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Top IT guidance for CIOs in 2017 underscores urgency of digitization

Digital transformation and the need for speed, scale and clear communication were the big topics explored in our top 10 CIO advice columns of 2017.

SearchCIO invites a variety of IT experts to shed light on the big IT issues and to help CIOs do their jobs. It's a job that seems to get bigger by the day, as companies scramble to keep up with a society that is increasingly shaped by technology.

Digital transformation, a nebulous term for a major paradigm shift in how businesses need to do business, continued to be a big topic in 2017 for our IT experts. That means speed of delivery, scale, business agility and the CIO imperative to communicate clearly also figured large in their IT guidance. Without further ado, here are our top 10 IT guidance columns of 2017. We hope the advice will continue to guide you in 2018.

10. The transformation roadmap

A rapidly evolving, global marketplace driven by digital technologies has forced mature companies to rethink how they do business -- from products and services to operating models and customer experiences. In other words, digital transformation has become a business imperative, and CIOs -- in charge of the IT systems that support this paradigm shift -- have their hands full.

Dan MorrisDan Morris

In "How to create an enterprise transformation roadmap," Dan Morris connects the dots between the consumerization of IT, the digitally savvy customer and the urgent need for companies to transform their operations and business models. Morris, the founding principal of Wendan Consulting and co-author of The Business Transformation Field Guide, lays out the prerequisites for launching, sustaining and surviving the disruption of a corporate digitization effort. The good news in this IT guidance? "Fortunately for CIOs and CTOs today, technology is being delivered to help them create a new service architecture, one that enables continued use of legacy application functionality and data." 

9. The art of the IT deal

Big, complex, messy corporate initiatives like digital transformation are not accomplished without the active support of many people. But how are people persuaded to get on board? In "The art of communicating big tech ideas: People remember stories," longtime SearchCIO columnist and CTO Niel Nickolaisen shares his experience years ago, when he failed to make the case for IT investments.

Niel NickolaisenNiel Nickolaisen

His ideas were always backed by data and the relevant technical facts. He practiced his talks; there were no gaffes. But the presentations seemed to fall on deaf ears. Then, he read a book on the principles of effective communication that changed everything. He became a collector of stories, tracing the potential impact of his IT proposals on the work lives of his bosses, peers and their employees.

"Collecting stories takes patience. With some technology proposals, it takes me months to gather enough evidence to make my case, but I am fine with that," Nickolaisen writes. He explains why in his column on the art of communicating big tech ideas.

8. How do you solve a problem like legacy IT?

"Companies and their CIOs today are facing a serious challenge." That is the stern beginning of "Digital transformation framework: Bridging legacy apps to new tech," another Dan Morris column in our top 10 list. Here, Morris' IT guidance lays out why legacy tech is so crippling for companies today and what to do about it.

He systematically takes CIOs through a digital transformation framework that fosters business agility. One facet of the framework involves finding a way to expose data and functionality in legacy apps to a new environment. Using technologies such as business process management and robotic process automation, "a layer of new technology can be 'wrapped' around legacy applications to cordon off much of their complexity and redundancy while opening their functionality and data to users," Morris explains.

Read his column for more details on his multilayered approach to mitigating the problem of legacy IT.

7. 'Moneyball' on steroids

Several movies into a long overseas flight, the intrepid Nickolaisen rewatched Moneyball, an old favorite, and marveled at how much data analytics has advanced over the years. Back in 2002, the number crunching done by the Oakland A's seemed revolutionary, Nickolaisen muses. Now, not so much, thanks to rapid advances in machine learning and other forms of artificial intelligence.

In "Machine learning, artificial intelligence like 'Moneyball' on steroids," Nickolaisen explains that AI applications have not only advanced, but that cloud computing has put AI within reach of many organizations -- not just the big research institutions or corporate labs. "Instead of purchasing the massive compute power needed to do meaningful machine learning ... someone could rent a massive number of compute nodes for a few minutes, hours or days and then turn it off once the work was done," Nickolaisen writes.

Even better, inexpensive compute power has spurred IT providers to deliver on-demand services such as text analytics, statistical modeling and machine learning algorithms. His message: What are you waiting for? Keeping it real, he describes three AI projects his team is doing.

6. Scaling Agile to meet digital demands

Mark TonseticMark Tonsetic

The new IT operating model CIOs are developing in order to keep up with their companies' digital demands is predicated on scaling Agile methods. Scaling Agile, however, is far easier said than done, despite the heavy investment many CIOs have made in tools and training -- and despite the business appetite for "all things digital," Mark Tonsetic explains.

