It's time to plan for 2020

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Up to now, IT development was typified by a swinging pendulum from centralised, industrialised IT to decentralised and embedded IT which eventually swung back as costs mushroomed and enterprise concerns for security or for cohesive business models suffered.

These tired old paths won't work in the world of 2020 as the issue isn't technology alone, and the answer isn't control. This shift in technology independence for the business is being coupled with massive business environment change that requires a new path that enables the independence without sacrificing sustainabiity and incurring cost.

Neither the emerging nor the old world economies will be able to afford that. Instead, businesses must move to a model we call Empowered BT: A technology approach that embeds enabling technology innovation in the business while providing sufficient centralised coordination and oversight for enterprise-wide goals.

Empowered BT lets the business pursue opportunities at the edge with grassroots solutions — but with enterprise concerns balanced with this empowerment. Empowered BT blurs the boundaries between business and IT so that business leaders can take initiative on their own, but the necessary resources are close at hand, not walled off behind an IT process.

Key to success here is the interplay between four 'meta-roles', combined with a new operating model based on guidelines, mentoring and inspection:

- Visionaries, who look for the new tech-enabled business opportunities. Visionaries may be your empowered, tech savvy business users, or IT staff who have a business mind-set.
- Consultants, who provide the expertise to turn these ideas into reality. While technology may be even easier to use, visionaries will still need people who can make technology work. Visionaries will source these consultants wherever is most easy — the tech guru in the business, an external consultancy, or a local IT professional. Anyone with a can-do attitude.
- Integrators, who connect innovative solutions to each other and to core systems and information, and to other innovations as needed. Consultants know the business and the technology — integrators know what's in place and how to make the most of it.
- Sustainability Experts, who ensure solutions are scalable and sustainable in the enterprise context. Not every business-driven innovation has to scale to the enterprise, and comply with corporate standards — but some do. Sustainability experts know how to tell these cases apart. They can educate and collaborate to help innovations scale.

Each business organisation will fill these roles in their unique way — and only the last two; integrators and sustainability experts, are natural defaults for centralised IT.

IT organisations that change how they think and how they work can provide value in all four roles. Traditional IT organisations focused on cost and control will struggle to establish themselves, even as the authorities on enterprise needs — there will be too many alternatives available to business.

What does this mean to CIOs? First, work with your business colleagues to understand how radical a change your company should expect in the next decade so you know the priority to place on transforming your IT. Then work with the innovators in your company to craft a firm-specific vision of this world and begin evolving to it.

To do this right, start by taking a temperature of the mind-set of your IT organisation as it will need to shift from an attitude build around controlling the use of technology to embracing business ownership of technology decisions, with IT guiding, educating and ensuring sustainability.

A massive change in the business climate is afoot. As CIO, are you helping your company prepare for and profit from this change? Now is the time to find out.

Alex Cullen and James Staten are vice presidents at Forrester Research.

Pic: Elsie esq.cc2.0

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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