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The Friday Update 5: How to win at innovation and develop an IT strategy fit for the digital age

Modern IT leaders are under siege. CIOs are expected to keep systems up and running, while also keeping track of fast-changing business demands and the technologies that can help improve organisational effectiveness. My latest feature for Computer Weekly analyses the ways in which CIOs can develop an IT strategy that delivers real change and lasting business benefits in the digital age:

Former CIO turned digital advisor Ian Cox says in the article that disruption usually happens in industries that have not seen any major change in business models, products and services for prolonged periods. One approach that some CIOs have taken is to develop a digital strategy that is separate to the firm’s overall approach to IT. But Cox is adamant than no separation should exist:

“What every organisation needs is a single business strategy, and the CIO should take part to provoke debate and extend capabilities. The modern CIO should be a person who knows what’s coming in terms of IT and the startup community.”

CIOs, then, need to be creative. But say that someone in your firm comes up with a great idea – is your first thought to keep the intellectual property confined within the enterprise firewall, or would you rather share those ideas with external partners, peers, and even competitors?

Some experts believe the closed nature of how most organisations deal with innovation means business and society at large are missing out on benefits that could inspire growth. My latest feature for ZDNet suggests that one way to encourage a more open approach to creativity is through horizontal innovation, which involves the systematic transfer of knowledge and technology from one sector to another.

Gordon Attenborough, head of sectors at the IET, says business leaders in all sectors must understand the importance of horizontal innovation. He says good examples of idea sharing can be seen in the healthcare and aerospace industries. Other technologists should use their awareness to solve some of the greatest conundrums in business:

“There are solutions to your challenges already out there, irrespective of the discipline. Those challenges cover the broad span of B2B and B2C issues – we just need to makes sure that cross-sector conversations take place. Horizontal innovation is a low cost way to create business solutions that can have a very big impact.”

Elsewhere, I’ve just put the finishing touch to an article on cloud computing for a Raconteur supplement in The Sunday Times, and I’m just completing an article for The Register on the evolving nature of the IT leadership role.

As ever, I’m always keen to hear from people who want to contribute to IT, business and leadership features, so just drop me a line if you’d like to get involved at mark.samuels@gmail.com or mark@samuelsmedia.co.uk. It’s always good to hear from independent experts who have a new take on strategy and innovation, particularly when it comes to leading-edge technology.

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The Friday Update 4: Getting your head out of the clouds to engage with business partners

Long gone are the days when an IT leader could forge a career by simply keeping enterprise systems up and running. As my article for Computer Weekly this week demonstrates, CIOs must move beyond the safe confines of the technology department and work with senior executives across all lines of business:

Great CIOs are able to have conversations with their peers about challenges in their specific area of the business and the potential use of technology for innovation to create value. Such CIOs act – first and foremost – as business leaders, and then as technology chiefs.

The piece includes comment from Jaeger CIO Cathy McCabe, who I profiled just before Christmas. McCabe has made it her number one priority to create an IT-led business transformation. As proof of her abilities, she was promoted to the board six months after moving into the CIO role. Yet McCabe also recognises digital awareness is not her only capability:

“I’m not your typical IT professional. Like everyone else around the boardroom table, I’m a business person. We all work closely together to make the most of IT because technology touches every part of a modern retail organisation.”

I’ve also had a piece published by ZDNet this week on best practice tips for moving to the cloud. The piece centres on the transformative work of Chris Hewertson, CTO at hotel group glh, who has pushed a cloud-led business transformation in his organisation. The firm does not run any in-house servers and 95 per cent of IT services are delivered through the cloud:

“You often have to bring the case together for three or four processes. The true value from the cloud often only becomes clear when you’re running many services because the benefits of resourcing then become sharper to the rest of the business.”

I’ll be writing about cloud again during the next few weeks. I’m also working on copywriting projects for clients. If you’d like me to give you a hand on white papers, research or corporate copy, let me know. When it comes to editorial, I’m always keen to hear from CIOs, c-suite executives or independent experts who have something interesting to say about any form of business technology. So drop me a line at mark.samuels@gmail.com or mark@samuelsmedia.co.uk. It would be lovely to hear from you.

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The Friday Update 3: From the edge to the core – smart thinking in regards to start-ups and the cloud

I’m feeling a bit for Pluto this week. News of the potential discovery of a ninth planet at the far edges of the Kuiper belt must smart for a ball of rock that was only reclassified as a dwarf planet ten years ago. Hard times for a former planet named by an eleven-year-old schoolgirl in Oxford.

Down in London, I’ve been investigating the potential use of start-ups by big businesses. The piece for Computer Weekly presents top tips from people in the know and suggests that, with creativity seen as a key competitive differentiator, CIOs are being charged to help find new solutions to intractable business challenges, including from the start-up community:

CIOs must recognise that larger, fast-growing start-ups should be approached differently. Companies that float on the stock market can change their approach and even become destabilised, especially if they are burning through cash to reach a target size.

