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30 years of the World Wide Web

How CIOs have stayed ahead of the curve

Today, technology is at the heart of the business, which makes the chief information officer vital for keeping organisations working.

Since the founding of the World Wide Web in 1989, the chief information officer has been through a period of fast and irrevocable change.

As we mark the 30th anniversary of this era-defining invention, there’s an opportunity to celebrate the technologies that have shaped the CIO – and defined the challenges still faced today.

The milestones that shaped the CIO

Backbone of the connected business: First dial-up internet access (1992) and SSL Protocol developed (1994)

In the early 1990s, the creation of dial-up internet access provided businesses with a route to get connected to the Web, as uptake grew rapidly from a few hundred businesses in 1993.

With connectivity came the need for security, and the creation of the cryptographic protocol that protected internet communications: SSL.

With new inventions emerging all the time, CIOs were on a steep learning curve as to what technology could do – and how it would work – and had to bring their colleagues on the journey with them. This was the origin of the skills challenge that continues today.

Changing how businesses talk: The first free web-based email (1996)

It’s hard now to imagine a time when email wasn’t omnipresent, but it was the launch of the first free web-based email back in 1996 that email started to become much more accessible – and important – for both consumers and employees.

Email remains the default business communication for many, even though alternative services – from chatrooms to MSN Messenger – have come and gone over time.

As the web channels more and more of our communications, CIOs have had to cope with this increased demand for bandwidth and data, as well as how to manage it all efficiently and securely.

Cutting the wires: Introduction of Wi-Fi (1997) and when mobile exceeded desktop (2014)

Almost as soon as we were connected to the Internet, we wanted to be cut free with wireless access. This transition has taken many years, from the invention of Wi-Fi back in 1997 to when we finally began to use the Web more from our mobiles than from our desktops just a few years ago.

CIOs have had to cater to employees who want to connect with colleagues and customers wherever they are, whether that’s over workplace technology or their own devices. Governance and security challenges are becoming more complex – and more important – as a result.

New technologies, similar challenges

The role of the CIO has grown from creating the backbone for the business to coping with a new era of scale and complexity. But three concerns remain consistent from those early days: new technology, cybersecurity and skills. Today these considerations sit within the wider objective of the CIO – using technology to help the business grow.

 “With technology at the heart of every business, the CIO is challenged with not just understanding the technology itself, but participating in conversations around business strategy and how technology can help drive growth.”

Colin Seward, CIO for Europe, Middle East, Africa and Russia, Cisco  


1.  Achieving business objectives, while keeping the lights on

The CIO is still tasked with finding and implementing the technologies that will achieve the organisation’s business objectives, whether that’s meeting worker expectations, delivering new customer experiences or improving productivity.

From our discussions, over 80% of CIOs’ budgets are spent “keeping the lights on” for architecture that can be many years old, with resource often concentrated on manual, time-consuming network operations.

At the same time, CIOs are becoming much more focused on managing cloud services and expect that spend in this area will double from 22% to 44% of the budget by 2021. Rather than a provider of technology, the CIO is becoming a curator of technology from many different sources to meet the business’ needs.

“As the Web has developed, the CIO is no longer the sole provider of technology. Apps and information core to the business are frequently provided by third parties. That means the CIO’s charter has expanded to integrating the full ecosystem of technology providers used by the company and ensuring it is secure and compliant.”

Colin Seward, CIO for Europe, Middle East, Africa and Russia, Cisco  


It’s not an easy balancing act, but using predictive analytics to detect issues before they occur – and automation to eliminate time spent on repetitive tasks – will enable CIOs to do less with more and support future growth.

2.  Keeping the business safe from cybercriminals

Just as the profile and expertise of CIOs has grown with the Web, cybercriminals have developed too: constantly building new ways to gain illicit access to systems and information.

Meanwhile, the threat surface is growing all the time, thanks to BYOD and the growing adoption of the cloud and the Internet of Things.

Automating elements of the identification and prevention of security threats will enable CIOs to focus on more complex cybersecurity tasks, keeping the business safe as the threat landscape continues to evolve.

3.  Delivering the skills needed for the future

CIOs are not only tasked with providing technology, but equipping their teams and the wider organisation to use it. This is no mean feat, as the technical skills required change all the time as technologies come and go.

Continual on the job training is vital for the IT team and beyond. External support can be useful, but so can reverse mentoring; we pair our grad recruits, who have strong programming skills, with our network experts to allow them to share competencies.

It’s also about helping employees across the business to work in new ways. In our latest training course on data science, we focused on our finance, HR and procurement teams, as they will probably be the employees that unlock valuable insights from our data in the coming years.

Although it’s easy to deprioritise upskilling to meet deadlines, if training continually falls down the “to do” list you’ll quickly find yourself behind. Balancing the needs of the business with future-proofing will be key.

A new era of opportunity

The World Wide Web is continuing to evolve at speed. In 2016, the Internet reached a Zettabyte of traffic. This will continue to grow exponentially in the years ahead.

“Many more innovations are on the way and the speed of change looks set to increase. Technology and the use of the web will undoubtedly continue to shape our businesses, our lives and the role of the CIO.”

Colin Seward, CIO for Europe, Middle East, Africa and Russia, Cisco  


But this also means that CIO has the power to do more for the business than ever before. As long as CIOs keep a keen eye to the future, they will successfully navigate the next 30 years of change – whatever they might bring.