5 Year Vision for Application Leaders

Account for 3 major impacts of digital business that require a different kind of application leader to ensure future success.

If you suggested 20 years ago that grocery shopping, retail stores and other businesses could all be compacted into a single technological device, people would call you crazy. Digital business is creating unprecedented change to how organizations must deliver application capabilities to keep up in the technology industry and meet business goals — now and in the future. New models of business engagement, different skills, advanced technology and a new approach to software delivery require a different kind of application leader to ensure success in 2023.

Current governance, funding and delivery models are not aligned to deliver at the speed of business change

Current governance, funding and delivery models are not aligned to deliver at the speed of business change,” says Dennis Gaughan, research VP at Gartner. “As a result, application leaders need a roadmap to help them adapt their current strategies, models and teams to enable digital business over the next five years.”

Gaughan identifies three overarching impact appraisals for application leaders to consider, as well as actions to address for success in their five-year vision.

Impact No. 1: Budgets are shifting from IT to business units, so application leaders have less control over technology

“Budgets for IT investments have always been one of those items that can be defined by the pendulum swing — either highly centralized or decentralized — and recently we’ve seen the latter,” Gaughan says. There are three key influencers of the more decentralized nature of application spending:

  1. SaaS: The rise of cloud computing and delivery of applications as a service have made it easy for non-application leaders in the organization to use applications to support their needs.
  2. Applications becoming the product/service: Technology in the form of a mobile application or software is essential to what the organization delivers.
  3. Citizen development: A new generation of simpler development tools available on cloud platforms, coupled with a savvier workforce, makes it easier for non-IT people to build and deploy applications themselves.

Given this, Gaughan recommends this action:

  • Develop a roadmap based on how you expect the needs of your organization’s business strategy to evolve and how the application organization needs to change to support said strategy.

Success for the application leader in 2023 will be defined by the diversity, versatility and engagement of the team with key stakeholders

Impact No. 2: Changing demographics and an increasing global workforce require a different approach to staffing and skills development

Success for the application leader in 2023 will be defined by the diversity, versatility and engagement of the team with key stakeholders,” Gaughan says. Research shows teams with different cultures, perspectives and skills are prone to more creative and successful outcomes. The application leader’s role is to give their team a sense of purpose and provide clarity on how each individual fits into the larger goals of the organization.

As a result, Gaughan recommends these actions:

  • Shift employee development from skills specialization to building versatility.
  • Refocus your own leadership development on servant leadership to get the most of your teams.

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Impact No. 3: Traditional IT operating models are not designed to support the pace of change and need to continually innovate

Many IT organizations are stuck in a stagnant operating model where they wait for business stakeholders to approach them with requests for new or enhanced capabilities. Successful application leaders are instead active participants in developing application strategies and challenging the status quo. Start with a frank assessment of the current capabilities of the organization as they pertain to application development, agile and DevOps, customer-centric design, governance and an adaptive mindset.  

As such, Gaughan recommends these actions:

  • Adjust the IT operating model for new funding, accountability, success criteria and product-oriented delivery methods.
  • Foster more strategic relationships with key stakeholders by demonstrating business acumen.

The application leader of 2023 must have the credibility and the team to exploit digital opportunities for business benefit

The application leader of 2023 must have the credibility and the team to exploit digital opportunities for business benefit, and enable an agile digital platform to adapt to new models that emerge over time,” Gaughan says.

Gartner clients can read more in Succeeding as an Application Leader in 2023 by Dennis Gaughan, et al.

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