The IT media machine — jolly journalists, grave analysts, and energetic marketers — is hard at work cranking out technology predictions for the coming year. It’s a traditional part of the holiday season. It’s expected. My holiday gift to you is to spare you the chore of slogging through all those top 10 lists and offer instead (or in addition) one annotated amalgamation of three of the most oft-cited predictions. And because you’ve been so good this year, and because you care, I will also give you the gift of insight into how these trends will affect your CIO.

1. The consumerization of IT.
This is high on the list for all business and technology pundits and number two for Michael Friedenberg, CEO at CIO magazine. He writes, “Far beyond device management and bring-your-own-technology, businesses will feel the force of social, mobile, cloud, user interface design, and gamification.”

I was talking to a CIO whose company has been on an acquisition spree for decades, and her IT budget is dedicated to a comprehensive integration strategy. She described consumerization as a “tsunami of demand on the verge of obliterating every other IT project on the beach.” During the past 20 years or so, CIOs got a decent head start when adopting new technologies: most often, a business leader would make a request, which the CIO would then explore, evaluate, and, if it seemed appropriate, introduce and implement in a relatively gradual way. The adoption of consumer technologies is a very different process. These technologies, such as iPhones, tablets, and social media, achieve widespread adoption before they enter the enterprise. That leaves the IT organization — and the CIO — scrambling to catch up, scrambling to integrate these new technologies into the enterprise system, and scrambling to secure and support them, often at the cost of pursuing other projects on the CIO’s to-do list.

The impact of consumerization on the CIO has already been and will continue to be tremendous. If your CIO is a good one — someone who has great relationships with the business, a solid team, and that greatly desired blend of technology, strategy, and leadership skills — she will go once more into the breach and capitalize on all that consumerization has to offer: cutting-edge, usable technology that your employees are comfortable with, making them happier and more productive. But if she doesn’t, if your CIO fails to deliver value in the last wave of computing, your entire enterprise may find itself beached and battered by the waves, not riding them.

CFOs should understand that to meet the challenge of consumerization, your CIO may need to forge new relationships with sales and marketing, and that may mean devoting less energy to finance and operations, traditionally the consumer of the lion’s share of IT resources.

2. Data, data everywhere.
“Big data” also ranks high on 2012 technology trend lists. Big data, a much-hyped term that describes very large data, heterogeneous data sets that are no longer manageable by a traditional relational database approach, is (the experts agree) going to be a key competitive advantage in 2012 — for those organizations that do it right. Here’s how a slideshow on ITBusinessEdge puts it: “Soon, analytics tools will think ahead for decision makers by looking at huge stores of data from a variety of sources and finding the connections that can fix problems or increase revenues. Analytics will become part of the desktop toolkit for all knowledge workers.”

The push for developing business intelligence via big data creates a number of challenges for your CIO. Chief among them are: (1) Fighting the battle of data ownership. For most CIOs, the data problem is not technical, it’s political. Who owns customer data in a diversified group of businesses? What kind of data does the business value the most? These are big-business questions the CIO must have answers to before building a big data integration and business-intelligence strategy. But she can’t answer them without the coordinated attention of the business. If business executives are not participating in discussions about data ownership and data priorities, your CIO won’t be able to provide the information your company needs most or furnish it in digestible form. (2) The need for new talent. Take it from a recruiter, great data architects are in short supply. They’re out there, but it takes a dedicated recruiting and retention strategy to attract them and keep them happy. If IT people are second-class citizens in your organization when it comes to training and retention, CFOs might want to rethink that.

3. Cloud computing.
I almost hate to say it, but 2012 will not be the year the clouds blow away. In fact, we’ll hear even more about them. Cloud computing, as I am sure you know by now, is an umbrella term for delivering hosted services over the Internet: applications, platforms, infrastructure, and data-center services. According to Gartner’s 2012 forecast as recounted by InformationWeek, “By 2015, low-cost cloud services will cannibalize up to 15% of top outsourcing players’ revenue.”

Many CIOs will be tempted by the savings offered by low-cost cloud providers and will break free from their traditional outsourcing partners. Getting into the sandbox (or boxing ring) with new providers, they will have to beef up their vendor-management organizations and take a new look at security. Even CIOs who stay with their traditional providers as beta customers of their new cloud services will need to invest time and energy into new licensing models and service-level agreements, especially concerning security. When it comes to the cloud, the rules are still Wild West.

The ability business leaders will have to reach out and download a new cloud service — without the assistance (or sometimes even the knowledge) of the IT organization — will only increase in 2012, which is how the vendors like it. This means the CIO will have to figure out how to keep all of those services integrated and secure. If CFOs do not have an “embedded” IT person in all their major functions and units, they should think about that. CIOs are developing “business-relationship manager” types who walk and talk like businesspeople so that IT can get as close to the business as possible to keep an eye on all those cloud investments. CFOs should get behind that trend.

Whether you are in manufacturing or financial services or consumer goods, 2012, which promises a continuation of turbulent economic times at home and abroad, will likely bring additional pressure for cost containment and revenue growth. For IT, this means that the perennial supply-versus-demand challenge will only intensify. Your gift to your CIO this year? Communication, attention, and an understanding that technology is going through a paradigm shift that rivals the change from mainframe to client-server. But unlike that revolution, the current economic climate does not allow for full-scale adoption of all that’s shiny and new. Budgets are tighter, but the need for good IT is greater still, and the opportunity to seize the benefits of consumerization, big data, and the cloud is out there for smart, strategic organizations. So, yes, Happy Holidays!

Martha Heller is president of Heller Search Associates, a CIO and senior IT executive recruiting firm, and a contributing editor to CIO magazine. Follow Martha on twitter: @marthaheller.

 

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