New Relic’s CIO, Yvonne Wassenaar, is in a great position to identify and share the priorities and concerns of modern tech leaders. That’s no doubt why the Wall Street Journal recently included her in a couple of CIO survey pieces, focusing on managing the technology ecosystem and the best book they read in 2015 (Yvonne named The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford.)
But we wanted to go deeper than that, so here are Yvonne’s responses to some more substantive questions about her priorities for 2016.
New Relic: As a CIO, what are your priorities for 2016?
Yvonne Wassenaar: My first priority is to solidify our cloud-first business applications landscape. I believe this is a powerful way for my organization to be more strategic and efficient.
But success in a cloud-first world means more than just moving business applications into the cloud. For us, it also requires establishing the optimal configurations and integrations across our cloud-based business applications to reflect the interconnected way customers engage with us and work is done across functions.
It’s also important to build out our big data and business analytics capabilities to better serve our customers and drive business efficiency. More and more data is being collected every day, but if you can’t turn that data into insights, it doesn’t do you much good.
It isn’t always easy. Turning data to insights at scale requires building out common definitions, leveraging new technologies to provide real-time business insight, and strengthening data/analytics stewardship and culture in all roles—not just the data scientists.
Finally, I’m working to increase diversity and inclusion throughout the organization. We live in very competitive times, both in terms of driving business results and hiring and keeping great talent. I believe that more diverse teams tend to deliver stronger results, increase retention, and make us a more attractive company to work for. Many talented people I have spoken with voice a strong aversion to just “checking the diversity boxes.” These people really want to see the demonstrated importance of diversity and inclusion in everything the people in a company say and do.
New Relic: How do you see the role of the CIO changing in 2016, and beyond?
Yvonne: Successful CIOs will focus less on managing IT as a “cost center”—keeping the lights on and maintaining legacy solutions—in favor of driving digitization initiatives that enable competitive advantage for the business.
As I mentioned earlier, that will often mean taking a cloud-first approach, shedding the burden of running their own data centers and legacy apps to drive more agile approaches across the company, its partner ecosystem, customer base, and community.
CIOs are learning that data is most valuable as a shared resource across the company. For example, the concept of “customer” is often leveraged differently in various parts of a company, so the ability to aggregate, disaggregate, and translate this concept across business functions can be amazingly powerful in providing deeper customer insights, creating better customer experiences, and enabling more efficient business processes.
New Relic: What are some key challenges CIOs face in 2016?
Yvonne: One big challenge will be managing central ownership of some common core elements of the technology stack while also establishing clear guidelines for what is decentralized to ensure sufficient empowerment of the business.
Similarly, CIOs increasingly need to collaborate well across company lines. In today’s world, CIOs tend to control less and less of the direct technical spend and resources, but they still need to provide secure, reliable, and scalable technology solutions in a rapidly evolving technology landscape. CIOs have to build effective relationships and engagement processes so business leaders will embrace partnering with the CIO instead of trying work around them.
Ultimately, CIOs need to learn how to effectively blend being advisors, service providers, and even provocateurs. Software is changing the world. Securely running today’s business processes remains critical but no longer sufficient. The winners of tomorrow will use technology, data, and insights to drive new customer experiences and business models. CIOs will lead this change agenda or risk being replaced or becoming irrelevant.
New Relic: Finally, what technology is in most dire need of an upgrade or replacement in 2016?
Yvonne: Email is one of the business world’s most overused and yet increasingly ineffective technologies. People are looking for email to be a collaboration engine, a content management system, a file system, a workflow approval system, and more. But given the architecture of most email interactions and the overwhelming size of email inboxes, it’s no wonder many people have started to give up. Creating a better solution leveraging real-time messaging, archiving, and search to support the modern business is becoming critical.