Could it be time for CIOs to break free?

A new year brings new challenges, but the CIO faces the same issue every year – to drive the business’s technology agenda while doing more with less overall budget.

Computer Weekly’s annual IT Priorities survey found that while budgets for staff and on-premise servers are falling, IT decision makers are planning to spend more on cloud services.

That should not come as a surprise given that cloud services are well and truly coming of age. In September 2016, the Ministry of Defence became the first tenant in Microsoft’s UK-based Azure datacentre, and in December, AWS’s UK datacentre came online.

But 32% of the CIOs who took part in the IT Priorities survey said hybrid cloud would be their top area of investment this year. In one way, this makes perfect sense: hybrid gives IT departments the flexibility to choose which workloads to deploy in the public cloud and which to keep on-premise.

The challenge for CIOs is that, given a choice, business stakeholders may not feel the urge to move anything to the cloud, especially given current economic uncertainty. In the survey, 28% of respondents said they would implement virtual private networks in 2017.

But in this age of user empowerment, flexible working, cross-organisational collaboration and IT consumerisation, the idea that IT still sees a need for a hard network perimeter, with highly controlled access, seems at odds with modern working practices.

Similarly, you could argue that a hybrid cloud, where most workloads remain on-premise, does not reflect modern IT. It is a similar story with legacy applications.

The IT Priorities survey found that 15% of IT decision makers expect to increase their maintenance budget in 2017. There is nothing wrong with spending more on something that continues to add business value, but how many CIOs are faced with demands for higher and higher maintenance bills from their legacy software providers?

Given that a small but significant proportion of IT decision makers are thinking about investing in cutting-edge initiatives such as the internet of things and machine learning, which are normally way beyond the remit of corporate IT, perhaps 2017 should be the year the CIO breaks free of the chains imposed by traditional IT.