOs’ priorities have to shift, as well. But as I mentioned to Link, you can ask 10 different people what the CIO’s No. 1 priority should be, and you’re likely to get at least five or six different answers. So what’s his answer?

    I think if you talk to most CEOs, what they think a CIO should do is align the business with technology advancements, as rapidly as possible. Often, the CEO is trying to give some direction to the CIO. I had meetings last week with three different CIOs, and it’s interesting that what they commonly really want to focus on is the security layer, from a compliance perspective—protection of corporate assets and detection of vulnerabilities is what they’re worried about.

    And No. 2, they want to work on the application layer—they want to build applications that make a difference, that will improve productivity, or the top line, or back-office workflow. Those are the things they want to spend time on—they do not want to spend time on the infrastructure. They want to capture the benefits of public cloud sooner, faster.

    But at the same time, and we’ve been saying this for a while, as much as 80 percent of the IT budget is used to keep the lights on. They don’t want to do that anymore. They are so tired of just keeping things running—they want somebody else to take care of the infrastructure layer. That’s why you see this significant shift to public cloud.

    What all of this means, Link said, is that within the next 20 years, director of internal IT, or director of IT services, may not be a role anymore:

    Director of application innovation, director of security innovation—those are the titles that are starting to transcend what we’ve traditionally seen as somebody who keeps the internal infrastructure running. I might be more dramatic than others in taking that view, in terms of how long it’s going to take. We still have mainframes today, which is the infrastructure that I grew up on when I started my career, so these transitions do take time. But it seems as though we’re headed in that direction.

    A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.

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