CIO Quick Takes: What's your strategic focus?

What are the top priorities for CIOs and other IT leaders for the new year? Thirty weigh in and share their strategic plans.

cio quick takes focus
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The year is well under way, but it's never too late to talk strategy. To gauge what lies ahead for 2017,  we teamed with the CIO Executive Council to ask IT leaders about their focus for the year. Normally for Quick Takes we ask only a handful of executives to weigh in on a topic, but this time we wanted to get a deeper and wider set of answers to this question: "What is your strategic focus for 2017?"

You didn't disappoint. The 30 responses -- which come from a range of industries and academia -- cover a lot of ground. Because this installment clocks in at more than 5,000 words, I'll spare you my analysis and we'll get right to IT leaders -- who we list in no particular order -- so you can see how your focus compares.

Lee Cappola, vice president of Information technology, IWP

cappola lee execphotoiwp highres IWP

Like many other IT organizations, at IWP we are constantly challenged to meet increasing demands and changing priorities, particularly in the private equity SMB space where there’s regular involvement by the board with a focus on EBITA. With only so much IT capacity, the IT strategy for 2017 is two-fold.  On one hand we are aggressively deploying cloud and hosted applications while on the other hand we're breaking industry norms and investing in on-premises infrastructure. Why take this approach?  For commodity systems, off premise solutions achieve predictable cost, rapid time to deploy and high availability.  Yet our proprietary systems, which are fully virtualized, perform exceptionally well in a localized data center which assures high performance and stability while localizing many of our critical dependencies on third party partners.  This Jekyll & Hyde strategy will enable the IT team more capacity to respond to prioritized business demands.

Michael Hites, senior Associate vice president for administrative IT services and CIO, University of Illinois System

michael hites University of Illinois System

We use an early 2000’s vintage ERP, and we are an institution where business process and data custodianship is determined on a department-by-department basis.  Yes, we have mobile applications, web portals, and first-rate integration between applications.  We don’t have students that say, “Alexa, register me for Computer Science 125.” I also can’t say “Alexa, stop” in meetings where everyone instantly becomes quiet and is never offended, but that’s beside the point.  Our challenge is to re-focus our business practices around our students so that admissions, registration, advising, housing, concert tickets, extracurricular activities, parking, and career searching are not only blissfully intuitive, but integrated in a way where you don’t need to know what a bursar is.  I want my daughter to spend no more than a few sentences with Watson to apply for college and get her scholarships, then four years later, I want to hear “Alexa, get a me job starting June 1, 2022.”

Renee Zaugg, vice president, infrastructure and development services, Aetna

renee zaugg print 73 Aetna

Our 2017 Infrastructure and Application Development strategy has many dimensions as we continue to accelerate our digital capabilities to provide advanced simple solutions to our members.

This will be done by the following:

1.      Enabling our digital transformation strategy to support changes in healthcare and a shift in the way technology products are developed and delivered. This will be done by expanding DevOps for rapid deployment.

2.      Adapting smart computing principles; allowing systems to be self-configuring, self-healing, self-optimizing, and self-protecting, enabling end user access to data using cloud and self-service. 

3.      Extending our data lake by leveraging an advanced hardware/software deployment model, and creating a connecting data-rich platform for customer driven solutions.

4.      Last, but not least, protecting the integrity of our business by advancing our machine learning and security vulnerability programs.

Ron Guerrier, CIO Farmers Insurance Group

guerrier ron farmers insurance State Farm Insurance

There are three themes in 2017 that I’d like to incorporate into the everyday vocabulary.

Momentum. My goal in 2017 is to accelerate the positive momentum we achieved in 2016. Last year, we advanced our capabilities to deliver products faster, we strategically calculated possibilities to better the organization, and helped establish a new tone that IT at Farmers can be a collaborative, fun, and professional environment in which to work. Not only do I want to build upon this momentum in 2017, I want to increase it twofold.

Efficiency. A new year brings many opportunities to increase efficiency as a whole. The Japanese business philosophy of “Kaizen,” defined as the continuous improvement of working practices and personal efficiency, is an assertive approach that I’d like for my team to utilize in the New Year and into the future.

Simplicity. It’s critical that our deliverables become second nature and easy to use by Farmers agents, employees, and most importantly, our customers.

Steve Palmucci , senior vice president and CIO, TiVo

sp pic TiVo

My strategic focus for 2017 was largely set in September of 2016 when Rovi completed its acquisition of TiVo and the combined company adopted the iconic TiVo brand. Since then, in partnership with our internal stakeholders, we have been working incredibly hard on planning and executing integration activities in support of TiVo’s business objectives. Clearly, this will continue to be our primary strategic focus in 2017. By the end of this year, we will have completed the integration of the majority of our core business systems, and consolidated or integrated a significant portion of our IT infrastructure and processes.

Our strategic focus extends beyond the integration of IT systems. As two industry visionaries in media entertainment continue to converge into one company in 2017, it is critically important that IT align tightly with our product engineering teams. They will rely heavily on services provided by IT as they work to harness the power of TiVo’s unified product and innovation portfolios to create the ultimate entertainment experience for consumers across the globe.

Albert Ma, CIO and vice president, Toyota Financial Services

albert ma Toyota Financial Services

In 2017, Toyota Financial Services will relocate to our new North American headquarters in Texas. This is much larger than simply a physical move. Toyota is bringing together its affiliates to improve our ability to work together, enabling us to deliver more value to our customers and dealer partners. By enhancing our collaboration internally, Toyota will provide a seamless, transparent experience that goes beyond multiple touchpoints to create a more cohesive customer-chosen journey.

