What keeps IT professionals up at night?

Brid-Aine Parnell

Friday 8 May 2015

Security, digitalisation, talent acquisition, technology agility and consumer engagement are topping CIOs’ agenda this year, whatever their industry might be.

You would think that these pain points would differ from industry to industry, but in reality, they’re much the same whether you’re selling Barbie dolls, insurance or energy.

survey of CIOs and IT professionals by Sungard Availability Services in the US earlier this year put the top concerns for 2015 as security, downtime and talent acquisition. Meanwhile, Gartner’s CIO Agenda survey for this year found that business intelligence and analytics were the top budget priority this year, followed by infrastructure and data centre and the cloud. But what do CIOs on the ground say?

Consumer engagement, the digital way

Bill Wilkins of UK energy firm First Utility puts his company’s top IT and business challenge as providing customers with the digital experience they expect.

“From a technology point of view, the key thing for me is how I help our customers engage with energy so that they become more trusting of us as an energy supplier,” he explains.

First Utility is a relatively new player in a well-established field, just eight years old. But the company was started because its founders saw a gap in the market.

“Unlike many other markets, consumers were very disengaged and very poorly served by the energy market eight years ago. At that time, everyone was just getting an annual estimated bill from their provider,” Wilkins pursues, adding that consumer engagement was an industry-wide challenge.

To combat this, the firm started the My Energy programme as a white label offering from a partner two and a half years ago. But this year, Wilkins’ team is rolling out their own version of the online, mobile and tablet application. First Utility wanted not only to tell people how many kilowatt hours of energy they were using and how much money they might save, but also to really dig into the data and produce insights that make sense to ordinary households.

“We can tell you what you save in kilowatt hours, sure, but you can also go to one of our savings widgets and calculate what would happen if you changed your tungsten lightbulbs out for LEDs. And we’ll even tell you whether that saving could pay for a trip to Alton Towers for the family or theatre tickets, for example,” says Wilkins.

The right people for the job

Although Wilkins’ team of data scientists and IT professionals is relatively small compared to the UK’s Big Six energy firms [British Gas, EDF Energy, npower, E-ON UK, Scottish Power & SSE], he agrees that talent acquisition is an issue.

“Finding the right people and the right thought processes is a very key driver for us and everybody’s chasing the similar profile – folks that understand big data and are very creative in terms of building online digital propositions – so talent acquisition has been a constant struggle,” he adds.

Richard Wagner, CIO of UK insurance firm LV=, agrees that talent acquisition can be difficult, particularly when it comes to skills like digital and information security, but he also puts great stock in investing more in existing employees.

“It is partly about talent acquisition, but it’s also about development of the people you’ve got because they’re the biggest resource and it’s quite important to remember that. You also need experienced employees to help you manage the legacy estate – and the legacy system is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s often the core of your business,” he states.

Nimble IT

Wagner says his biggest challenge this year will be keeping up with the pace of technology change and ensuring that the business’ own technology remains agile and adaptive. Indeed, he believes that’s a challenge for all CIOs, in the financial industry and elsewhere.

“There’s a lot of talk about two-speed IT, which means that the pace of business is moving faster than the legacy systems can cope with,” he explains.

“We’ve found some interesting new ways to try to break through that – in some senses it’s better to just start a new platform alongside the old one, because the price point has changed so much on some of the tech that running old and new isn’t such a terrifying prospect as it used to be.”

Bill Wilkins, in the meantime, knows he needs to be agile to keep up with business growth, and he credits the cloud with helping First Utility to triple its size last year.

“It’s a lot easier for me as a CIO to scale my footprint in Amazon or Salesforce than it is if it’s an on-premise application,” he says.

Despite the differences in their businesses, CIOs are facing several common enemies. Acquiring and investing in the right talent and staying agile in a rapidly changing technological world are topping the agenda, along with digitalisation, consumer engagement and the ever-present issue of keeping up with information security.

Building the next-gen data centre

Where traditional and web-scale apps co-exist