Everything old is new again, at least for CIOs. That’s the word from Forbes, which notes that the top concerns for CIOs this year haven’t really changed from 2016: They’re still worried about cybersecurity, IT talent and the skill shortage and alignment of IT with the business.

The last one especially is a sticking point. With companies now recognizing the value of IT departments that empower business strategies rather than dragging down budgets as mere cost centers — combined with cloud, big data and intelligent security solutions as viable ways to reduce the total IT workload — why are CIOs still struggling to find business value?

It’s simple: Reactive IT. Despite the rise of new tech, despite the changing view of IT professionals many departments are stuck in “fire-fighting” mode, managing problems moment-to-moment rather than proactively planning for IT issues. How can CEOs extinguish reactive IT and fire up better business alignment?

Slow Burn

Reactive IT response has a long (and storied) history — while IT pros don’t enjoy the stress of sudden server outages or network disasters, there’s a well-earned pride that comes with effectively handling emergencies. Think of it like firefighting: None of these first responders want buildings to burn, and so they spend significant amounts of time learning to mitigate the impact of fire and save as much as possible. In the public spotlight they’re deservedly hailed as heroes; IT has taken on a similar role as first-on-scene when tech disaster strikes.

The problem? Over time, the cost of responding in-situ to IT emergencies starts to add up  — even business value goes down. CIOs know that the IT department is integral to continued corporate function but they become just another budget line, just another cost. And as emergencies grow more complex — think mobile malware, cloud computing failures or big data issues — it takes IT longer and longer to “put out” these fires, widening the gap. Bottom line? It’s a slow burn, but has CIOs feeling the heat.

The Cool Guys

So what happens if companies can effectively shift IT from hot-hand responses to cool-as-a-cucumber proactive problem management? First up are fewer business interruptions — using analytics tools to predict when specific systems need maintenance or detect emerging user issues means IT are effectively dealing with a lit match instead of a full-on house fire; problems that can be put out quickly or avoided entirely.

Consider the fire-fighter example again: What if fire departments had a mandate to sell, install and directly monitor smoke and fume detectors in addition to educating the general public and responding to emergencies? The likely outcome is fewer fires in total and the ability to act before houses went up in flames, in turn saving time and property.

Changing the Challenge

Of course, this is easier said than done. For CIOs, spearheading the move to proactive IT comes with two key challenges:

  • Technology — Do you have systems in place to collect, interpret and report data about emergent IT issues? New analytics technologies which focus on real-time, end-user experience can give IT the immediate data and feedback they need to discover firestarters instead of just putting out the flames.
  • Teamwork — Just like firefighters, IT pros want to handle fewer emergencies. But technology professionals love a challenge, and there are few more complex (and potentially fulfilling) as effectively handling a tech emergency. For CIOs, the key here is changing the challenge; giving IT the tools and time necessary to develop complex and responsive detection-management strategies, a “safety net” of sorts that’s able to capture critical insight and let IT pros arrive, solution in hand, before users even know there’s an issue.

CIO concerns remain consistent: Too much IT firefighting and not enough business alignment. Change the first-responder relationship from reactive to proactive with the help of advanced solutions and a new IT outlook.