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CIOs can jump start a cost-effective digitalisation journey

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Doing more with less is a constant challenge to IT organisations, writes Rich Hillebrecht, chief information officer of Riverbed Technology.
There is continuous downward pressure on IT budgets, while expectations surrounding what can be achieved through transformational IT projects have increased significantly. CIOs are still expected to play a key role in driving the business forward by improving IT applications and infrastructure, efficiency and business processes. As a result, they are under pressure to repeatedly deploy the “next big thing” to stay competitive, while still delivering maximum benefit and optimal value to the business.
With digital disruption already taking place today, many CIOs are preparing themselves to be thought leaders on the disruptive impacts of the digitalisation of industries. They are learning to anticipate and communicate the potential opportunities of being a disruptor and the risks of being disrupted, and are leading the dialogue around the implications and business imperatives with regard to the allocation of resources and funding levels for technology investment.
However, while CIOs have jump started a digitalisation strategy and journey, the question remains:  How can they balance the demand for cost savings with the need to keep the business relevant in a digital future?
The key is to identify and launch opportunities that have low degree of difficulty to implement.

Optimise your network
The growth of cloud-based services and applications has made controlling business IT more difficult. There are now more devices, applications and networks than ever before. Bandwidth becomes an issue as each application also uses additional micro-services. Visibility is also a problem – many applications are hosted in different public, private and hybrid cloud infrastructures using various types of connectivity – public Internet or a private VPN/WAN, for example. In these diverse environments, it’s not unusual for data to always use a different network path to reach the end-user.
This means that the IT department has to identify, analyse and solve problems in a diverse, ever changing environment. Having the right tools in place will enable CIOs to locate and understand network performance problems, optimise infrastructure and application performance, and increase network efficiency. Only when they achieve visibility, optimisation, and control across hybrid clouds and networks can CIOs ensure that on-premise, cloud, and SaaS applications perform to the service-level agreements determined by the business.

Take a new approach to branch office IT
On average, 50% of an organisation’s employees work out of branch offices – which is also where much of a company’s valuable information is stored to provide local access. Nonetheless, many CIOs focus their data protection strategies solely on data centres, ignoring branch locations. Without qualified IT staff on site to manage servers, storage and backup at the branch, it can take days, weeks or even months to provision new services, resolve application performance issues and recover from outages, directly impacting business productivity and ultimately business results.
Instead, CIOs can turn to hyper-converged branch IT, where branch data is stored and managed in the data centre and users access it through applications running locally in the branch. This approach allows branches to consolidate servers, storage and network infrastructure into a single appliance, greatly simplifying the maintenance and delivery of critical resources. More importantly, it maintains application performance levels, so user experience is not compromised, and enables CIOs to cut costs, consolidate operations, and boost security.

Find long term technology partners
Well architected platforms that provide businesses the flexibility to rapidly deploy services that link their digital business community are going to be key at all levels of the technology stack. Digitalisation is driving an explosion of data that needs to be turned in to actionable information and managed by algorithms – CIOs need to find key partners who can help them exploit the opportunity to be the disruptor, rather than the disrupted.
Picking the right partners to assist is critical. CIOs should look for those that demonstrate thought leadership in relevant domains and have ability to deliver value to their organisation. While technology products will change over time – and will morph in response to business demands and learning from early efforts – partners are vested in each other’s success over the long haul.

Invest in innovation
From a business perspective, formulating an approach to ‘innovation’ that is funded as part of a CIO’s investment portfolio can create a sustainable, balanced model, as can redirecting operational savings towards investments aimed at innovation. Additionally, to ensure they remain creative and cutting edge, CIOs can crowd source innovation ideas from their teams, employees and customers – and fund the most supported ones all the way through their execution to a demonstrable level, considering minimal viable product or service efforts as a means to validate their impact and adoption.
From an IT perspective, investing in tools that clearly identify network and application performance problems and give CIOs fluency in the complicated language of application-aware network performance management, are crucial to satisfying an organisations constantly evolving needs.