August 29, 2007

What’s on CIO Agendas in 2007

According to a recent survey conducted by McKinsey & Company, CIOs are focusing their plans on more flexible architectures and more efficient data centers.

Two trends in information technology will become increasingly important to CIOs in 2007: a migration to service-oriented architectures and the introduction of lean-manufacturing principles to data center operations. These are among the results of McKinsey’s most recent survey of senior IT executives. The survey asked CIOs and other senior executives in North American companies about their plans for the coming year.

New technologies and trends constantly compete for a share of the enterprise IT budget, and during each cycle, one or two rise above the others to become a major focus for CIOs. In 2006 two areas of critical focus have been software as a service and server consolidation and virtualization—two trends that CIOs, a year earlier, had cited as important.

As those technologies gain traction, executives are also signaling interest in two further trends to improve efficiency and effectiveness. Sixty-four percent of the respondents to the 2006 survey told us they plan to implement service-oriented architectures in the coming year. This strong response suggests that the thinking about IT architectures is shifting to embrace global standards for interaction, both internally and with external partners and suppliers.

Advocates of service-oriented architectures expect them to make IT more flexible, open, and efficient by facilitating communication and interaction between systems. Under this design, common IT tasks, called services, can work smoothly together, regardless of an organization’s underlying technology platform. The concept has been around for years, but as more organizations adopt Web services standards, interest in these architectures has grown. That interest persists even though many executives have been unclear about the precise meaning of the term—a confusion made worse by some vendors’ propensity to label every product as “service oriented.” Despite this confusion, the compelling benefits of service-oriented architectures—easier communication and interaction among applications—and the increasingly mature offerings from vendors are enticing more IT executives to give it a close look.

Just as interesting, 48 percent of the CIOs that were surveyed in 2006 said that they plan to implement service-oriented architectures for integration with external trading partners in 2007. Traditionally, companies pilot any new integration technology within the firewall, and broader adoption for integration with trading partners follows a few years later. The fact that so many IT departments are already moving beyond the internal pilot stage means that enthusiasm for this trend is high. What’s more, the wide-spread adoption of software as a service promises to encourage the spread of service-oriented architectures, because they make it easier to integrate enterprise systems with applications from third-party vendors.

The second trend poised to strengthen in 2007 is the application of lean-manufacturing principles to data centers. In our recent survey, 28 percent of the respondents said that they had already applied or decided to apply lean principles to improve their data center operations. Lean, of course, isn’t a technology but rather a methodology applied to processes—originally in manufacturing operations but increasingly within services, including IT.

Data centers have grown tremendously over the past 10 to 15 years as IT spending has increased and cost-conscious CIOs have consolidated smaller centers into fewer and larger ones. A data center for a typical large enterprise has hundreds of millions of dollars in capital equipment (server farms, mainframes, networking gear, and storage devices), consumes large amounts of electricity, and requires hundreds of highly skilled engineers and technicians to operate. In particular, the labor costs have grown significantly with the commitment of resources to processes such as incident response, problem management, and change management. Applying lean principles can help reduce waste and improve labor productivity by as much as 40 percent in some processes. Nearly one-third of our survey respondents aim to apply lean principles in these centers—a significant share, suggesting that the initial positive results from early adopters are encouraging a wider field of IT organizations to explore this methodology.