With information technology budgets worldwide predicted to show some signs of life this year, albeit a gradual recovery, it's time for a reassessment of technology priorities - and local IT executives are better positioned than most. But organisations are on the precipice of a fundamental cultural shift in the way their employees use information technology in the workplace - and corporate success will hinge on the ability to embrace and leverage that new engagement, at least one industry expert maintains.
Ovum research analyst Steve Hodgkinson says the most important thing a company can do to ensure its future success is to focus on what he calls "proliferative innovation".
"The term addresses the idea that more is better, rather than less is more'," he says.
"A lot of IT at the enterprise level has been about fewer moving parts - consolidation, standardisation, rationalisation. But the number of different, discrete ways of sourcing and mobilising IT solutions is spreading much faster than chief information officers can control."
Hodgkinson says the proliferation of different devices commanded by workers alone, along with all the lightweight applications they enable, is fundamentally changing the model for control of proprietary systems by technology management in the enterprise.
"IT used to be about CIOs being in charge of a small number of big systems," he says. "Now they're increasingly trying to manage a world comprised of thousands of things that enter the enterprise as a result of the individual choices of employees, rather than the CIO making choices."
Hodgkinson says this shift is changing the role of information chiefs. "The CIO used to be in charge of rationalising - decreasing moving parts to reduce risk and cost," he says.
"But looking forward, the role of the enterprise CIO has to be about managing proliferative innovation in a way that brings this exciting new technology into the workplace in a safe, meaningful way."
People love their mobile phones. As smartphone technology continues to increase its penetration levels worldwide, business dependency on these high-powered, highly mobile devices also continues to rise.
In March last year the Royal District Nursing Service of South Australia introduced a new mobile application for its health-care field workers.
Its acting CIO Jodie Rugless says that the health service provider had been considering mobile technology for a long time.
"It made a huge amount of sense for a community organisation, where we have a large number of people visiting clients every day in their homes, to look for technology to support that process," she says.
"We'd been looking for a mobile solution for 10 years or more, but this was the first time we saw anything we actually thought would be appropriate for our workforce."
The product the RDNS has implemented leverages Microsoft Exchange and sits across the top of its back-office applications.
"It provides a simple user interface for our field workers to enter activity at point-of-care and also perform basic functions like changing client details, managing site visits, ordering medical consumables and managing clinical data," she says.
The application runs on Windows Mobile devices, 440 of which were purchased specifically for the project. At the time of deployment, it was the largest launch of its kind.
Rugless says the project delivers savings in the cost of data entry and correction, calls to the contact centre, and printing, updating and collating paperwork, all of which lead to a reduction in the cost per episode of care.
However, the main benefit has been improvements to work procedures, better kept databases and on-site access to procedure manuals, which improved worker safety.
"It gives our workers control of their day and activities," she says. "The feedback has been great. Traditionally our workforce hasn't used much technology in day-to-day delivery of services, but adoption has been terrific."
She says the RDNS used its existing technology and applications to make the off-the-shelf mobile application work for its needs, so customisation was minimal.
"It really was just another layer of technology working on top of what we already had to enable a mobile service," she says.
The system has a high level of interoperability and integrates with multiple systems - not just client management, but also human resources, so users can view personal data and financial information as well.
"It's more than just about client management information," she says. "It's about total care for the individual."
Given the large amount of potentially sensitive information aggregated by these devices, Rugless says it was important to ensure security was up to scratch.
"We've exceeded the industry standard in security requirements," she says. "We made sure at every step that we were above and beyond what was required of us."
She advises any other firms considering a mobile application deployment to be clear on one thing: know your goals. "Make sure you understand what you want to achieve and what you're getting upfront," she says. "You have to be aware also that it's a major change for an organisation, so take it slowly."
Global pressures have inspired a new focus for businesses hoping to take advantage of their pre-existing intellectual capital. At the same time, competition for talent has been fierce and, as economies recover, that corporate driver is switching back into gear.
In an effort to attract new people as well as make the most of its existing talent, Deloitte Australia has been investing in collaboration and social media applications for more than two years.
A senior partner in Deloitte's online practice in Australia, Katherine Milesi, says the firm first took to social networking as a way to engage potential employees - particularly young talent - and found the resource could be put to good corporate use as well.
"We're quite mature in the use of these tools globally, but we're probably still in early days in terms of realising their true potential," she says. "We use them to recruit talent and to build brand."
She says that during the delivery of last year's federal budget Deloitte ran a live blow-by-blow analysis via Twitter.
