If you ask a dozen CIOs what their top 10 headaches were in the past 12 months, they'd probably offer up a few dozen different answers. But there are a few headaches that seem common to CIOs no matter what industry or what part of the world they work in.
Beyond the ongoing Microsoft Patch Tuesdays, keeping up with the latest technology standards, and the proliferation of diverse mobile gadgets, CIOs report headaches around the unexpected and newly encountered tasks that fell in their laps in 2009. The most common answer: Accomplishing more with a smaller budget.
"In a stagnant or shrinking economy -- which is what we were facing going into 2009 -- CIOs are frequently asked to accomplish technology delivery in the context of efficiency but also budgetary limits or even shrinkage," said Laef Olson, CIO for RightNow Technologies, an on-demand customer experience software developer in Bozeman, Mont., with customers like Electronic Arts, eBay and Virgin. "The headache comes when the business needs are pressing -- say executing on improving customer experience to retain existing customers -- but the budget is fixed."
The Chief Concern
Indeed, business productivity and cost reduction was the number one concern among CIOs and IT executives, according to the Society for Information Management's (SIM) 2009 IT Industry Trend Survey. That's a change from years past, when IT and business alignment were considered the biggest headaches.
In 2009, 52 percent of respondents said their IT budgets decreased compared to 2008. The good news is the pain may subside, at least a little, in the coming months. Looking ahead to 2010, 27 percent expect budgets to increase and another 45 percent expect them to remain the same -- practically mirroring pre-recession levels.
"The results of the study confirm that the economic downturn has caused a significant shift in priorities," said Jerry Luftman, former vice president for academic community affairs at SIM. "IT executives are focusing on ensuring that business is conducted efficiently to get more mileage out of their budgets."
Managing Telecom Expenses
Speaking of getting more mileage out of budgets, managing telecom expenses emerged as a top CIO headache in 2009. CIOs were not only faced with reduced budgets, they were also challenged with achieving new levels of visibility, inventory and service management and auditing of mobile and fixed telecom activity.
Consider the consequences of ignoring telecom expense management (TEM): A $15 million telecommunications budget on average overspends 26 percent, or nearly $4 million, on overbilling, inefficient spending and services, or other inefficient processes, according to Telesoft,a TEM company with clients like Coca-Cola.
According to a recent Telesoft survey, improving inventory and service order activity management, increasing audit capabilities, and creating greater control over mobility costs top the list of the most important enterprise goals. But in large organizations this can be a headache for CIOs to accomplish internally, especially with millions of dollars potentially at stake.
"The survey findings are particularly relevant now because with 2010 budgets either offering little or no room for expansion, companies have to find ways to cut expenses with the telecom programs currently in place," said Thierry Zerbib, CEO and cofounder of Telesoft. "There are growing complexities that organizations are facing, from increasing mobile workforces to data-rich services."
Apple vs Oracle?
In addition to budget concerns, there were plenty of iPhone headaches in 2009 as corporate users splurged on the iconic Apple smartphone. From waiting for AT&T activation to memory issues and from problematic upgrades and viruses, many CIOs were challenged to keep iPhones up and running for corporate users.
"Everyone has or wanted an iPhone in 2009. There were real limits on the centralized control and administration of this device, particularly on remote wiping and encryption-lockout," Olson said. "Also, Apple's control over the App Store is a potential bottleneck for delivery of corporate applications and ongoing updates."
Finally, Olson pointed to migraines over Oracle Fusion -- the melding of the cornucopia of technologies acquired by Oracle in the past five years. This, he said, has been under development for some time, is a huge project, and has all the earmarks of the kind of project that delivers far less than promised.
"One has to wonder if it isn't a sort of justification project for all of those acquisitions Oracle CEO Larry Ellison did. Will Fusion be greater or less than the sum of the parts?" Olson asked. "It didn't show up in 2009, but is now promised in 2010. Will Oracle deliver, or need to go back to the drawing board to finish the job?"
The 2010 Headache Awaits
What lies in wait in 2010? Some CIOs are worried about whether Google is going to enter their market. Others are worried about new technology standards that shake up their networks with device upgrades. Still others are looking at smartphone security. Andrew Storms, director of security operations at nCircle, predicts smartphone security will develop into of the biggest headaches for CIOs in 2010.
Right after the holidays, enterprise security teams will be flooded with requests from users who want to connect their new Droid phones to the network after receiving them as holiday gifts, Storms said. In fact, he's already seen that any user can hack the phone to gain root privileges and then break every rule in the IT policy handbook, and many of them will not even know they are doing it.
"Many Android and BlackBerry users have iPhone 'app envy,' and this pent-up demand, along with key differences between Apple's closed App Store strategy and the open strategies of Google and RIM, has created a market dynamic that is likely to backfire on consumers," Storms said.
"Anyone can create and distribute an Android or BlackBerry app, and users hungry for cool apps aren't worrying about security; these apps are an impulse buy. Then they take their 'loaded' smartphones into the office and connect to the corporate network. Any smartphone vendor eyeing the lucrative enterprise smartphone market will give equal weight to both the 'cool factor' and security."