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How to not become 'the last video store on the street'

How to not become 'the last video store on the street'

A Victoria University of Wellington forum distils key lessons for enterprises, IT managers, and their teams on how to respond to the accelerated pace of IT change.

IT professionals need to prepare to have multiple careers, not necessarily in enterprise IT – take opportunities and be open to them.

Organisations have to “reimagine” their business and realise what made them great today may be their downfall tomorrow. The necessary change will require tough decisions.

IT managers have to learn to deal with IT outside their control and influence, and lead through conflicting demands of operational excellence versus innovation.

These are among the key lessons for living through disruptive change that can be applied across the IT spectrum, which were presented at a recent forum at the Victoria University of Wellington (Victoria) School of Business.

The speakers, Fronde CEO Ian Clarke and Victoria University of Wellington Business School professor of information systems Benoit Aubert, aimed to answer “IT roles in a disruptive environment and where they will be in three years.”


We are seeing much greater demand for technical people with strong business orientation.

Ian Clarke, Fronde


Aubert described the backdrop of change businesses, IT leaders, and their teams are facing.

While organisations had faced changes before, the current pace of change is different, stated Aubert, who is also Head of the School of Information Management at Victoria. “We do not have generations to adapt, we have years, or months.”

In the 1800s, for instance, 80 per cent of workers in developed countries were in agriculture. This year, only 2 per cent of workers in the developed countries were in this sector. People moved to manufacturing and other services within the next 200 years.

Until 50 years ago, manufacturing was a huge part of employment.

“If you look at the pace of change we are introducing with IT, instead of being over generations as what happened with agriculture, it has been `compressed’ within your lifetime,” said Aubert.

“Your career will also be undergoing these changes,” he stated.

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Part of it is accepting some of the things that were good and profitable have to be let go and your business will be shifting to a different model

Benoit Aubert, Victoria University of Wellington


Organisations, according to Aubert, will have to grapple with similar challenges. They have to be ready for the unexpected.

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Old markets are being wiped out, and new ones are created. He stressed, however, that new markets may not last long.

For instance, the CD market that changed the music industry has been killed by downloads, and he questioned what will be next after this.

“We are looking at the technologies that are coming. We just have to admit that the future will look a lot different than what we have now. What we are used to is suddenly supercompressed.”

Aubert added that, “For managers that is the hardest thing to realise you have to look at very weak signals that may anticipate this wave coming. But by the time it is there, you should probably worry about the next one.”

His advice? “Look at very weak signals that may anticipate something is coming.”

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Two years ago, managers have to be flexible and adjust to change. It was about being ready for contingencies.

“We are moving away from a contingency model, where we just adjust from time to time.

Today, managers have to address at the same time conflicting demands. These demands arrive at any time.

For instance, amidst the demand for seamless and flawless services, there is the demand to enable experimentation, and quick failure to trigger innovation.

“We are trying to protect information at the same time we are moving towards open innovation,” explained Aubert.

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“If you are in IT, you are always dealing with those demands that don’t fit together. It means that for managers, your strategic plan and how you organise your IT resources becomes a very hard challenge.”

He said that for some, whatever they pick, they are going to be bitten on the other side. “So start thinking differently and thinking about this paradox that enables us to serve conflicting goals at the same time.”

Driving toward digitalisation

IT has been fundamental to much of the disruption across any industry, said Ian Clarke of Fronde, a member of the advisory council of Victoria University. “We need to turn IT on its head.”

Clarke said the current situation includes legacy IT that is soaking the budget for keeping lights on. There are also limited funds available for front office systems and digital channels.

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Meanwhile, digital transformation is being demanded by consumers, who have multiple devices at their fingertips. “The value chain of discover, inform, understand, purchase, deliver, and renew is online and mobile,” he explained. “There is less emphasis on procurement and back office systems.”

The drive is towards digital business, according to Clarke.

The focus is on the front office adding true value to your business; building and matching what consumers want.

He added that, “We have to provide richer services to our clients, where they want to consume it and how they want to consume it.

“Back office systems must be simpler. IT platforms need to be scalable.”.

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Underpinning this is this drive for user experience that will define the IT infrastructure, said Clarke.

He stressed that when you have a lot of change you adopt a lot of techniques to support that change. “Make the change when you recognise you need to is a good approach.”

According to Clarke, some factors to keep in mind are that clients have shorter and shorter refresh cycles as they respond to competitive threats, the advance of consumer devices, and the way people want to consume services.

We have to provide richer services to our clients, where they want to consume it and how they want to consume it.

Ian Clarke, Fronde

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He said managing this change requires a delicate balance when an IT organisation needs a fresh new leadership and a new direction.

“We experienced this dynamic at Fronde,” explained Clarke. “These days, the company’s growth is driven by cloud partners like Google, Salesforce, AWS and NetSuite.

"We spent a lot of time explaining that was where our our future is going to be," he stated.

He added that one of the most interesting things they have observed is the shift in the skills being required by clients.

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“We are seeing much greater demand for technical people with strong business orientation. They are better able to relate to the business people, they have skills that are more useful across a range of types of engagements than being purely technical.”

Aubert, meanwhile, said the enterprise has to adjust “on all levels” to respond to drastic change.

A key question is, ‘How can we reimagine our business?’

“When you are rethinking your organisation, just challenge every assumption you have about how that business will be conducted,” stated Aubert.

He cited Uber’s disruption of the taxi industry. Most taxi drivers felt safe, because people would still need a cab to go from one place to another.

When you are rethinking your organisation, just challenge every assumption you have about how that business will be conducted.

Benoit Aubert, Victoria University of Wellington

Uber just came from the left field, said Aubert. “Suddenly, we have mobiles to match people with cars...It is really hard to go against what your customers want.”

The other element is the pace of change, interjected Aubert. “If you don’t recognise those signals very early, somebody will see that before you and will take advantage of those possibilities.”

“Part of it is accepting some of the things that were good and profitable have to be let go and your business will be shifting to a different model,” advised Aubert.

He pointed to another industry severely impacted by change: “You don’t want to be the last video store on the street.”

He said for individual IT workers, it is important to recognise those weak signals for change, because “your skillset is what is valuable in the market.”

Aubert stressed: “Only you have responsibility for your career.”

He concluded that amidst all the disruption ahead, “IT is a great industry to work in if you like some action.”


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