To support this, we in IT will focus on understanding what outcomes our customers are looking for. Toyota deeply values “genchi genbutsu” which fundamentally means that you must go and actually see a situation yourself to truly understand it. We then need to deliver digital platforms in partnership with our business units that are easily adaptable to the diverse and changing needs of our customers.

Bharat Amin, vice president and CIO, Newport News Shipbuilding

bharat amin headshot Newport News Shipbuilding

Digital Transformation through disruption is underway in our Shipyard with many pilots related to this effort successfully completed in 2016. It is key that this disruption continue in 2017 at even a faster pace. I foresee our company participating in crafting and joining the Digital Ecosystem to generate value for the entire industry. We will disrupt but without defiance, remaining equally focused on protecting and safeguarding our customer’s information. The top Priority being DFARS compliant by the end of 2017 with implementation of Two Factor Authentication and Windows 10. Our transformation journey includes strong focus on Industrial IoT, Augmented Reality (AR) and Modelling/Simulation pilots with each playing key roles in our Integrated Digital Shipbuilding Program(iDS). We will implement HR self-services (myHR) in the Cloud in 2017 for our workforce. Very important to our 2017 goals is a strong focus on IT talent attraction/retention and development. My ultimate goal is to win this game before it starts. We hope to make 2016 jealous of 2017 as the year of “Differentiating Force” for change.

Bill Thirsk, vice president of information technology / CIO, Marist College

bill thirsk headshot Marist College

Our focus for 2017 is innovation and optimization through insight. Marist College can now predict whether a student is likely to get a “C” or better in a course only three weeks into the class. Our efforts this year will continue to target new specific active data elements that predictively indicate what might happen next so students may optimize their rate of success, lower their cost of attendance, and speed up their time to graduation. On the managerial side of our enterprise, our efforts will be directed at unbundling traditional monolithic systems, advancing the science and deployment of new cybersecurity technologies, and further developing our open source and shared services models.  

By zeroing in on information of consequence, leveraging it to better prepare students for their careers, and utilizing advanced open technologies, we intend to stay ahead of the disruption our industry is now experiencing.  

David Tennenhouse, chief research officer, VMware

david tennenhouse portraits 2 of 11 VMware

As we enter 2017, our research team has begun working on “Cloud for the 99 percent”. Our motivation is that well over 99 percent of our customers have very different requirements than mega-scale cloud operators, e.g., Google and Facebook. The 99 percent have a wider range of problems to solve; they don’t have access to armies of wizards; and their problems can be addressed with hundreds of servers (vs. hundreds of thousands).

Since environments pioneered by the 1 percent don’t match the needs of most enterprises, VMware can help by focusing on the needs of the 99 percent. For example, since the anonymity and proof-of-work attributes of Bitcoin’s blockchain aren’t suited to the most promising financial applications, we are working on an alternative. In another space, big data, a key gap is in tools that help analysts explore datasets and formulate the problem to be solved (by machine learning). We are also searching for “Enterprise-grade” AI whose results are more “explainable” than today’s deep neural nets. Finally, instead of extreme scale-out computing, the 99 percent may be better served by combining the “right” degree of scale-out with novel memory-intensive technologies (NUMA, RDMA, NV-DIMM, etc.). To sum it up, the 99 percent are a strategic focus for my team in 2017.

Dick Daniels, CIO, Kaiser Permanente

daniels dick photo high res Kaiser Permanente

With technology so pervasive and core to the quality, accessibility, and advancement of health care, we have a great many opportunities. The primary focus for Kaiser Permanente IT in 2017 is to continue innovating and delivering technology solutions that personalize and empower the consumer experience, and that continue to help our care teams to speed up and improve treatment.

For example, we will continue to build on and expand our new member-centric medical office model (which we began to implement in 2016) to more sites this year. These offices integrate technology to create an intuitive, convenient, personalized experience for our members. Consumer-friendly features include: express check in via a remote device or an on-site kiosk, an interactive monitor in the exam room that displays pertinent information and enables real-time video consultation with a specialist, and a text alert when a patient's prescription is ready at the on-site pharmacy.

We will also continue to add features to our Web and mobile capabilities that make it even easier for members to access services and care teams, and manage their own health. Another focus: is to continue to deliver advanced clinical technologies and remote monitoring capabilities that further improve diagnosis and treatment.

Joel Jacobs, vice president and CIO, The MITRE Corporation

joel jacobs The MITRE Corporation

For me, a strategic focus area in 2017 is Anticipatory Knowledge Delivery. MITRE, as a knowledge-driven enterprise operating in the public interest, must deliver its knowledge and expertise across diverse mission domains in a rapidly changing environment.  We are constantly looking to shift the delivery of actionable information to the left in decision makers’ timelines and processes. 

Applying predictive analytics to identify actionable information, leading indicators, thresholds, insights and process optimizations to the volumes of both internal and external structured and unstructured data and events will be an increasingly critical enabler to achieve our desired outcomes.

Our goal is faster, better decisions both in support of our sponsors’ missions as well as our own business decisions. The anticipatory delivery of actionable information and knowledge — ideally before decision makers even realize they need it—will have significant impact.

Kent Mills, CIO, Wakefield Canada

kent mills with tablet Wakefield Canada

Our strategic focus of our Business Technology team at Wakefield/Castrol in 2017 is simple: apply the best technologies and innovation to the goals of our integrated business.

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