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Report: IT Strategies for Non-Traditional Tech Projects

The traditional IT organization is accustomed to being responsible for back office and infrastructure technologies. Yet emerging technologies tend to support operations that are outside the normal purview of IT. What's a CIO to do?

According to Gartner, IT leaders need to figure out how they're going to position their organizations to support new digital technologies, such as the Internet of Things, 3D printing, wearable technology and robotics, which are coming out of organizations' business functions, not IT. (This increasingly common phenomenon in which technology decisionmaking and purchases are handled without the involvement of central IT is known as "shadow IT.")

One approach is to expand IT's skill set and business acumen in order to help develop use cases and test business cases for the technologies in the early stages, said Vice President and Gartner Fellow Hung LeHong.

Five digital business technologies that Gartner has identified as having strategic importance are:

1. The Internet of Things (IoT). At some point, Gartner predicted, the majority of endpoints on the institutional network will be "things," not PCs or mobile devices. These include sensors for buildings, people and other purposes. The use of IoT will come out of divisions that currently have little to do with IT.

For that reason, noted Gartner, "CIOs will need to approach these with a lighter hand, because there is likely to be a pre-existing body of technology invested over many years, or even decades, by engineering and operations groups."

To avoid stepping into turf not their own, CIOs will need to navigate "political challenges" carefully and plan for resources and skills that can "span operational and technology projects."

2. 3D printing. Right now, what appears to be a niche market for hobbyists and engineering programs could affect multiple areas, particularly those that traditionally use a supply chain to get materials and parts. Why order them from an outside entity when they can be printed on campus? In this area CIOs need to understand 3D printing intellectual property issues and how the technology could be used within their institutions.

3. Human augmentation and wearable technology. This category covers wearable devices that collect data continuously as well as brain-interface and implanted technologies that are surfacing. Schools will need to develop clear-cut policies regarding the use of devices in the bring-your-own category.

4. Robotics and autonomous machines. As computers, mechanical systems and other electronics converge, new uses will appear in the areas of human workforce replacement, safety and transportation. CIOs will want to have a position on how these might play into the campus environment beyond just the experimental.

5. Cognitive machines. These are technologies that take on decision-making previously thought to be the domain of humans — acting as customer service agents, performing personal assistance, even writing — gulp! — news articles. Gartner advised CIOs seeking use cases to identify repetitive services that "complement, rather than replace, human employees."

Gartner recommended that CIOs work in an advisory role in digital activities, particularly in the areas of technology procurement, risk management and security. Acting as "digital risk mitigators" instead of project owners removes the IT organization from being financially responsible for these initiatives.

Even in the event that a given digital business project proves successful, the CIO may be in the best position to educate the business function about the fiscal dangers of success, since IT tends to have a more realistic understanding of the "long-term costs, risks and benefits of technology," Gartner said in a statement. In fact, in these kinds of initiatives, software licensing costs to process and store data generated through the Internet of Things could grow "exponentially." As the consulting firm explained, "A dramatic upturn in unforeseen demand can prove even more expensive to satisfy at short notice. Supply costs rise, unless negotiated as part of the initial deal. Worst of all, there may not be enough money in the allocated budget to meet demand."

There's often a disconnect in this type of initiative between business user expectations regarding funding and IT's. As Gartner noted, the business user frequently wants a "monthly consumption price without a long-term commitment," whereas the IT organization understands that a short-term service can require long-term assets, such as a way to store data "that must be retained forever, or at least for many years."

Gartner recommended that CIOs determine how to share costs with the business "by identifying who should 'own' the IT organization's assets." One strategy offered is to "encourage lines of business to run pilots and experiment with digital innovation." Should those projects be suitable for longer-term adoption, the IT organization can then take on scaling and "industrializing" them without taking over ownership of contracts or assets."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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