"When it comes to implementing and scaling Agile, most frameworks, training and tools ignore or overlook business constraints -- not the least of which is that many of the partners an Agile team has to engage with do not 'speak Agile,'" writes Tonsetic, who recently left CEB for ServiceNow, where he is director of its Best Practices Center of Excellence.

In "Running Agile at scale: Three challenges, " he urges IT leaders to bridge the Agile gap, with special attention to three critical groups: product owners, finance leaders and delivery teams. Tonsetic's IT guidance describes the challenges associated with each group and advice on how to surmount them.

5. Agile is the new standard

Joseph FlahiffJoseph Flahiff

Agile, the iterative software development methodology that breaks work into chunks and emphasizes communication among stakeholders, is quickly becoming the norm for many IT organizations, eclipsing traditional Waterfall methods: Over 90% have adopted or are leaning toward some form of Agile, according to a recent study by Hewlett Packard Enterprise. But, as Agile expert Joseph Flahiff argues in "David vs. Goliath no more, Agile adoption in the new standard," the popularity of Agile has also ushered in a "glut of Agile coaches," not all of them legit and many of them taking far longer than necessary to train the rank and file.

He believes Agile proficiency needs to level up. "If Agile adoption is the new normal, Agile coaching should become a form of professional development for business and IT managers -- and they should be the ones training employee teams," Flahiff writes.

4. Stop using these four-letter words

The second of Flahiff's columns to make the 2017 top 10 has to do with the use of four-letter words. The four-letter words he warns against using in the workplace, however, are probably not the ones that come readily to mind. He believes the language that inflicts the most damage on employees are words like quit, lose, can't, envy and hate. "These are words that crush employee potential and quash innovation. They have the power to transform your organization into a dark and desolate place," Flahiff writes.

An innate "negativity bias" in humans to pay more mind to bad or dangerous situations than to neutral or positive events means "negative four-letter words sink deep when they hit." CIOs should use other four-letter words more often -- words like care, grow and hope. "You'll be amazed at how positive language can transform workplace culture," Flahiff writes. Read about his experience using positive language in the workplace, in "The power of positive four-letter words to unlock employee potential." His IT advice ends with an exercise for you to try.

3. Getting the cloud conversation right

The second Tonsetic column to make the top 10 focuses on selling your cloud strategy to the C-suite. As cloud computing costs are better understood -- and found, in some cases, to be on par with or more expensive than on-premises costs -- the CIO case for moving IT operations to the cloud has shifted. Speed, not cost has become the shorthand of choice for justifying the migration of IT capacity to the public cloud to C-level peers.

But as Tonsetic explains in "Selling the value of cloud computing to the C-suite," arguments about IT speed versus IT cost savings miss the boat. Instead, the cloud conversations CIOs should be having with executives must connect IT's cloud strategy to business growth. "IT cannot and should not have a stand-alone cloud strategy. IT should be part of an enterprise strategy -- presumably a digital one -- for growth," Tonsetic writes.

The column lays out five imperatives for getting the conversation right. No. 1 on the list is figuring out the connection between cloud migration and the story your CFO "wants to tell investors." Check out the column for the four other imperatives.

2. Hot, hot, hot

"Needed now and for the foreseeable future: Five hot IT skills," marks Nickolaisen's third entry in 2017's top 10 IT guidance columns. He begins by explaining how the current race for talent and "IT salary craziness" eerily recalls the dot-com bubble and subsequent bursting -- with an important difference. Businesses today are using technology to do more than build online shopping sites. Technology is being used to reinvent businesses -- by automating processes, crunching data for new insights, by making employees more mobile, more productive and smarter. "The result is that competition for IT talent is fierce and it touches us all," Nickolaisen writes.

Read his column to find out which five IT skills CIOs need to have in their organizations to thrive in 2018.

1. The strategic CIO

George SpaldingGeorge Spalding

The most-read IT advice column of 2017 delivers a timely reminder to ambitious CIOs everywhere. To garner business support for your grand strategic initiatives -- and the digitization of business is indeed a grand goal -- your IT house must be in order. Top order. In "The strategic CIO's first day: In search of IT operational excellence," George Spalding, executive vice president at IT consulting outfit Pink Elephant, recounts a CIO's first day on the job.

His C-level peers have requested a presentation on how he will change IT for the better, and he's ready with three strategic IT initiatives. Machine learning, mobilization and making money figure large in his talk. Before the CIO can begin, however, the CFO kicks things off by stating that the company's network "basically sucks." The COO picks up from there, detailing the business damage caused by network outages and ending with a withering critique of the IT help desk. The CEO ... well, you get the picture.

"The fun will have to wait," Spalding writes. But he doesn't leave his hypothetical CIO in the lurch. If you haven't done so already, check out his IT advice on making operational excellence your first priority.

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