Technology is on fire. Technology-related sectors may have single-handedly pulled the economy back from the brink of disaster. A recent report by Ibis World reveals that 5 of the 7 fastest growing industries are related to technology. These industries are predicted to continue their meteoric rise in growth and importance.

The data might suggest these are boom times for chief information officers. After all, CIOs are responsible for the information technology (IT) department within a company. Their charter is to evaluate and implement technology that can increase productivity of the business and ultimately grow revenues and profitability based on the successful implementation of technology.

Unfortunately for CIOs, increased reliance on technology in business has only served to put a target on their back. The fact is, IT organizations spend very little time evaluating new, whiz-bang gadgets and other social, mobile or cloud computing technologies. Most of the time, CIOs are busy supporting their old, perhaps obsolete, technology.

How can the corporate purveyors of technology be so behind the curve? Well, it’s quite simple; CIOs and their staff have more than enough to do simply managing what they’ve got. The challenge is compounded by tepid hiring in IT. As a result, in many companies, CIOs and IT organizations have the perception of being laggards.

Most businesses have focused on automation of business processes to drive costs down and productivity up. The net result has been record profitability for corporate America. Ironically, IT organizations themselves have made very little progress in automating their IT management responsibilities. That’s too bad because automation is the key to freeing the CIO from the mundane task of basic IT management or at least reducing the time spent diagnosing and responding to IT management issues.

So how can CIOs get out of the conundrum of being so mired in managing the old stuff that they can’t look at new stuff? Here are five things that can help put the CIO back in the technology driver’s seat.

  1. Automate what you can automate. Not having to use human resources to solve IT problems is the best way to free up limited IT resources. For example, password resets may be the biggest time sink for IT, and with software, this time-consuming task can be automated. Easy-to-deploy, inexpensive software can automate this function, making it a no-brainer to do. Good automation can also eliminate human error, which in turn can be time consuming.

  2. Near automation is better than no automation. In many cases, total automation is not possible because there are too many variables involved or simply because it is difficult to find automation technology that fits all business processes. Where tasks can’t be automated, IT must be able to triage an IT incident in near real time. That requires getting fast and accurate data from IT management tools. For example, an IT help desk technician can utilize remote control software to log in to a user’s laptop to fix a problem without having to send out a technician.

  3. Good data is better than lots of data. We’ve all heard about how much electronic data is being generated. IT has no shortage of data to peruse to determine a problem. They have access to network logs, system logs, application logs and the list goes on. But, what is required is the right data or actionable data. Actionable data allows an IT technician to quickly determine the root cause of a problem and how to resolve it. More advanced IT management tools can cull through data clutter and provide the data that is relevant to solving a particular problem.

  4. It’s the reports stupid. All too often, IT management tools are purchased for aesthetics. And what might look pretty on a screen does nothing to help technicians to be more      responsive. When acquiring IT management tools, purchasers must first ask themselves what problems they are trying to solve and whether the tool in question actually solves those problems or provides information to that end. The right tool should have the reporting capability to answer those key questions without a lot of slicing and dicing of data. Powerful reporting is more than worth the cost of the tool.

  5. Data in place. The beauty of having so much enterprise data is that most questions can be answered by data already being gathered. This is to say, don’t look to add to the complexity by implementing more data-generating technologies. The idea of a big data project comes to mind, where companies try to move information to a data warehouse, transform it and conduct more analysis on the aggregate data. These projects tend to be complex and expensive. And, in many cases, the data and answers being sought could have been ascertained using existing tools and data already being gathered.

With IT in the position of having to do more with less, CIOs need to be more strategic about staying strategic. Automation or near automation of IT may be the most strategic thing a CIO can do.

 Raj Sabhlok is the president of Zoho Corp., which is the parent company of and ManageEngine. Follow him @rajsabhlok.