The good CIO's guide to business-critical tech

See also: The good CIO's guide to CEO's shifting goalposts part I

The post-recession quest for growth and innovation makes a refreshing change for many CIOs after the relentless pursuit of cost-cutting. It also means that we are living through exciting times, with a massive palette of new technologies available and increasing demands from our CEOs and other peers for IT solutions that will drive the business forward.

In my last article I outlined five things to help CIOs cope with constant change in the emerging post-recession world.

Now let's look at five of the many new technologies that are making headlines and, at least for some, profits too. They all have one thing in common: they enable IT to play a more active part at the sharp end of the business.

They can help companies thrive in a fast-moving world by supporting innovation and new ventures. And they can provide the kind of powerful support to front-office, customer-facing activities that has transformed the efficiency of back-office functions over the last decade.

1. Social Customer Relationship Management, sCRM
The massive expansion of social media sites is a phenomenon that not all companies have embraced. It allows your customers to share opinions on you and make buying decisions without consulting you directly.

You and your IT Team are now in a position where sCRM means using new web-based technology to manage your customer interactions — your reputation — in a cohesive and controlled way.

This is a fast-growing discipline, not a passing fad, whose claims to effectiveness are now backed by real-life examples from companies such as General Motors, Johnson & Johnson and Harley Davidson.

Indeed many see sCRM as the key to front-office transformation, equivalent to the ERP solutions that have transformed the back office. If you don't have an sCRM programme, you should be mindful that your competitors do.

2. XYZ-as-a-Service
It is easy to see the attraction of buying IT services via the web as and when you need them on a pay-as-you-go basis: they are available immediately, require no big investment in time or money, and can be flexed up or down as your needs change.

The range of services is growing from software-as-a-service (Salesforce.com) to platform-as-a-service (Google Apps) to infrastructure-as-a-service (Amazon EC2) among others. For CIOs the motivation for using them has historically been to provide quick solutions at low cost.

However, the emergence of the sCRM model for the front office provides an even more fundamental reason for taking the as-a-service route. With sCRM constantly changing the last thing you need is a monolithic ERP-type solution that is fine for today but will be obsolete in six months.

For many CIOs and CEOs, the only realistic sCRM solution with the required flexibility is the as-a-service model.

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