As we begin 2017, I’m noticing a surge of big-company chief information officers seeking to tap into the minds of thought leaders. I’d attribute some of this motivation to expectations from chief executive officers and boards to improve digital agility and efficiency, along with the demands of the job to drive digital transformation.
But it’s also because there’s simply a lot to talk about: There is artificial intelligence and the many flavors of machine learning, along with all the exciting applications for things we use every day. There’s the Internet of Things, autonomous self-driving cars and virtual reality. There is also diversity, sustainability and a host of other vitally important societal issues in play.
These are all exciting trends, and they play a role in driving user expectations. It’s good to hear from visionary CIOs who can help us navigate these trends on behalf of their employers, the information technology industry and society at large.
But I want to remind CIOs of an admonition industry leader, Martha Heller (no relation), has been making lately: “First, get your house in order.” The real part of your job involves the initiatives that don’t make headlines. It’s about making sure the IT products your company buys facilitate your company’s strategy and operations and don’t get in the way. It’s the gritty and unromantic, steady and reliable stewardship of the projects we classify as “engine-room” work. Left unattended, your engine room can become an unsteady base, increasing costs and causing service and sustainability to suffer.
I happen to love engine-room work. My company builds management software to help it all run smoothly, so you as a CIO can draw your stakeholders’ attention to shiny new technology scenarios for your company just on the horizon. While I get that the future is captivating, I want to bring you down to the engine room for a moment to show you the stress I’m seeing in the machinery.
Here’s one example: Like most CIOs, you’re modernizing your company’s applications as quickly as you can. In 2004, 90 percent of those applications were native and only 10 percent were browser-based web applications. As a byproduct of that modernization effort, that balance has flipped. Today, large companies have 12 web applications for every native Windows application.
Also, like most CIOs, you and your teams rely on management tools to ensure those applications are operating as they should and meet the right standards for security, compliance, cost-efficiency and more. You may think the tools that worked for native applications work just as well for web applications, but the reality is they don’t.
Why? These management tools can’t see web applications. Why is that a problem? You can’t manage what you can’t see. This problem compounds because, unlike native Windows application environments, browsers are complex and dynamic. Their design, capabilities and operations can be modified by a range of factors in essentially real time. I know CIOs don’t need to be told why unmanaged browsers are bad; but for anyone else reading this article, they’re one of most obvious vectors for hackers to try to exploit.
Unmanaged browsers also lead to waste. It’s much harder to keep track of which employees are using what software, and in what way. Look more closely and you may find your IT team maintaining web applications and servers even though the business group they support has moved off to a SaaS application. You’ll almost certainly find multiple business groups buying licenses for the same SaaS application and missing out on volume discounts. And without a doubt, some web applications are simply underused (and therefore over-licensed). Without visibility into browser environments, your company is wasting money and taking unnecessary security risks.
When CIOs rely on traditional management tools, some have found that, with enough patchwork and patience, they can get by. The consequence, however, is not just more work to tie it all together, but also built-up damage from forcing square pegs into round holes. Pushing hard enough and shaving the edges will make it work – at a cost. For one CIO, that added up to four full-time employees spending six months pushing and shaving. Modern browsers have become too different and complex to try to manage them with cobbled-together tools.
CIOs of large companies must take their place as industry thought leaders. I want you to show your CEO and board of directors what can be attained by investing in next-generation IT. It’s important to cast visions. But on the course to realizing them, make sure you also pay enough attention to the pieces that are no less crucial – although maybe not necessarily as inspiring. Engine rooms may not stir hearts, but they definitely power great journeys.
Matt Heller is founder and CEO of Browsium. He founded Browsium after working with Microsoft customers on Internet Explorer, where he recognized the need for browser-related tools and solutions to help effectively manage browser environments. He also has extensive knowledge of Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Opera. He has served as VP of operations for Overture Services (Yahoo! Search Marketing) and director of IT for network solutions for Booz Allen & Hamilton. Contact him on LinkedIn or at Matt.firstname.lastname@example.org.