Feature Story

What’s Next for CIOs and IT?

Ray Wang of Constellation Research

Faced with digital disruption, IT is changing. Constellation Research founder Ray Wang offers ideas on navigating the challenges ahead.

As a well-respected industry analyst, Ray Wang looks at how digital disruption changes the way businesses must run — today and in the future. Wang, founder of Constellation Research, is also author of the book Disrupting Digital Business.

In the first of a two-part series, Wang talks with Connected Futures Executive Editor Stefanie McCann about why the role of the CIO is changing and the resulting ripple effect through IT.

Connected Futures: What is the future state of IT going to look like?

Ray Wang: We went through this little rough patch where tons of Chief Digital Officers came in and companies that never had CTOs, they served as a CTO role. For other companies, digital meant that digital marketers came in and were managing the marketing technology spend. And then we got a bunch of CIOs that were really progressive. They were innovative. They went out and they said “look, we're leading digital transformation.”

Ray Wang photo

Ray Wang of Constellation Research

We're seeing more and more CIOs become Chief Digital Officers, or they have that in their titles. They are figuring out how to make the business model transformation work, but they're also making sure that the technology to support business transformation is in place.

This is very different than three to five years ago where everybody was scrambling just to cut budgets, trying to squeeze out infrastructure. Now it's “CIO, you lead the charge.”

What do CIOs need to do today to earn that credibility?

First, you have to move to the cloud. Your compute power is probably going to be cheaper in the cloud. You've got to figure out where it's going to be in the cloud, and you have to get as much into the cloud as possible.

You've got to get into software-defined technology.

You’ve got to get to a DevOps environment, which allows you to build apps very quickly.

And you’ve got to get your integration act together.

If you can get those basic table stakes out of the way — in fact it's a lot easier than it used to be — now you have ways to think about how to become a business partner, how you can start innovating with the business side.

You still have to do your day job; that doesn't go away.

That's a lot to put on one plate.

One of the really effective things I've seen are group CIO structures where there’s:

1. Chief Infrastructure Officer: Their job is data center. Making sure laptops are there. Making sure IT support is in place. Those things you can automate or outsource, so that you can free up your money and your best people to focus on other areas like integration.

2. Chief Integration Officer: It's not integration in the traditional sense. It's connectivity more than integration. Making sure you're ready for 5G and multiplexing. Making sure you're ready to integrate a multi-cloud environment and support hybrid at the same time. Being able to pull information out of your systems and share it with other folks.

3. Chief Intelligence Officer or Chief Data Officer: This person's about getting the right information, to the right person, at the right time and the right form factor. And in the right security model and environment. That's where the magic happens. You’re answering questions that have never been asked before. You're able to predict and use data to create new business models.

4. Chief Innovation Officer: This person is thinking about digital transformation, taking a chief digital officer type role. Asking ‘how do we actually create new business models with the next technologies that are out there? How do we put those two things together? And these folks are out there thinking about how does business change? How do we transform that environment? What's required to support this?’

Some really large Fortune 500 companies are able to do that. And smaller Fortune 500 and global 2000 companies have to share a few of these goals or work with partners to help them get there.

You mention Chief Data Officers and getting the right information at the right time. Data scientists spend as much as 80 percent of their time just preparing data. How should a company think about ensuring data integrity to avoid a garbage in, garbage out situation?

You have to invest in data skills. Having the data skills is something that you want within the entire organization. They need to understand how to ask the right questions, how to tie that question back to a business process, how to tie that business process to an individual, and then ultimately how to tie it back to an outcome, which is an answer to a question. People get good at that skill over time, but it's something you have to train on — what we call data proficiency.

We can think about how we structure all that information. It’s getting better but I think the challenge is the data prep and the data governance that's required.

That is really hard. and it gets even harder depending on the industry. Like in healthcare, 99.9 percent accuracy — that's not good enough, people die.

It's about making sure that you have a good data governance strategy. It's about what you do with master data management. How do you treat data? And then more importantly, how do you ingest outside data?

We're going to be accessing more data than we own, and because of that, we have to get really good at reversing data that's in bad shape. Or identifying earlier, when we a classify data and augment that data, that it's in the right format.

Do you need data scientists in house to do that? Or do you train from within?

I think you educate people. You put in guardrails and help people identify when data is out of whack. To help people understand what the downstream impacts are when you do something with data and not understand the consequences of what it means for everybody else, it's important to do that.

Where does automation at the network level fit into the future of IT?

That's why you’ve got to be software-defined. Automation is providing an intelligence level.

Today we're not ready for multiplexing. Can you imagine multiplexing on 5G — what that's going to mean?

We have to think bigger for those who've just gotten their environments stabilized. What type of data velocity will I be able to achieve when I'm in that scenario?

And I think people are going to start saying “Wow! I can finally get this piece of insight to someone fast enough, so they can make a decision.” I can improve healthcare outcomes by improving collaboration between not just my EMR [Electronic Medical Record], my referring physician, a key opinion leader, and a clinician all at the same time. I can trade faster and move markets quicker because I now have the ability to access information even a tenth of a second faster.

There’s no shortage of emerging technologies helping us with the way we do business — AI, machine learning, blockchain, IoT. What can CIOs do to ensure that their teams have the skills to manage this additional complexity?

You do a hackathon.

Internal hackathons are really powerful, identifying people inside the company who might have skills that you didn't even know about. But equally important is doing an external hackathon where you find new talent. That addresses your talent issue and what that also does is something people forget, it helps you figure out when to bring in new types of ideas into the organization. That’s when you're going to see things you weren't expecting.

(Editor's note: Also read How to Hold a Data Science Competition.) I want artists to hang out with engineers and scientists...that intersection of disciplines is what sparks creativity.IT is often said to lack soft skills — critical thinking, complex problem solving, leadership. How do you fix that?

Critical thinking skills can come from the humanities and liberal arts just as much as they come from science. We're starting to discover is that when you have too many science, technology, engineering, and math people, you should pair them up with what we call the other side. I want ethnographers. I want sociologists. I want people who understand design, or human computing interactions.

What you end up getting is an environment that supports innovation because we're looking for a diversity of disciplines. I want artists to hang out with engineers and scientists. They look at the same problems differently and that intersection of disciplines is what creates and sparks creativity. That's the innovation catalyst.

Is there any downside to getting these folks together to work on a project?

If you're trying to get work done really fast, really efficiently at a low cost, that is the wrong model. That will completely destroy your organization. There what you're trying to do is to optimize for efficiency and scale, and that's a very different type of group you hire when you do that.