Enterprise Web Applications: Game- Changer for IT Management
5 Key Imperatives for CIOs to Consider
It’s no secret that the velocity of change in business, and by extension in information technology has continued to increase over the past few decades to a feverish pitch that’s become ever more impossible to ignore. While this has kept the most aggressive CEOs on their toes, for CIOs it’s as though they’ve been training for a lunar landing, and the centrifuge at NASA’s space camp has reached nosebleed gravitational forces.
"It is essential that CEOs include their CIOs (or other technology strategists) in the creation of their business strategies"
Especially over the past ten years, top CIOs around the world have transitioned away from merely reacting to market pressures and implementing systems that enable business improvements. Instead, in anticipation of rapidly-shifting competitive landscapes and to leverage emerging technologies, they are innovating applications in order to create new markets, expand existing channels and obliterate the boundaries between their own companies and major external trading partners and stakeholders.
This frenzied pursuit of digital innovation involving mobility, data analytics, cloud, IoT and M2M computing, has prompted what can only be viewed as a revolution in information architecture, characterized by the increasingly vital role played by enterprise web applications (EWAs).
This movement necessitates that CIOs revisit their priorities, and assume a more significant leadership role in directing their businesses, versus simply enabling them. It requires that they step outside of themselves and look at their role and the IT Value Proposition through a fresh set of lenses. Perhaps even before they can do this, their CEOs need to first acknowledge the need, and embrace what can only be regarded as a new paradigm.
Technology tools and development particulars aside, there are five critical information management imperatives that must be considered:
1. Business Strategy Articulation
2. Technology-Agnostic Infrastructure
3. Agile Development
4. Value-Creation Budgeting
5. Information Asset Protection
1. Business Strategy Articulation. CEOs who continue to treat business strategy as something separate and distinct from IT strategy have all but surrendered their chances for sustained competitive advantage. It is essential that CEOs include their CIOs (or other technology strategists) in the creation of their business strategies, since virtually every means by which to enhance market footprint and better engage customers relies on some element of IT, and most likely some unique value-proposition offered through EWA.
2. Technology-Agnostic Infrastructure. Gone are the days when a CIO could establish a one-size-fits-all technology standard and essentially static infrastructure. The hybrid-architecture is here to stay, not only as characterized by traditional on premise applications and Everything-As-A-Service (EaaS), but by the myriad of personal mobile devices, as well as integration with external systems with which the CIO has no influence or control (think social media applications, public marketplaces and community-owned networks). Establishing and nurturing such infrastructure requires entirely new management methods, tools and skill sets.
These technologies are evolving and being adopted so quickly that its necessary to give some thought to the age-old question of make versus buy. Fundamental, commonly-used EWAs lend themselves to be purchased. Popular examples are Salesforce.com, Microsoft Office 365 and even social media apps like LinkedIn.
EWAs are more strategic to the business, it will set your company apart from the pack and warrant consideration to be custom built. There are now numerous available development platforms that are intended to simplify and accelerate the EWA development cycle as well as maintenance – each offering different capabilities, and at varying levels of maturity. Leading examples go well beyond the now rudimentary and basic capabilities of Java, and include Microsoft Azure, Salesforce.com’s Salesforce1 platform and Kony, to name just a few. Obviously, each demands a significant amount of investment either in training your own personnel or hiring appropriately certified or experienced developers.
3. Agile Development. The dynamic creation, evolution and rapid replacement of EWAs warrants adopting a highly agile mindset and its corresponding development framework. Such thinking, while attractive to most senior executives (in terms of responsiveness) also creates initially some sense of anxiety, as establishing traditional budgets and delivery time lines for “finished product” software delivery are, by the agile framework’s very nature elusive. A CIOs’ best approach to educate their CEOs and peers on the Executive Team is to illustrate agile development of EWAs through the example of targeted pilots, thereby achieving small successes and establishing a level of confidence and trust in the approach.
4. Value-Creation Budgeting. The once difficult task of budgeting has become more challenging. At a macro level every line item on an IT budget falls into one of two categories: (1) maintenance / “keeping the lights on” and (2) adding strategic value and competitive advantage. Except for the most progressive and competitively aggressive companies, the allocation split between these categories has favored the former.
As more businesses adopt developing EWAs, they will be challenged to minimize the former in order to help fund the latter. Project portfolio management, if not already formally implemented, will be essential to ensuring that limited funding is directed where it will deliver the greatest value, and that such allocation is transparent to, and managed by the entire Executive Team.
As many companies come most recently from application infrastructures dominated by commercially-available business transaction systems (E.g., ERP), the new requirement to develop differentiating EWAs will add demand for incremental funding – for new development platforms as well as the development of the EWAs themselves.
5. Information Asset Protection. For obvious reasons, the proliferation of EWA adoption continues to make the protection of information assets and security increasingly more difficult to manage. While certainly true of proprietary EWAs developed within a company, use of popular EWAs such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, Amazon, Wikipedia and YouTube (to name a few), further exacerbates the situation.
As many of these tools have made their way into mainstream use–even within businesses–it is often unacceptable for companies to simply prohibit access. This area is rife with risk, and given its complexity and constant change, businesses would be wise to outsource planning, execution and administration of this function – either in part or altogether.
The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) is a 501(c)(3) that helps organize and track top risks. OWASP’s mission is to “make application security visible, so that people and organizations can make informed decisions about true application security risks.” OWASP makes all of its materials available for free through an open software license.
The new and evolving information technology landscape, including the proliferation of enterprise web applications has opened up an exciting new frontier in the advancement of business. If you are a CIO who has yet to delve into the rapids of these somewhat unchartered waters, it is your professional obligation to your company and its stakeholders to do so – even if that means engaging a capable guide and advisor. If your CEO hasn’t yet knocked on your door wanting your perspective on these matters, rest assured – it is only a matter of time. You owe it to yourself to become at least “cocktail conversant” in the subject.