Where CIOs and IT Leaders Will Go Next

October 18, 2021

Contributor: Kasey Panetta

IT leaders have limitless potential to leverage technology to drive value in a world forever changed by the pandemic.

“The question is, where next?” asked Daryl Plummer, VP Distinguished Analyst and Gartner Fellow, during his keynote address at Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo™2021. “The answer: Anywhere, everywhere and beyond.”

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Consider how much the pandemic forced change in healthcare. Overcrowded waiting rooms required new solutions. The world responded with telemedicine options and better scheduling procedures. This will eventually pave the way for reduced wait times for those with in-person appointments.

What lies beyond is more radical transformation, such as the reduction of waiting-room space in exchange for the growth in patient-care space. Hospitals are hardly alone in trying to figure out what the future holds and how to best optimize for it.

Work anywhere

In March 2020, organizations had to shift to remote operations essentially overnight. More than a year later, only 14% of employees want to return to the office full-time, while 19% prefer to be remote full-time. Overwhelmingly, employees desire a hybrid approach to work that enables flexibility. 

But the conversation isn’t just a debate over hybrid versus remote versus onsite. Instead, it’s an opportunity to consider how to implement entirely new ways of working.

Many organizations are using the events of the past year to reimagine and rethink what are key pieces of work environments and what is simply no longer relevant. For some businesses, that means providing specific guidance on where and how to work based on activities and work patterns. Schroders, an asset management company, focused on “guiding principles” about flexibility in where and how employees work. Because the approach is not constrained by policies, the organization can easily adapt to whatever disruption comes next. 

Not only is work increasingly hybrid, but technology production is shifting to anywhere in the enterprise with business technologists, non-IT employees who create technology or analytics capabilities for internal or external business use. Increasingly, technology budgets are being redirected from centralized IT to the business functions.

“Our analysis shows organizations that successfully enable business technologists are 2.6 times more likely to accelerate digital business outcomes,” said Mbula Schoen, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner.

Establishing partnerships with the business and creating services that offer low-code applications and self-service options help expand technology across the organization. 

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Connect everywhere

As with the hospital example, transformative change requires a lot of individuals, organizations and teams to work together and move in the same direction — but in new ways. Building these partnerships across organizations, industries and geographies creates entirely new opportunities and potential business value. 

“At no other time in history have we had this much opportunity to pursue technology-enabled change,” said Hung Lehong, Distinguished VP Analyst and Gartner Fellow. “We are now in the position to go further and solve world-class problems. But you won’t solve these on your own; they’re too big.”

There are three types of partner connections that are vital in the “where next?” conversation: 

  1. Generative partnership: Vendor relationships with an enterprise are 1:1 relationships that can sometimes go to the next level. Instead of a buy/sell relationship, the parties can co-innovate, co-build, co-own and co-earn on the asset they jointly produced. Working as true partners can reveal a new avenue to create revenue and navigate challenges. Generative-based IT spending is expected to grow at 31% over the next five years.
  2. One-to-many partnership: This occurs when a single enterprise focuses many partners on providing a unified front or jointly solving a single problem. For example, a government agency can pull together many other agencies and private sector partners to reduce multiple individual visits into one orchestrated digital experience. 
  3. Many-to-many partnership: This comes into play when an enterprise wants to create an ecosystem where everyone helps everyone. For example, a platform that enables many different developers to create innovative solutions for many different parties. 

Move beyond 

Companies and ideas we now know to be widely popular were once absurd ideas. For example, using an email or SMS to pay people in countries with limited bank structures became PayPal. Developers paying a monthly fee to create open-source software out of other open-source software became GitHub. These mainstream ideas were once considered unworkable — right up until they worked.

But with new technology it’s possible to simulate absurd ideas using synthetic data — and possibly uncover new sources of value. This reduces risk and expands opportunities.

“When we combine massive data sets and synthetic data for rapid and complex deep learning, even absurd ideas become practical to explore,” said Plummer. “Absurd ideas are ones people tend to laugh at and not consider seriously at first. But these ideas sometimes wind up solving unexpected world-class problems, too.” 

This type of innovation requires you to set aside legacy business practices, such as FedEx testing a robot that autonomously provides on-demand, last-mile deliveries or Levi’s creating a secondhand microsite to lean into sustainable business practices. It also requires you to set aside biases by using technology that minimizes prejudice, systematically confronts real harms and identifies ways to reduce those harms. 

“Where next?” is a big question for leaders around the world. But with technology as a backbone, the pandemic and other recent disruptions have primed organizations to drive even greater value anywhere, everywhere and beyond.

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