Common Sense?
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Common Sense?

By Michael Mayta, CIO, City of Wichita

Michael Mayta, CIO, City of Wichita

Everyone has a cloud, mobile and big-data first strategy and it sounds extremely impressive. You can’t review email without seeing digital disruption, digital transformation, bimodal IT, waterfall, agile, cybersecurity, the list goes on and on, it’s exhausting. What does all of that really mean to you as a CIO? Let’s start with the “Cloud”, a marketed re-branding of the Internet and the Web before that. It certainly does provide you with more options from a distributed software and hardware perspective but is it the silver bullet? The simple answer is no, it is another choice in an ever-growing array of choices when selecting the right technology to create business solutions. To simply follow the buzz-words and today’s hype without applying common business sense would be a tremendous mistake and wasteful of IT and business resources. Does the Cloud work for providing the right solution to all your technology issues? Again, the answer is no, it is another variable in making decisions. Do you take a “cloud-first” strategy? That is fine until you start making decisions based on what you think you know about the Cloud versus today’s realities of the Cloud that is a “drinking the cool-aid” approach. In providing a solution that is effective in the process, efficient in cost and slight on future requirements for IT staff utilization, regardless of where that solution is located in the preferred result for you and the business. A recent survey found that 32 percent of enterprises have no cloud strategy, 11 percent have an opportunistic strategy, and 32 percent are operating on an ad-hoc basis, basically winging it. What does having a “cloud strategy” mean? There are some aspects of IT that are the purview of IT, data centers, DR, business continuity, and computing resources. Having a strategy for all of these is important, but again, it is important to have a business strategy in how you decide to deploy various technologies. I am NOT cloud adverse, we have several systems in the Cloud but those decisions were not made because they were cloud applications, or because I have a “Cloud first strategy”. These decisions were made because they reduced our maintenance, improved service to our customers and provided additional technology options into the foreseeable future. I had a strategy to provide the best technology systems, regardless of where they “sit” to move the business forward. There are numerous variables in this scenario, what type of business are you the CIO for, what are your business cycles, do you have fluctuations in business needs? As a public sector CIO, I don’t have the need to “ramp up or ramp down” quickly (one of the benefits of the “pay as you need” opportunities in the Cloud). Our needs from a business and compute perspective are well defined and rarely fluctuate.

"Focus on creating a good business strategy for your IT function regardless of the tools that you select to meet strategic direction and business demands"

Similar statements can be made for mobile, open data and big-data. Great buzz-words, but what do they provide to your organization, how does it add value and how can you educate the business units in what they really mean? We could have selected to pay a Vendor to provide open data to our community. The cost of this would be at least $100,000 annually. What real value is generated from that expense? Goodwill is certainly generated as we can say we have an open data portal but what is the usage? There is not a large developer community in our City, would applications be created? Would they be applications that are beneficial to the City? We took the approach of asking the local Code for America brigade what data they needed and we provided it to them. A focused, cost-effective approach that targets the needs specifically. We also provide various feedback mechanisms for the community to request various data sets; we also use existing Open Information requests to drive our decisions on making data available. Often these are simple concepts that most would look at and say, “Well, duh”. Instead of barfing out large datasets just to say we are being open and transparent, we let data and demand drive what we do and how we do it.

It seems there is a great benefit in driving new technology sales through marketing various concepts, but staying grounded in the needs of the business can cut through the marketing hype and provide the right solutions to the issues uncovered. This is not an easy thing to do; many CEOs read articles, go to conventions and have discussions with various entities. Usually, these discussions are related to the latest shiny object, the direction your company “must” go to stay up with the changing technology ecosystems. Many times upper management is swayed by these discussions and come back to IT asking, “why aren’t we doing x or y?” The answer many times is there are no business drivers to move forward and without a crystal ball, no one can tell if there will be one in the future. Cloud and Cloud platforms will continue to improve and adjust to the needs of technology. This may or may not provide more opportunities to move solutions to the Cloud. The focus of these decisions should continue to be based on business value and not where a solution “sits”. Maybe I am still an old-school thinker and I need to start with the digital world, what is possible with Cloud, mobile and customer experience. Constantly asking “how do we get there from here?” Being a CIO today is complex, I like to think that simplification where possible at least provides a brief moment of mental relaxation.

Focus on creating a good business strategy for your IT function regardless of the tools that you select to meet strategic direction and business demands. Create an excellent customer experience that looks across functions and places the focus on the experience, not on the technology that produces it.

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