Some nights, as a CIO, I don’t sleep well.

The reasons are probably similar to what gives my other CIO peers restless nights, too. Because AI and other technologies continue to advance at a dizzying pace, I’m constantly weighing the opportunities for technology to transform our business against the challenges and risks the new technology presents.

That’s the stuff that can keep me up at night. And because I’d like to sleep better, I’m focusing on five specific things in 2024.

In case you’re like me and losing sleep over all the struggles we face as CIOs, I thought I’d share where I’m focusing this year.

1. Working to bring AI out of the shadows

Generative AI has given rise to the new Shadow IT in the form of Shadow AI. And we have been trying to figure out how to handle it. Do we cut things off entirely? Do we allow our employees to experiment? How do we protect our company without stifling the curiosity of our employees?

What I’ve said before is true: Every organization’s risk tolerance differs. Our employees are well-meaning, and when they try to go around the IT guardrails, it’s almost always from a place of trying to increase efficiency or gain more productivity.

But that doesn’t mean that we can just sit idly by. As for me, I’ve decided to embrace GenAI in a way that enables our employees to continue asking questions and finding new ways to do things while putting the right boundaries in place to keep our organizations safe.

2. Stepping up our data literacy

You know what they say: garbage in, garbage out. The same is true here for data. If your data isn’t clean, nothing that comes after will be right.

I believe it’s critical to have a data-first mindset. That means leaning into my responsibility as a CIO to promote good data management practices. That starts with data governance: the policies and processes you put in place to handle and classify data, employee education and identification of data owners and responsibilities. Data labeling, for instance, can help data handlers classify their data and improve data security.

So, if something is labeled as confidential, that label limits the movement of that data and allows you to enforce the policies within your data governance program. It’s worth it to build out that structure because strong data governance will lead to strong data hygiene every time.

Because GenAI relies on the underlying data to create meaningful outputs, it’s important to remember that if your data isn’t accurate, you can bet that everything GenAI builds – from software to code to marketing plans –  will be inaccurate, too.

Flawed data. Flawed results.

3. Better managing cloud spending with FinOps

I believe the cloud is the great enabler. The cloud has an incredible ability to drive innovation, speed up organizational productivity and create business resiliency. Unfortunately, it also can drive up costs. And we’re all in a world of doing more with less and showing ROI on our IT spend.

A key for me to not lose sleep over cloud spending? Continuing implementation of an operating model that maximizes the value of the cloud across our entire organization. From IT to leadership to engineering, marketing and any department benefitting from data analytics. Or what we all know as FinOps.

Much like turning off the lights in empty rooms, FinOps is based on financial management disciplines that take advantage of the inherent variability of cloud use. It provides processes, metrics, best practices, roles and responsibilities, and automation and tooling so IT can take control of variable cloud spending.

If you’re not using FinOps, you may be using the cloud as a really expensive data center. That means that all the benefits you’re seeing from cloud flexibility and better data-driven decisioning may be offset by cloud spending … or worse, even surpassed.

4. Remembering that CIOs have a story to tell

Not too long ago, IT was mysterious and worked behind a curtain. But now, CIOs hold an important seat at the leadership table, and we need to embrace that by delivering results and telling people about our wins.

This year, I’m leaning into data and analytics to share the value and impact our global IT organization has on corporate direction. While numbers tell a story, we must balance facts and figures with examples of how we’re creating breakthroughs in the business. I’m also putting effort into ensuring that the story I’m telling resonates with who’s listening. Board members need a different story than our C-suite peers, and technical audiences care about different things than business owners. Spending time tailoring that message helps make sure all your stakeholders understand the value your IT organization is driving.

To do that transparently, you’re going to share the challenges, too. Talk about how you addressed them through personnel, processes and technology changes. You’ll build more and better relationships with others in the company if they know they can trust you to be authentic in what’s happening and why.

A side benefit I’m finding is that others start thinking about how to use technology, data, AI and analytics to drive innovation.

5. Prioritizing retirement of tech debt

We’re all guilty of keeping around infrequently used technology from the past that requires continual support and infrastructure spending to maintain. It drains labor resources, adds layers of complexity that make innovations hard to deliver and, ultimately, creates frustration among colleagues who don’t understand why they’re not getting more value from their IT spending.

A focus for us in 2024 to fix it? Leaning into our life cycle management programs to categorize technology into understandable groups that IT can act on.

This means you’ll need a committed enterprise architecture program to map technologies to business processes. You’ll also need to be thoughtful about every new spending request that crosses your desk. Does this expenditure set the foundation for technology standardization and advancement, or is it just another orphan technology that someone got excited about?

Any new technology that adheres to enterprise architecture target states and technology standards helps reduce new technology debt in the long run.

Otherwise, it’s just another dead weight on your IT budget for years to come. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to give my future self another reason to lose sleep.

Read more stories from executives and thought leaders at SAS


About Author

Jay Upchurch

Chief Information Officer

As Chief Information Officer, Jay Upchurch is dedicated to helping customers and partners address today’s increasingly complex software and hardware infrastructure challenges. Leading a global IT organization, his charter is to deliver efficient and consistent operations support across all business functions to help accelerate how companies can unlock value from data and analytics. Prior to joining SAS Upchurch was Vice President of Hospitality and Retail Cloud, overseeing the design, delivery and ongoing operations of Oracle’s global Hospitality and Retail Cloud.

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