With almost half of today's CIOs planning to shift the majority of their applications and infrastructure to the cloud in the next four years, CIOs have an opportunity to 'reimagine IT' by looking at current technologies and asking what would be possible if they were deployed in other ways.
"Reimagining IT is not a slogan," says Mark McDonald, group vice president of Gartner, at the annual conference of the analyst firm which is being held this week at the Gold Coast.
"The technologies of cloud, social and mobile have fundamentally changed IT's economics and potentials for productivity improvement," says McDonald.
Peter Sondergaard, senior vice president and global head of research at Gartner, says the days when IT was the "passive observer" of the world are over, and it now has a role in shaping global politics and the economy.
He points out IT is the primary driver of business growth, with 350 companies each investing more than $1 billion in IT. "They are doing this because IT impacts their business performance."
He says Gartner research has found that two-thirds of chief executives believe IT will make a greater contribution to their industry in the next 10 years than in any previous decade.
For the IT leader to thrive in this environment, they must lead from the front and "re-imagine IT," says Sondergaard.
He underscores the massive change in the IT landscape in the past two decades. If he were speaking in this conference 20 years ago, there wouldn't be anyone with a tablet or smartphone playing Angry Birds.
Today, however, there are an estimated 800 million smartphones across the globe, 1.5 billion PCs, two billion people on the internet, 3.5 billion mobile phones, and they are moving 350 Exabytes of data around each year.
Today's "post modern leaders" are driven by customers relationships, by the explosion in information, social collaboration and mobility. They are enabled by the cloud, make the technology invisible and the end user experience simple. They build context aware solutions and put people and their needs at the centre of design.
"Their businesses describe them as innovative, dynamic, and amazing."
The global economy will impact ther IT budget and the CIO must decide the path the organisation will take, says Sondergaard.
There are three strategies to adopt, depending on the enterprise, he says.
For the strongest players, the crisis will provide an opportunity to make a massive leap while competitors are paralysed. CIOs in these organisations must budget right now to increase funding for strategic money-making IT activities.
For those who need to ride out the economic storm, CIOs must trim to contribute to enterprise financial targets. "Another round of moderate IT cost cutting is needed and must be budgeted right now," Sondergaard says.
For the worst affected, incremental cost cutting will not be enough, he says. CIOs in these organizations must restructure to survive, budgeting right now for a new radically lower IT cost model using major consolidation, shared services and low cost cloud applications.
In all scenarios, "the CIO must build a realistic budget right now, to lead from the front, regardless of market growth."
Post modern business
John Roberts, a Gartner vice president, defines the post modern business as one that dramatically rethinks its status quo and embraces dramatically deeper relationships with customers, suppliers and partners.
Just like in modern architecture, in post modern business "anything goes".
"You may be used to the idea that your customers have no walls. They're everywhere...like McDonalds."
In the post modern era, he says, "your business has no walls. It must be everywhere. It will be a virtual and fluid business that changes as customers change."
Roberts says that customer demands will change faster than enterprise architectures. The customers are also more informed about your products than ever before, and want to know the business cares about their immediate concerns.
He proffers the idea that in the current climate where the average company lasts only 10 years, "every added point of customer satisfaction alone could add another year to the life of your business."
He says a relentless focus on customer outcomes is a company's "fountain of youth".
At the same time he sees the rise of "cloud services brokerages".
Trading solutions across a large chain of cloud services adds complexity that must be tamed.
These brokerages will tie these different providers into an "ecosystem of cooperative relationships". They can aggregate, integrate, govern or customise cloud services based on the needs of customers.
CIOs will need them because if they do all that work, they will spend much more on cloud computing.
"As IT leaders, we must engage cloud brokers to make it easier to trade in a world of specialists."
He also sees three out of 10 IT organisations becoming cloud brokers for their business.
Milind Govekar, vice president, Gartner research, questions how CIOs and their department would be seen by chief executives. "Would they say you are predictable and reliable? Or would they use words like innovative, dynamic and even amazing?"
He calls on CIOs to challenge the traditional ways of thinking, starting with the concept of service. Many CIOs think of themselves as excellent service providers to the business but they should stop this.
We traditionally speak about our business partners as the “demand” part of the business ... and we take their “requirements.”
Often, he says, this sets the tone of the relationship of IT as a 'service provider'.
"We need to destroy that thinking," he says. "When you return to the office, stop taking 'demands' and 'requirements' and start making recommendations."
"Business leaders don’t always know what they really want or what IT can do. It is our job as IT leaders to start strategic discussions and show them the possibilities. Be a lesser service provider ...and a greater leader.
Tom Sanders, CTO of Jet Propulsion Lab, sums up a key mission for IT leaders in the age of cloud computing. "It is very simple," he says in an interview shown during the keynote. "Innovate together. IT should not create limits, it should eliminate limits."
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