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Focus on tech and talent to get bi-modal IT right

Digital transformation is top of mind for CIOs nowadays, but striking the perfect bi-modal IT balance between being a digital CIO and being little more than a facilities manager is tough to do. Focusing on how technology and talent can impact both a digital transformation strategy and maintain existing infrastructure is key to succeeding in today's fast-moving business climate.

Optimize legacy technology

From a technology standpoint, embracing the Internet of Things (IoT) can help CIOs get a better handle on their infrastructure and on managing legacy technologies, says Scott Noteboom, CEO and founder of LitBit, a machine learning and data center orchestration software company.

"For a lot of CIOs, infrastructure like power, cooling, servers, networking hardware and other necessities in the data center aren't a priority -- you have tech with embedded software and electronics, and there's no innovation there. It's got a 30-year lifecycle, so why even bother worrying about that? But innovation has to start from this very 'base' layer. Think about how to leverage software that can optimize energy consumption, or automate updates. You can drive digital transformation even at the facilities level," Noteboom says.

[ Related story: More than half of IT projects still failing ]

The importance of talent

CIOs also cannot underestimate the importance of their IT talent if they want to maintain digital dominance, says Raj Avadaiappan, CIO of infrastructure optimization platform company Aligned Energy. Avadaiappan says finding the right personalities to lead innovation and change and the right people to manage and maintain existing infrastructure is key to a successful bi-modal IT strategy. "I like to think of it in terms of 'rulers' and 'warriors.' It's a simple way to think about it, but -- a ruler is great at running an existing 'country,' while a warrior-type likes to go out and experience new things; expand their empire. So you have to keep both types happy and engaged," Avadaiappan says.

Doing that requires not just investing in the right technology, but on educating your teams about why those technology decisions were made, and how they fit into the larger business strategy and goals. CIOs should also focus on demonstrating how employees' individual contributions make an impact on the business, he says.

"Most CIOs think they'll just pick a new technology that's hot, and their people will automatically rally behind that -- and they'll be excited to learn it and that will be their motivation. No. What they really need is a deeper knowledge of the business reasons behind that technology, and how their successful use of it can have big impacts on the company," he says.

[ Related story: Are you ready for peak hiring season? ]

Budget for innovation

It's also important to carefully examine IT spending to ensure money's allocated according to your priorities, says Avadaiappan. One of the biggest challenges CIOs face is that their CapEx budgets are often cut to accommodate ever-expanding OpEx budgets. The problem usually arises when you're assigning resources and personnel to manage and maintain legacy infrastructure, instead of looking toward innovation and growth, he says.

"You're putting millions of dollars into IT, but what are you getting from it? No one really goes back and reviews how spending impacts productivity and growth. If you're assigning people and resources to technology because you've got a lot of technical debt invested already, that might not be worthwhile. Could your people or your resources be better used elsewhere, to encourage growth and innovation?" Avadaiappan says.

Determining where to focus spending and resources on new innovation and where to manage and maintain existing infrastructure is at the heart of bi-modal IT. Being able to successfully walk that line to achieve innovation and growth is the biggest challenge CIOs face as they navigate digital transformation.

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