Many start-ups, of course, have the luxury of being able to start their IT set-up from a greenfield position, probably making heavy use of the cloud. For senior executives thinking of making a move on-demand, I’ve just produced an article for ZDNet presenting the three key areas to consider through 2016 – costs, processes and roles:

The cloud will branch into new areas of provision through 2016. Rather than just picking elements of enterprise IT to run on-demand, researcher Forrester says we are entering a new stage of the cloud, where executives will be able to run entire business ecosystems in the cloud.

I’ll be analysing the cloud further in a forthcoming piece in a Raconteur supplement for The Sunday Times. The article will consider the role of the cloud in innovation and future business models. Basically, how is cloud computing allowing enterprises to develop new products, services and lines of business? I’d be really keen to hear from anyone who has a view, particularly in regards to using the cloud in a business context.

I’m also investigating the use of virtual reality in a business context. It’s still a niche area but, once again, any views or opinions would be welcomed. If you have a view, just drop me a line at mark.samuels@gmail.com or mark@samuelsmedia.co.uk.

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The Friday Update 2: Priority setting for the New Year – from the Internet of Things to the power of personal branding

A couple of weeks into 2016 and priority setting continues apace. I’ve just written a piece for ZDNet, which suggests that CIOs can expect to hear a lot more about the Internet of Things (IoT) in 2016. The trend is right at the peak of Gartner’s hype cycle for emerging technologies and IT leaders will have to help the business make sense of connected devices. The experts in the article – including Colin Lees, CIO at BT Business – suggest the role for IT leaders is to help their executives get beneath the hype and understand potential use cases:

“If you’re a business leader who’s focused on revenues and margins, you’re not going to be overly concerned with something that isn’t going to affect the business for at least five years. The IoT is struggling from being too intangible. Nothing happens in the world without a business case. But once you’ve got one, you can get moving.”

I spoke to Colin at length for Computer Weekly just before Christmas, where he outlined his achievements in regards to organisational transformation. Lees’ aim for the next 12 to 24 months is to help BT Business build on the platform and services the firm has developed. His other objective is to continue his journey towards being a more externally focused CIO, including offering best practice advice to some of his peers:

“I’ve taken the things I’ve learnt during the past two years and I’m using those as case studies. I’ve got major CIOs of blue-chip companies coming in to see about their IT estates, regarding how they deal with information and security. What I’m finding is that, when I speak to peers, we have a lot to talk about. When you’ve been there, done it and got the scars on your back, it helps to create very good conversations.”

I’ll be speaking to other CxOs about their business and IT priorities during the coming months, so if you’re a senior executive that wants to be profiled – or you just have something to say – drop me a line. I’m always keen to chat with interesting people. As I mentioned last time, I’ve got a few editorial projects on the go at the moment. I’m having a look at virtual reality in the business, so if you’ve got an opinion on VR, let me know at mark.samuels@gmail.com or mark@samuelsmedia.co.uk.

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The Friday Update 1: News and views for business leaders who care about technology

I’ve had a few things published by ZDNet recently. I put together a weekly article on the views of IT and business leaders – some profile a single individual, others poll a series of CIOs, others are more opinion-focused. One of the recent articles covered CIO priorities for 2016. The article seemed to gain quite a lot of traction on social media, probably as it provides some sort of short hand for the kinds of things IT leaders should be focusing on through this year:

CIOs have many competing demands on their time, so it’s important that they focus on the big issues that really matter. ZDNet explores the research, speaks to the experts and discovers the five priority areas for CIOs through 2016. Here’s what CIOs will have on their to-do list this year, from finding the right talent to taking time out to focus on the next big thing.

The above article features comments from a series of IT leaders, including esure CIO Mark Foulsham. Mark knows his specialist field inside and out. I spoke to him a few times during the past 12-or-so months, including a profile feature for Computer Weekly about his plans for IT at the insurance firm. He provides an interesting take on transformation, particularly around new areas of innovation, such as mobility and the use of hackathons:

Mark Foulsham, group CIO at insurance firm esure, is overseeing an IT transformation plan that he hopes will help future-proof the business for the fast-evolving nature of modern business technology. The programme – which involves operating platforms, computing appliances, virtualisation and the cloud – is just the latest project for experienced IT leader Foulsham.

I’m currently working on a piece for The Register about the movement of business people into the IT profession. There’s a view that more outsiders from a non-techie background are coming in. The article will look at whether this is true overall, or whether it’s only true for certain fields or vertical sectors. I’m happy to hear your views – contact me at mark.samuels@gmail.com or mark@samuelsmedia.co.ukAs ever, I’m always looking for CIO and business leader comment for a range of features. Again, just drop me a line if you’d like to get involved.

Outsourcing’s five cast-iron rules: Break them at your peril

How do you get the best from outsourcing contracts without them getting the better of you? VocaLink COO Ian Guasden, who has worked on both sides of the outsourcing divide, offered me his key tips for a TechRepublic article:

CIOs face an expanding list of business objectives, which they have to meet by implementing a cost-effective and efficient tech strategy. Some IT leaders concentrate on inhouse development, but a lot of technology money is still spent outside the organisation.

