IDG Research recently shared their findings from a survey of IT priorities for 2013 in a research paper. They interviewed me as well. One of their key findings was a paradox: CIOs don’t have time for innovation, but CIOs must constantly innovate to add business value — hopefully by delivering cost-effective IT services. So the question remains: What steps can CIOs take to make more time for innovation? This interview of Forrester Analyst Phil Murphy might yield some answers.

Murphy says that rationalization of monolithic, legacy applications simplifies the landscape, which will free up time, and open up more opportunities for innovation. Here is the mantra I took away from this interview: Enable business functions that matter with the right applications.

Applications Rationalization is an engine — an exercise in which IT works with the business to effectively enable the business functions that matter with the right set of applications. 

Let us explore this mantra a little more: “Enable business functions that matter with the right applications

(Enable) business functions. Murphy says that CIOs need to communicate with the business owners in terms of the business functions they enable, rather than the specific IT initiatives. This would be a more effective approach than trying to demonstrate value out of one-off activities in which IT is engaged. Once the CIO can speak in this language, it becomes a much easier conversation.

(Enable business functions) that matter. Market forces, and the self-educated buyer, can change business functions that matter at any point in time for the enterprise. It’s not different from a portfolio of financial investments that a person needs to constantly tune and refine to maximize value. Therefore, it is important that the business functions that matter get the attention and resources they deserve.

(Enable business function that matter with the) right applications. Applications enabling business functions that matter need to be assessed for their effectiveness and efficiency. For example: Are there alternative technologies that could be leveraged? Is there application redundancy across the enterprise? What is the cost of maintaining these applications? What type of personality is the application exhibiting? They then must examine what an enterprise learns from their customers: What is the enterprise gleaning from social interactions with their customers? What is the customer sentiment in social media channels?

Structured, insightful analysis yields the appropriate modernization strategy for these applications.

Applications that are not effectively enabling these business functions are prime candidates for modernization and in most cases, retirement — especially if they cannot be easily repurposed into the modernized environment. Murphy cautions us about the challenges of retiring an application. The business need to access the underlying data is usually the primary motive for sustaining these applications. Once an alternative access path is provided to the backend data, retirement becomes an academic exercise at best.

CIOs who simplify the landscape open up more innovation opportunities for themselves. After all, they need to take the right steps to innovate the planet by 2020 — when applications might even parallel park themselves like cars do today!

How about you? How are the engines doing in your Enterprise? Have you identified the business functions that matter? How have you enabled them?

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