CIOs: welcome our new robot overlords

David Smith
By , - Innovation

Easter seems like an odd time to suggest that the resurrection of the CIO from cost manager to digital business leader could come from one of our biggest pain points – Shadow IT.  But in fact, could Shadow IT create your new business model?

Shadow IT – a thorny issue for CIOs

Today, Shadow IT – technology implemented directly by well-informed, IT-literate end users – is often seen as more of a threat than an opportunity.  For many CIOs, these users bring a continuous crucifixion on the cross of public opinion; they are a baying crowd demanding that enterprise IT matches  the best of the consumer IT world.

And then there are those end users who don’t talk about IT, they just do it.  The introduction of untested unlicensed applications into the business environment is one of the more visible areas.  The detection and removal of these is for many organisations a reasonable well defined annual ritual.

However, user developed apps are arguably a more difficult area to navigate.

For many years, Shadow IT has been using Microsoft tools like Visual Basic and Macros to quickly and relatively easily improve their own productivity.  These user-developed applications are readily adopted into the workflow of teams whose processes and productivity come to depend upon them, all without the involvement or even awareness of the core IT team.

Come the next Microsoft Office upgrade though, all hell can break loose as these apps lose some or all of their effectiveness, ranging from bad document formatting to broken apps and therefore broken processes.

Have the challenges of Shadow IT just got worse?

At its developer event Build 2016, Microsoft has just launched two new services that on face value sound like the problem just got worse.   Firstly, it announced a Bot development framework to enable us all to develop productivity enhancing services, using the natural language interface of Cortana.

Secondly, it signposted all the app and services we could connect by pulling them all together into a Cortana Collection in the Microsoft App Store.  To show just how useful this is, a visually impaired MS developer demonstrated tools he had built to support his own needs, using Cortana and cameras to help pick up the non-verbal communications of the people he works with.

Introducing the Seeing AI App

Use of bots within a natural language interface is being heralded by the IT press as being the next big thing, rivalling or exceeding the mobile app store, with a slew of articles about the potential value of a market (app store) for a Facebook Messenger bot framework.

So could someone in your organisation develop the next Angry Birds, or more interestingly the next Amazon Web Services?  Could they in effect change your business model by monetising something you need , perhaps more profitably than the business you’re in today?

But we must always be aware of those claiming to be the messiah, lest they turn out to be false.

Encouraging our employees to charge straight in to this opportunity with the full backing of IT has the potential to increase the cost and complexity of environment with numerous badly documented unsupported apps flooding our environment.

And for those ideas that are truly unique today,  the ongoing commoditisation of IT means that tomorrow it will be displaced by a better one from either external or internal sources.

Some next steps for the CIO

CIOs should work to maintain a balance: encouraging and enabling the wider business to innovate and create new business value, whilst ensuring that plans are made for security, scalability and ongoing maintenance.

For a CIO developing a model to embrace this digital balance, here are my top tips:

  • Be inclusive – your strategy should encompass everything from Visual Basic, to bots and Cortana. It’s important to keep an eye on what’s new – if you don’t, your users will!
  • Spread excitement and awareness of the potential to the organisation, and educate your colleagues on the possibilities. Being seen as a productivity enabler, rather than a gatekeeper, is key to success.
  • Whilst enthusiasm is vital – so is clear guidance. Establish and communicate a policy so everyone in the organisation knows how and when they can exploit innovation…  And explain clearly when and why they must not.
  • Seek to understand who outside the business may fill capability gaps. Will your SI partners or even the MS App Store provide services directly to your users?  Should you be expecting your SI to run their own app store?

The model will be unique to the needs of each organisation, but it’s vital to have one.  There’s great potential to at the very least change our dialogue with Shadow IT and perhaps even profit from it, but also the potential to repeat today’s issues with a new tool set.

After all, who is there out there that you can partner with to help you see across this problem?

Perhaps tomorrow, we’ll pick our IT partners and suppliers on the strength of their bot store, and bot lifecycle management capabilities.

To learn more about Windows 10, see our previous blog post here. Click here for the next blog post in the series that looks at why talent and tech is a winning formula for success. 

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