CIOs should embrace consumer tools, Forrester says

The consumerization of IT, the rise of agile software development and the explosion of cloud computing technologies are three big trends that today’s CIOs must embrace, a group of analysts at Forrester Research Inc. said Tuesday.


Speaking to global CIOs in a virtual panel discussion, the research firm argued that these emerging trends are important cogs in information technology’s shift toward “business technology” and none of them should be resisted.


Sharyn Leaver, a research director covering IT leadership with Forrester, said this shift will drive CIOs to expand IT’s focus on business enablement. This will change IT from a project management organization to a consultant or broker to the business, she said, which means the delivery of services might not necessarily be coming from the IT department itself.


Tech populism


The influx of consumer products in the enterprise has been staggering over the last decade, with smart phones and laptops now being joined by social media and collaboration tools like Google Docs, Twitter, SmartSheet, and WebEx.


Ted Schadler, a principal analyst focusing on real-time collaboration tools with Forrester, said avoiding this trend and trying to prevent these technologies from entering the organization is a career-limiting move for any CIO. He added that Forrester research has found employees typically use online apps to get access to features and functions they need to do their job and to solve customer problems.


“I asked you for help, you’re unable to help me, but here’s the Web site that can do what I need,” he said, referring to a frequently recurring discussion between employees and their IT shops.


While it’s important not to simply “release the hounds” and let everything into the enterprise, the CIOs that outsource some of this app procurement to employees will be the most successful in the future, according to Schadler. When you have 450 business units, it’s impossible to pick the right apps in all areas, Schadler added.


“Outsource it to employees,” he said. “What you need to do is draft an inventory and make sure you know what’s going on.”


In addition to creating this “watch list,” CIOs should also focus on scale, he said, acting more like a “chief service officer” or “chief process officer.”


As for security, a move to data centre security as opposed to application-centric security might also be necessary, Schadler added.


Lean software


An agile software development philosophy aims to build and roll out applications quickly and to meet an immediate need. Of course, while these apps should have an eye for the future, the idea of buying up a suite of all-encompassing products or working on massive, multi-year IT projects should be a thing of the past.


John Rymer, a principal analyst with Forrester specializing on middleware for the enterprise, referred to the rise of lean software as a developer-led counter-culture driven by Web 2.0 and open source technologies.


“It’s about delivering the right product, providing hard values, and simplifying the platform,” he said.


To get with the agile software development program, Rymer said, CIOs must start changing the way an IT project team is put together. This means that IT people should be interacting with the business people that will eventually use the app.


Other key components to creating lean software: use as much open source as possible, shorten the maintenance cycle to no more than six months to a year, and set project deadlines to three or four months.


“You need a big emphasis on executing for today, with an eye to the future,” Rymer said.


The design of an applications’ interface is also crucially important when moving to lean software, he added. The interfaces must have a very narrow and specialized purpose as opposed to what you would find in a big, broad product.


Rymer added that this shift will impact enterprise architects as well, forcing them to change into real-time architects. “They have to be willing to have applications evolve and way more quickly than before,” he said.


Cloud computing


The cloud computing hype machine seems to be getting bigger every day, which might actually be overwhelming for some. But according to Rymer, the cloud value proposition is simply too good to ignore for today’s CIOs, and the technology should be encouraged in many situations.


The software-as-a-service market is actually a lot more mature than most people think, Rymer said. In the SaaS category, some products have been out for years and are actually very well tested. Examples include Cisco’s WebEx, Google Apps, Microsoft Exchange Online, and


For Schadler, the benefits to cloud computing include deployment speed, better financial alignment, reduced outsourcing hassles, a safety value for peak computing times, and potentially lowered operational costs.


E-mail applications, batch jobs, testing and Q&A, Web 2.0-style collaboration tools, and back-office transaction systems are all systems which CIOs should feel comfortable running in the cloud, Schadler.


“Disaster recovery is also a good place to use the cloud because it lives somewhere else,” he added.


Because of compliance and regulatory risks, Schadler said, apps that manage sensitive data or require tight integration should probably be left on-premise for now.

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