When Josh Crowe took his first job as a Chief Information Officer (CIO) 20 years ago, things were vastly different. Here, the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Sungard Availability Services (Sungard AS) leverages that experience to talk about the role of the CIO then and now and how we can ease the transition.

Q: Josh, how would you define the role of the CIO today and how has it changed over the last three to five years?

Josh: At one time, the CIO was more of a cost centre manager, responsible for leading information technology, application and even facilities teams as they supplied IT services to the internal users of an organisation. Most CIO roles today have some element of responsibility for the product and service areas of the business, particularly as businesses expand their offerings with digital delivery aspects.

In some cases, the CIO is now in charge of commercialising new digital offerings to compliment the brick-and-mortar business. In the past, the CIO may have been selected as a result of their cost management acumen, while today’s CIO must increasingly be a growth-minded innovation leader. The expectation of the CEO and the board is that CIOs are focused on leading the company through a digital transformation that will impact both internal and external customers.

Q: Beyond digital transformation, what other IT trends have made things easier or more difficult for the CIO?

Josh: While traditional technologies have become easier to manage, that doesn’t necessarily translate to a more stable, predictable role for the CIO. That’s largely for three reasons:

First, the volume of technologies being managed has risen dramatically. Second, the criticality of information technology to the business has increased exponentially, driving down tolerance for downtime, security-related risks and other issues. Finally, our expectations for the speed and quality of delivery continue to increase. The business simply expects secure applications, deployed rapidly and with 24/7 availability.

In particular, security risks and compliance requirements are more complex and real-time, making it a lot more challenging for a CIO to keep up with the security posture of the company. The sophistication, level of maturity and frequency of attacks increases so frequently, it can be very expensive for organisations to understand their risks, let alone manage them.

At the same time, as IT is enabling growth with new technologies, they still have to manage legacy environments. Many of their core systems today require a fair amount of governance, and a certain set of processes and skills that are significantly different than those needed for more innovative technologies.

So, CIOs must be able to balance time across competing requirements, with an increased emphasis on recruiting and retaining talent for the emerging technologies they may adopt now and in the future.

Q: What priorities do you think a CIO needs to focus on to meet those challenges?

Josh: First and foremost, they need to concentrate on the digital transformation of the company and how IT can support their strategy. At the same time, they need to manage the business risks of both their new initiatives and their existing applications and data, because the importance of their digital assets is increasing daily.

So, it’s critical to secure and protect those assets from both inside and outside threats, while maintaining the availability of their systems to keep the business running during times of increased workloads, changes in how the systems are used and in times of disaster.

Q: Where do you see the most opportunities emerging in the year ahead?

Josh: The increasing adoption of Infrastructure as a Service has really been a tipping point for increasing opportunities. The CIO now has the ability to create, shrink, expand and evolve their infrastructure capabilities with the call of an API.

That puts tremendous capabilities at IT’s fingertips. What may have taken a significant amount of money and time to build out a large, enterprise-grade application infrastructure, they can now do in minutes with a little bit of code.

For the CIO, that’s a very powerful capability and it changes how they think about and deploy their applications. But it also enables innovation, growth and experimentation. They can build, deploy and try out a new application, and, if it’s not working as expected, or it doesn’t generate the customer feedback they want, they can pull it back fairly quickly. It allows for more rapid application development and innovation.

There are lots of new technologies coming out that really make infrastructure and application deployment less of a headache for IT organisations, while opening up significant possibilities that make the world of the CIO even more exciting and relevant to the business.

For instance, there are new ways to move workloads between clouds and for migrating workloads to new platforms that are transforming disaster recovery, enabling customers to have a highly available environment with full visibility into their compliance and recoverability posture on very short notice.

The tools enabling rapid development and deployment of applications are getting better as well, allowing IT to start adopting some of the best practices, like continuous deployment, that previously saw limited adoption in the enterprise.

Q: How will Sungard AS play a role in helping customers take advantage of those opportunities?

Josh: As an infrastructure provider, Sungard AS has the capability to run the systems customers have today, as well as those they want to run newer applications.

For example, our Managed Cloud – Hosted Private offering, based on VMware, is capable of delivering the performance and availability our customers need for both their existing systems and the new systems they’re deploying. We now have our Managed Cloud – AWS service to manage hyper-scale cloud services with some of the best practices our customers are used to receiving from Sungard AS. These two platforms are the core infrastructure we’ll use to run our customers’ workloads in the coming years.

Looking forward, Sungard AS’s role isn’t just to run our customers’ production environments, or to ensure that environment is completely recoverable if disaster occurs. Increasingly, our customers want our help defining their infrastructure strategy and helping them move from their current state to a new, more modern set of infrastructure solutions. By helping them transition and managing that infrastructure for them on a go-forward basis, it enables CIOs to focus their time and energy on applications that differentiate their business and drive revenue.

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