Responsive Web Development

Gerard Pento, CIO, Wilson Elser
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Gerard Pento, CIO, Wilson Elser

Role of a CIO

CIOs today have a lot on their plate; they need to blend business understanding with technological expertise to become a trusted strategic technology adviser to the business. The most sought-after CIOs are those who can provide meaningful technical direction when designing an IT solution, and provide meaningful input in the C-suite boardroom. A CIO is expected to be an evangelist for technology transformation and innovation, provide high-level technology road maps from a strategic perspective, and ensure successful solution delivery from a tactical perspective. CIOs need to deliver technology services that are “better, faster and cheaper” while focusing on return on investment, all at the same time.

Recent Trends in Web-Development Landscape

If there is any doubt about the pervasiveness of technology in our lives, we need only look at the proliferation over the past few years of the IoT (Internet of Things) and mobile connected devices. The ability to stay connected from a personal and professional perspective, and as a consumer from a commercial perspective, emphasizes the importance of designing web solutions and services that work with a variety of platforms, devices, operating systems, and software clients. Web developers need to think even more about the “Use Case” for what they are building from the end-client’s perspective to envision how and where the solutions they are building could be used.

Developers also need to design web sites and individual web services in a way that permits access by and reuse in multiple types of connected devices and digital channels. Web site design should consider a responsive user interface that will display appropriately across a variety of devices and user clients, and consider the amount of data that needs to be processed and displayed from a client-side and server-side performance perspective. While there is certainly risk in forgoing native device and user interface functionality when catering to the least common denominator of device display capability, the commercial aspects of the new services will tend to drive the funding for and level of investment in developing custom display and end-user functionality for each type of user device.

  ​CIOs need to deliver technology services that are “better, faster and cheaper” while focusing on return on investment, all at the same time   

Another continuing trend in web development is centered on the application development methodology used for building web sites. While the Agile methodology has been employed for web development—and to a lesser extent, application development in general—for 10 to 15 years now, many firms still struggle with its adoption. The successful implementation of this methodology, which changes project team structure and how they work together, and the approach to rapidly develop a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) followed by iterative evolutionary improvements, requires a shared understanding and commitment from business and technology leadership. While firms that employ Agile methodology may experience improved customer feedback, shorter time to market, lower total cost of ownership, and higher staff satisfaction, Agile requires a bit of a leap of faith at the outset from project stakeholders and firm leadership, who may be unfamiliar with the approach.

Changes in IT Operational Model

The most welcome change in IT operating models that I have experienced has been through the “commercialization” of IT, where IT has been transformed to be run more as a “business,” for the business. While this covers a wide range of operational changes within IT, a key principle is viewing internal business clients as if they are external customers paying out of pocket for IT services, who can select a third-party provider of IT services if internal IT does not provide a sufficiently high quality of service (some may already be doing so). In addition, commercialization of IT involves a focus on maximizing the return on investment and the ‘profitability’ of IT as a business through cost control and reduction, and by increasing ‘revenue’ through greater adoption and use of technology and staff resources.

Another trend in IT operating models has been the “projectification” of IT work efforts, which includes moving from a service model centered on one-off task requests from disparate users to more centralized and project-based work efforts. Project-based work efforts typically are more strategic in nature, ensure IT staff members are focused on the highest priority enhancements, use IT resources more efficiently in the design/ build/test/deploy lifecycle, and generate a greater return on investment for the business as a result. Yet another change in operating models, as highlighted above, continues to be the migration from a Waterfall ‘big-bang’ application development methodology to a more Agile and iterative approach to delivering product to market. Lastly, there has been a shift to a more formal IT Governance model to ensure greater alignment and transparency between IT and the business, and improved management of the demand and prioritization for IT services based on return on investment.

Advice to Upcoming CIOs

Due to the growing dependence on IT and technology playing a more strategic role within corporations, more and more firms are creating C-level roles within their organization and in their boardroom. While there are multiple recipes for success, sound advice to upcoming CIOs is to hold on to an unwavering passion for excellence and a focus on servicing the business. It is important to run IT as a business and to build a partnership with the business through appropriate IT Governance and transparency of the IT services being delivered. Since communication and managing expectations of the business are critical, as a general rule: say what you’re going to do, and do what you say.

I would also advise upcoming CIOs to embrace an Agile, or at least a highly Iterative methodology for product development. Perfection can be the enemy of the good, as it relates to the outcome of Waterfall methodology, and can significantly degrade the return on investment in technology when compared with a more Agile approach.

From a leadership perspective, I would advise IT leaders to

• Set high but reasonable goals and expectations for staff
• Assign clear ownership and accountability
• Motivate, empower and trust staff to deliver
• Stay engaged by asking insightful questions
• Offer timely coaching to staff to help ensure their growth and success.

Lastly, the ever-evolving and dynamic IT industry demands that IT leaders invest the time to stay updated and educated about the latest trends and technologies available to IT organizations. While the demand for CIOs points to a very promising future, one of the challenges CIOs face is preparing for what the future may bring.

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