"We tweeted all through the night on what our tax people were interpreting as the implications for business," she says. "It was a really good brand-building exercise."
The company broadcasts its recruitment videos over YouTube and has a special Facebook application users can download that lets them know when job vacancies come up.
But Deloitte quickly realised there was a conflict of culture in actively using social networking tools to recruit and then not mobilising those tools within the company. As a result, a decision was made to implement a Twitter-like corporate collaboration and communication tool called Yammer.
"What that looks like is a constant stream of comments on your desktop, so anyone in the organisation can get a feel for the issues of the day," she says, "but you can also create lots of groups and communities for a more private or topic-based discussion.
"As with all our social media tool implementations, it's about connectivity, productivity and efficiency."
Deloitte Australia has about 4500 employees, and Milesi says more than half are now on the Yammer platform. "It's a great way for people in different states, different service lines and across different projects to come together and collaborate," she says.
Deloitte senior business analyst Naomi Civins sits on the company's social media committee and is studying for a doctorate in the dynamics of social media networking. She says Deloitte had to figure out ways to leverage this interest and communicate to its advantage.
"What we keep finding is that younger generations take social tools for granted," she says. "They expect that what they use for communication outside work will also be available inside work.
"Graduate employees had followed our Twitter profile or had downloaded our Facebook application and became involved with the firm that way. When they came here they expected that engagement to continue."
Since it uses so many social networks to advertise, Deloitte elected not to block access to the sites at work.
Some safeguards are necessary, however. Milesi explains that over the past six months Deloitte has begun to construct some governance policies on the use of social media in the workplace.
"The trouble with social media is that it has such an amplifying effect," she says. "If it's used improperly, people learn about it really quickly.
"There was probably always a problem with people disclosing confidential information, for example, but in the past it would have stopped at two or three people, rather than spreading the way it can now."
Milesi says there was some debate about the level of guidance that should be offered but in the end it opted for a relatively open approach. "We landed on the side of empowerment and trust instead of being iron-fisted," she says.
Civins says that the guidelines for social media behaviour can be likened to an office dress code.
"If you say that you're a member of Deloitte on your Facebook account, what do you need to consider? If you were at a conference and introduced yourself as being from the company, what you said from then on could be associated with Deloitte. You need to think of it the same way online."
So far as the internal Yammer system is concerned, Civins says open discussion is encouraged and users have good instincts about using the tool.
"It's not a treat they get on the side and it's not something they see as a fun place," she says. "You don't go to Yammer to chat about what you had for lunch.
"You go to Yammer because you want to find someone fast and you're not going to dig through a corporate directory. It becomes an integral part of working life."
She says that there has been very little internal promotion for use of Yammer but the uptake has been very positive.
"It's not something you notice particularly," she says. "There's no 'Wow, people are using it'. It's more like 'Of course we're using it, why wouldn't we be?' It's natural to them."
A cloudy horizon
Ultimately much of the innovative, flexible, transformative technology now being heralded will rely on the continued success and proliferation of cloud computing.
"Cloud computing is obviously front and centre," Ovum's Hodgkinson says. "In many ways it's a coming together of all the
other trends. From my point of view, even something like virtualisation is a part of cloud computing. Cloud computing is a bundling together of virtualisation and automation and all those sort of things."
Be it virtualised desktops, mobile applications, social platforms, collaboration tools or different types and levels of cloud engagement, interaction will become more and more a necessity.
"The main power of cloud is to shift the boundaries, reducing the distance that enterprises have to span themselves with regards to IT," Hodgkinson says.
"Cloud creates a new method for organisations to source economies of scale with IT without having to undertake a huge internal transformation."
He says that in their need to keep up with the times, organisations are facing massive transformation requirements. Cloud has provided an alternative paradigm, however, especially for new services.
"You can look at all that mess - the legacy systems and everything else - and decide to source a service or an application from the cloud," he says.
Hodgkinson believes the number of cloud providers is increasing on an almost daily basis and, as enterprises reach their next big milestone - the next investment for their data centre infrastructure, for example - and pop their heads up to scan the market again, they're going to find themselves faced with a choice.
They can reinvest capital internally or buy what they need as a service from "increasingly credible and trustworthy" cloud vendors.
He says that what it means to be a CIO is constantly evolving.
"The role of enterprise CIOs will have to become more about stimulating innovation and less about managing costs and risks," he says.
"It's going to be more about how to take advantage of this new technology, rather than how to ban or block it." MIS Australia
Follow CIO on Twitter @cio_nz.
Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.