With the pressure still on costs, analyst firm Gartner expects worldwide spending on IT outsourcing services to reach $251.7bn in 2012, a 2.1 per cent year-on-year increase from 2011.

The fastest-growing area is cloud computing, which the analyst expects to grow by 48.7 per cent in 2012 to $5bn. It’s a sign that CIOs are continuing to draw on external services and see going beyond the corporate boundary for IT as essential for ensuring value for the business.

Ian Gausden, chief operating officer at VocaLink, has overall responsibility for technology at the payments specialist. Here he provides his five top tips for CIOs looking to make the most from outsourcing contracts.

To read the rest of the feature, please click here.

Future IT trends: Experts pick out their top tips

Having a strong idea of the next innovation to affect the business can make the difference between a good and a great CIO. So, what’s next on the agenda for business technology? I asked five experts to try and predict the future of IT inside and outside the enterprise:

Denis McCauley, director of global technology research at the Economist Intelligence Unit, spends time researching future trends in IT and augmented reality – where computer-generated data is used to enhance live, real-world environments – is one of the areas that receives most attention.

McCauley says augmented examples might include additional information, such as facts and figures, being added to sporting broadcasts. “What you have there is something that is not totally virtual but which uses computer-generated data to enhance the viewing experience,” he says.

Businesses and vendors are expected to invest in new areas, with Juniper Research suggesting that mobile augmented reality revenues will approach $1.5bn by 2015. McCauley says some CIOs believe augmented reality could have an application in specific areas of business, such as customer service and staff training.

“Customer service reps could have multiple screens overlaid with increasing amounts of information,” says McCauley. “And gaming, which isn’t used that much in organisations yet, could be used as a tool to augment training and brainstorming activities.”

To read the rest of the feature, please click here.

Flexible working: Five top tips for bringing it home

For the IT department, successful flexible working is not just about getting the tech right. Toby Clarke, who has over a decade of developing flexible-working policies, offered me five key pieces of advice for other CIOs in an article for TechRepublic:

The 2012 Olympics have not just been about sporting excellence. They have also provided a useful test case for CIOs looking to establish an effective flexible-working strategy.

Businesses across the UK capital were warned of severe travel congestion in the run-up to the event. Many London-based companies saw the Games as an opportunity to create a flexible-working strategy, and to implement the technologies and policies that allow employees to complete tasks at home.

Some CIOs already have a long-standing interest in new employment practices. Toby Clarke, IT director at insurance specialist Abbey Protection Group, is a passionate advocate of flexible working. In line with legislative demands, the firm has spent the past decade honing its strategy.

“Flexible working is not simply about getting the technology right,” says Clarke, who draws attention to a series of performance, support and leadership concerns. Here, Clarke provides his top five tips for CIOs looking to establish increased flexibility.

To read the rest of the feature, please click here.

IT skills crisis? How coding and cool can crack it

The IT skills crisis is less to do with the quantity of candidates and more to do with the quality of their skills. That was the conclusion of a recent TechRepublic CIO Jury analysis, which highlighted how IT leaders are concerned about the lack of young candidates with an aptitude for technology. So, how do you solve a problem like the IT skills crisis? Three experts offered their solutions to me for a TechRepublic feature:

Paul Coby, IT director at retail giant John Lewis, admits he is concerned by the IT skills gap. He is chair of the CIO board of advisory body e-skills UK and wonders whether the upcoming cadre of IT graduates will satisfy economic demand.

The UK has a proud technological heritage, from the pioneering intelligence work carried out at Bletchley Park, to the first business computer in Lyons Electronic Office and on to Sir Tim Berners Lee’s ground-breaking work on the World Wide Web. “IT is a UK success story but we really need to generate excitement about the future of technology,” says Coby.

That failing, recognises Coby, is a significant part of the problem. While the younger generation is eager to get their hands on smartphones and social-networking apps, they are not necessarily as interested in the software that underlies such technologies.

To read the rest of the feature, please click here.

Curtains for CIOs? Five tips to put them back in the spotlight

Some say the rise of the cloud and BYOD will spell the downfall of the CIO. But could these developments in fact strengthen the CIO’s hand? My latest feature for Tech Republic investigates:

Technology is increasingly being purchased and consumed by the business rather than by the IT department. It’s a trend that has led a number of experts to believe that the CIO will struggle to survive. They see the only answer for IT leaders is to take an operational view and to become more involved in line-of-business activities.

But isn’t it inherently naive to suggest that the CIO role is on the way out? Who will manage remaining enterprise IT assets and who will provide a strategic take on the technology and applications of the digital era? We ask five IT experts for their views on the future role of the CIO.

With more than a decade of IT and finance leadership experience at Carphone Warehouse, Matt Peers is now CIO of consultant Deloitte. And he is adamant that the suggestion that the CIO’s career could soon be over is flawed.

“Never has the role of CIO been more pervasive,” says Peers. “There’s nothing in business now that does not involve IT. But that central role is not about bits and bytes. People have talked for ages about being customer-friendly – and IT is now finally about enabling people to serve customers.”

To read the rest of the feature, please click here.