I think it’s fair to say that the role of the CIO has to be one of the toughest jobs in the world, but also one of the most rewarding.

For starters, CIOs are responsible for ensuring that each member of an organization has the resources and tools to be productive. To do so, CIOs must also provide adequate infrastructure so their organizations can extract relevant information and analysis from computer networks in real time.

As if all of this isn’t hard enough, CIOs must constantly stay updated on the latest emerging technologies that evolve at a dizzying pace. Otherwise, they may get blindsided by the next big IT trends such as virtualization, containers, or the emergence of DevOps as a practice. Finally, CIOs must pull off this technology magic under tight constraints due to budgets and limited human resources. It’s easy to see how these CIO challenges often make or break careers, and yet they keep drawing people back to this profession.


The Shifting IT Landscape Over Time

As we all know, mobility and cloud computing have made the biggest impact on traditional IT since mainframes gave way to client-server architectures in the 1980s. However, many CIOs and datacenter managers still struggle with how to navigate the blurry edges between the enterprise and public clouds.

In this fast-changing landscape, it’s worth recalling the pioneer days of the world wide web back in the early 1990s. I remember installing and launching this strange thing called a browser from Netscape, now known as Mozilla. It was a kind of revelation — you could type in online addresses, and content would suddenly appear from far-off places.

Of course in those early days, people were still trying to figure out what the internet would actually be good for. At first, the idea that a respectable enterprise would put up a website seemed preposterous. Back then, the web was a kind of Wild West domain for developers, coders, and computer hobbyists. A big “brick and mortar” company certainly would not need an “internet billboard” on this world wide web. How funny and quaint it now seems that we used to call ourselves “brick and mortar” companies in the first place.

Fast-forward two decades: The whole world has been transformed by the world wide web, which has morphed into a ubiquitous network that extends virtually everywhere. It now seems preposterous that any enterprise on the planet would not have a major internet presence today. And it’s not just people, businesses, schools, and governments that have gone online, either. With the advent of machine learning and the Internet of Things, we are embarking on a new era of connectivity in which our vehicles, roadways, bridges, pipelines, farmlands, factories, warehouses, homes, appliances, and consumer devices are all becoming part of connected data nodes on a vast global network.


Moving from the Web into the Cloud

As we ascend into this current age of cloud computing, I detect some familiar themes from those early days of the internet. For instance, many today see the public cloud as a place for developers to do their thing and build new software systems. But for some doubters, the public cloud is still not considered secure, making it hard to manage and store data efficiently. This mindset echoes the “brick and mortar” thinking of the early ’90s when the internet forced companies to re-envision the best ways to engage with their customers and the world.

It’s important to note that public clouds are not just machines that serve up IT resources on demand anymore, including computing, networking, and data storage. Public clouds today also feature a growing variety of enterprise applications offered as cloud services. In this new cloud paradigm, more software applications are being delivered alongside infrastructure in the cloud.

This shift eliminates the need for companies to devote major capital budgets to build complex systems for datacenter hardware and software. Workers can easily access tools and information from their enterprises, even though those apps are served up from a public cloud. This transformation in the way applications are served has effectively blurred the lines between the enterprise and public clouds.


The Needed Evolution into Hybrid Computing 

Of course, there remains the nagging issue of legacy IT equipment that’s already been installed and paid for in existing enterprise data centers. Nobody would argue that enterprises should quickly dump all of that existing IT infrastructure, years of application integration, virtualization, and storage systems to move completely into the public cloud. The costs alone would be prohibitive, not to mention the organizational whiplash of making such an abrupt change.

With that said, CIOs must continually embrace the momentum of new technologies and processes in order to stay ahead. This is the only way for enterprises to remain lean, productive, and informed in real time. CIOs should develop a responsible strategy to take advantage of public clouds in order to gain new insights, improve application availability, and make employees more productive.

It seems clear that the future of IT will embrace ever more applications and services delivered from the public cloud. However, public cloud services must be integrated with an organization’s existing datacenter infrastructure for the foreseeable future. It would be foolish to expect companies to completely pivot overnight. Hence there is a growing need to adopt hybrid cloud services that blend elements of the public cloud with existing IT infrastructure, including private enterprise clouds.

For CIOs to succeed, their strategies must incorporate new services delivered from the public cloud while still extracting value from their existing investments in private systems. Of course this journey never ends, so CIOs should be ready to take on the next wave of computing breakthroughs as they arise. Such advances might involve artificial intelligence assistants, virtual reality bodysuits, or some new type of Star Trek-like transporter interface that we cannot yet imagine. But whatever comes next, it will likely demonstrate that being a CIO is still one of the hardest, yet most rewarding, jobs in the world.