The Top 5 Challenges CIOs Will Face In 2013

This is the time of year when every blogger puts out a "Top 5", or if they are prolific... a "Top 10" list of the top issues / challenges / opportunities / predictions / opinions that we bloggers feel is important.

This is my list.

These are the things that I believe should be at the top of my "Pay Attention" list, and I'm bold enough to say that they should be on yours too.

But before I get to it, let me go on the record with my problem with lists of this type.

We love to read "How To" blogs, and "Top 5" blogs but the problem is... they never convince us to actually change. It's likely because we dash through them at the speed of light along with the latest sports scores, tech news, or trying to follow which senior executive has been fired from a major technology company.

It's not your fault. You have a mountain of articles and information to deal with on a daily basis and don't have time to read it all. So you are picky.  You skim.

I suggest that for this one time, you take the time to read through this list and consider the impact it will have on your organization, your team, your staffing, your budget, and heck, even your career.

Go get a coffee or tea to savour while you read.  Don't worry, I'll wait for you to come back...

The first caveat is that I don't expect you to agree with me.  There is a considerable amount of my opinion here. All I ask is that you think on these issues before you hit the "Thumbs Down" button.

Secondly, don't be one of the hundreds of IT leaders I've met recently at conferences that are consigned to believing that their organization can't change, won't change, or has a culture that is resistant to change.

If you believe that, you will NEVER see the change you need.  As an IT leader, you are in the best position to influence change in your organization.  You may just not have the skills to do so yet.  But don't ever give up that your organization can't change.  You will need to be willing to gain a few more scars and callouses, but it is entirely achievable.

I should note that I didn't pull this list out of thin air.  It is based on excellent research from the folks at Gartner, Forrester, Info-Tech, Educause and a litany of other material I consume to stay on top of things.

What you are getting is the distilled list, in reverse David Letterman order.

#5 - Recognize you are at a crossroads in your career.
If you are still 'doing' IT the same way you were five years ago, then the first thing you need to do is admit you have a problem.  The world we work in is dramatically different, and it requires a new way of doing things.  If you can't get by this step and are uncomfortable with change, I would suggest that you review your 401K.

If you are an IT leader who has recognized that things are different?  That's the good news.  The bad news is that the end target isn't fully defined.  But as an IT leader you are in the best position possible to be a catalyst for change.

This is not a time for the faint of heart or those who want a quiet, comfortable career.

#4 - Surf the BYOD wave.

BYOD and the consumerization of technology are on everybody's radar these days.  The problem is that much of what I read (from the non-vendor community) appears to be is a "Bar the Gates!!" attitude or at the very least a resigned reluctance that people are going to bring in their own devices.

Rather than be resigned to this trend you should be embracing it.  Organizations such as Gartner have been talking about this for 5 years.  You really don't have an excuse not to be ready.

In our case, we now anticipate that every user on our network will consume 4 IP addresses (computer, phone, tablet, and one other device that is IP enabled) and we have built our underlying infrastructure to segment BYOD traffic from core enterprise traffic.

People want their corporate information, anytime, anywhere with any device.  You don't get to decide whether this is right or wrong.  You need to find a way to do it while keeping your data secure and stay in compliance.

#3 - Work on the "Right" stuff. Stop doing the "Wrong" stuff.

A few years ago at a conference, I heard Geoffrey Moore speak on strategy, and his presentation had a profound impact on my strategic IT planning.  He had a Johari window with the two axis labelled Non Mission Critical / Mission Critical, and Non-Differentiating / Differentiating.  (I wrote a whole post on this: The Most Important Post on Strategy You'll Ever Read)

He then asked us to plot our IT initiatives and projects on this chart.  There were a number of items in the upper left quadrant that were mission critical but didn't really differentiate our organization from our competitors (e.g. email). In the upper right quadrant there were a number of project that would ultimately provide our organization an edge over our competition (in our case our Data/BI initiative).

Geoffrey's simple message was this... spend your energy in the upper right quadrant, and look at outsourcing, or moving to a SaaS, IaaS, PaaS provider for the mission critical, but non differentiating quadrant.

For the non-mission critical or non-differentiating items in the lower quadrant, Mr. Moore suggested that we not spend much (if any) energy there.

How many CIOs do you know that won't give up 'control' of their email unless it's pried from their cold, dead fingers?  Are you one of them?

#2 - Find your voice. Be a valuable member of "the table".

Only one-third of higher education CIOs report directly to the President or Provost (EDUCAUSE) and the number seems to be declining.  Why are IT leaders being moved off the leadership team?

I've had way too many conversations with CIOs around how they are being marginalized, and that they have no voice, that the union is too inflexible, the culture is change resistant... and so on, and so on.  They feel that IT has been relegated to a maintenance role of keeping the lights on at the lowest cost.  They like what I write in my blog, but could never see themselves implementing some of the ideas I bring forward.

Unsurprisingly these same IT leaders can go on for (what seems like) hours about the feeds and speeds of their network, which computing or mobile platform is better (in their humble opinion) and how to tweak their Android device to make coffee in the morning while downloading all the content to their home media server.

The issue here is that the President, CEO and other executive really don't care about this stuff. If you "geek" them out, you won't get invited to the table.

You have to learn the language of the executive team and know what they need to accomplish. Then help them do it.  They want to know how you and your team will help them hit next quarter's sales targets. They want to know how we are assisting people to accomplish things at a lower cost, or more effectively than last year, and how that is going to help the organization move forward.

It is not an easy thing to de-geek, but it's very necessary and should be the second most important priority for next year.

#1 - Create a team of professional magic makers.

We cannot do this on our own.  We need our cadre of brilliant men and women on our team to pull this off.
In this changing world of IT, we truly need to become leaders and develop the members of our team.  To me, this is the single most important issue for you to address in the next year. While I could go on for hours about this topic, I'll try and keep it succinct.

What are you doing to find and keep the best people on your team?

What are you investing in skills development to keep up with emerging technologies and changing IT models?

Have you identified the skills gap on your team?  How are you going to address it?  Training? Recruiting?

Does your team feel empowered?  Do you tell them 'how' to do things as well as 'what' and 'when'?

Do you hire people that are smarter than you?

Do you trust your team?  Would they say you do?

OK, I'll quit... but I think you know where I stand on this. I spend more time on this than I do on technology issues.  It's the reason that my current crew is producing results of teams twice their size and twice their budget.

If you are going to thrive in 2013 (and not just survive), then I am convinced you need to address these 5 areas.  I'm really not minimizing the effort and tenacity it will take, but the results are so worth it.

Happy Holidays! and all the best to you in the new year!