IT is largely about solving problems and keeping the business running, and the higher up you are in the IT department the bigger the problems you have to solve. This edition of Tech Sanity Check identifies the 10 biggest problems that CIOs and IT managers faced in 2007.

10. Keeping Windows Vista at arm’s length

IT departments are always slow adopters of new operating systems, even when the new OS offers clear benefits to the organization. With Windows Vista, the benefits aren’t very clear. As I wrote in Sanity check: The truth about Windows Vista adoption in 2007, some businesses are purchasing Vista licenses as part of their general licensing agreements with Microsoft. However, very few of them are actually deploying Vista. Despite some creative marketing from Microsoft, businesses are still searching for something that makes Vista worth the hassle of upgrading.

9. Centralized vs. decentralized IT

Many organizations struggle with whether to centralize or decentralize their IT departments. Centralization allows pooled resources and more specialization among your staff, while decentralization allows IT to be more closely tied to each business unit. In some organizations, the pendulum swings back and forth between being more centralized or decentralized. In 2007, decentralization was the more popular approach, but the internal debates continue to rage and some organizations are even opting for a hybrid approach.

8. Storage creep

With an increasing body of data going direct to digital and larger multimedia streams being a more frequent part of the data load, storage needs are exploding for lots of organizations. Many of them have designed their data systems for scalability, but even those are being stressed much sooner than expected in many cases. The storage crunch will not abate any time soon. Beyond just throwing more resources at the problem, there is a sore need for better storage optimization solutions to handle all of the duplicate data on most networks.

7. Power and energy concerns

A collective will has emerged in IT to get control of energy consumption for both economic and environmental reasons. In California and several other highly populated metropolitan areas around the world, there are supply and demand issues related to energy that are causing anxiety for many IT executives. Unfortunately, products and solutions are still catching up with the will to create “Green IT.”

6. Alignment between IT and business goals

A good IT department is always looking for new and enhanced technologies to help improve its company’s business. However, the business often changes its goals and objectives without informing IT in a timely manner and that can lead to a disconnect that results in inefficiencies and wasted resources. How do you fix that? First, it’s almost impossible to over-communicate, so err on the side of too much internal communication. Second, see No. 3 on this list.

5. Dealing with compliance

From HIPAA to Sarbanes-Oxley to FERPA to PCI, compliance issues have engulfed many IT departments and have taken a big bite out of IT budgets because of the staff resources it takes to deal with those issues. Many IT departments are struggling with how to integrate compliance activities into regular operations and/or get additional funding for compliance activities.

4. No risk assessment for information security

Too many organizations look at security as a technology issue that can be solved with the right hardware or software. Not enough organizations focus their security efforts around the stuff that actually matters — company data. A lot of them are realizing that the way to do that is with a risk assessment that looks at which data would be most costly to lose, the likelihood of its being compromised, and the cost of securing it. For more on this subject, take a look at the TechRepublic Webcast Securing Networks Without Borders.

3. Getting or keeping a seat on the executive team

One of the primary motivators for creating a CIO role is to give IT a seat in executive leadership meetings where the company’s strategic plans are discussed and finalized. Because technology is such a key business enabler and is part of the picture for so many innovations, it makes sense for IT to have an executive-level representative. A decade ago, there was a lot of momentum around hiring a CIO. However, over the past five years, CIO has started to lose some of its appeal. Some IT departments are now being classified under operations and report up through the COO. Whether a company has a CIO or not, it needs to make sure that at least one IT executive gets in on high-level strategy meetings for the company.

2. The invasion of consumer tech

As I discussed in Sanity check: The six consumer technologies that are destroying traditional IT, it is easier than ever for workers to get their hands on technologies to help them do their jobs without ever consulting the IT department. The problem is that many of these technologies are outside-of-policy and can lead to security and compliance risks. The reason that workers turn to these consumer technologies is that they are faster and easier to get than working with IT, which typically rejects or drags its feet on many requests from users. The root of the problem is a disconnect between IT and users, which leads us directly to No. 1 on the list.

1. Turning IT into a service organization

IT departments have historically seen themselves as the guardians of the computer network and the protectors of the company’s technology assets. In relation to users, IT has often believed that it needs to protect them from themselves. This approach has been called “playing god on the network,” and while it may have served a purpose in the past, in 2007 a lot of organizations began to realize that they need to fundamentally change their approach. The best IT leaders are turning their departments into service organizations that are focused on using technology as a business enabler, super-serving and partnering with end users, and educating users about IT policies and the risks involved in circumventing them.

How well does this list reflect your top challenges from 2007? What do you think was the No. 1 issue? Were there any important issues you faced that weren’t on this list? Join the discussion.