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Corporate IT rebrands its modern role: Reduce complexity

The days of corporate IT as a back-end function with its practitioners relegated to the basement are long over. But IT strategy in 2018 has its own host of challenges.

BOSTON -- Thanks to massive amounts of data that pour into the enterprise and the rise in application-centered business, corporate IT executives have finally punched their ticket to a position of strategic power in the enterprise.

This comes after years of being relegated to corporate backrooms, with IT functions viewed as a defensive game. "When we came out of our offices, it was a breath of fresh air -- because it really was fresh air," joked Rafi Khan, vice president and chief information officer at Edible Arrangements, based in Wallingford, Conn., who spoke on a panel at the Argyle 2018 CIO Leadership Forum held here.

The thrust of the corporate IT exec's job these days is to simplify complex processes. "The role of IT was once little 'I' and big 'T,' but it's now big 'I' [and] little 'T,'" said Lee Green, chief architect at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.

For some, the main facilitator of the culture change was executive buy-in. "It takes the CTO and chief architect, who are at the table, to say, 'How can we make this bank better? How can we differentiate from other banks?'" said Enna Jimenez, vice president of quality engineering at Eastern Bank in Boston. At the bank, Agile process and Scrum [teams] have sped up commercial and online service delivery to customers.

Data has poured into corporations over the past two or three years from the perfect storm of IoT, cloud computing, 5G mobile services and cheap processing, executives at the forum said. The bigger question is what to do with all that data -- and how to find the value in such large quantities of data.

The role of IT was once little 'I' and big 'T,' but it's now big 'I' [and] little 'T.'
Lee Greenchief architect at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts

"All of the data is part of the problem," said Russ Currie, vice president of enterprise strategy at NetScout Systems Inc. in Westford, Mass. Currie recalled one organization that wanted to store all its data for four to seven years. The cost to keep it all, compared with its actual value, raises the question of what is the right data to actually keep, Currie said. The fact that you have a lot of data doesn't mean all of that data is relevant.

It's also crucial to have a holistic view of security, in addition to data and infrastructure, added Radha Kuchibhotla, vice president of IT operations at State Street Corp. in Boston. And clean data is as important as the right data.

For these executives, it's a challenge to stay on top of data governance. Corporate IT must oversee checks and balances to govern where people can access data. And, in some cases, data cannot be freely shared across the business or leave the country due to regulatory and compliance issues.

Kuchibhotla suggested one way to deal with shadow IT was to allow the innovation, but manage it in appropriate sandboxes. "There are tools to capture what's happening in a mobile device, to heat map to see who is doing what, when and how," Kuchibhotla said.

Enna Jimenez, Russ Currie, Lee Green, Rafi Khan and Radha Kuchibhotla talk at the Argyle 2018 CIO Leadership Forum
Enna Jimenez, Russ Currie, Lee Green, Rafi Khan and Radha Kuchibhotla talk at the Argyle 2018 CIO Leadership Forum

Many data initiatives fail at a high rate, and Kuchibhotla advised IT managers to make sure they have a good strategy and objective and receive constant feedback. But it's important to "fail fast," he said, because once an initiative goes into production, it's too late.

Corporate IT initiatives are more likely to succeed if IT has positive business partnerships across the enterprise. Culturally, most businesses still seek a success-driven model and are attracted to the shiny new thing, said Marc Schultz, senior manager of data privacy at Staples, based in Framingham, Mass.

Schultz queried the panel about how to address old innovations to make room for new ones. And also, what happens if a project succeeds or fails? "If it's successful in Agile, you just come up with another tweak. But if it fails, no one plans for how to stop [the project]," he said.

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