Changes to how value and innovation develop in the organisation represent an opportunity for CIOs and point the way to the future of work.
This decade has begun with unprecedented disruption for businesses and accelerated change. However, recent research from Gartner says it also provides a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” for CIOs to establish themselves as organisational leaders. The analysts say CIOs and IT executives can accelerate value creation by focusing on three key areas: leading from anywhere, nurturing connections and reaching beyond.
The report says a lot about the changing nature of work and our relationship to the workplace. For CIOs and IT executives to lead from anywhere, they need an organisation and workforce that is ready for flexible and remote working. To nurture connections they need an effective ecosystem. And to reach beyond – tackling large-scale problems with solutions that will affect the entire world – they need technological and social readiness.
“Where we work, where technology leadership comes from and where IT is produced has shifted,” said Mbula Schoen, Senior Director Analyst at Gartner. “CIOs and IT executives must capitalise on changes around the future of work to propel their teams and their enterprises forward.”
Leading from anywhere
What does it mean to lead from anywhere? Partly it means remote and flexible working. Almost half (47%) of knowledge workers will be working remotely by the end of 2022, says Gartner, compared with around a quarter (27%) in 2019. Many workers say they will leave their job if their current employer does not embrace remote work. Gartner recommends CIOs do three things to attract and retain the necessary IT talent.
First, design a human-centric workplace where purpose, innovation and performance thrive. That means going beyond working location and creating a supportive workplace where, perhaps, people have no defined working hours or can choose their own work technology. The precise structure will depend on specific circumstances but Gartner’s research has found that a human-centric workplace reduces worker fatigue by 44%, increases intent to stay by 45% and boosts performance by 28%.
Second, harness the power of business technologists, who make up around two-fifths (41%) of the workforce. These are workers who report to departments other than IT but create technology or analytics capabilities for internal or external use. When business technologists are properly equipped and empowered, organisations are more likely to accelerate their digital business outcomes.
And third, build an internal talent marketplace. Most companies repeat the old cliche “our people are our greatest asset” but how many have a detailed awareness of the talent they have in-house? An internal talent marketplace records what people have worked on and with whom, what skills were required and developed, and so on. Then it uses artificial intelligence to connect workers with roles and short-term assignments that help the organisation re-skill and fill priority roles.
As well as changing their style of leadership, CIOs and other IT executives must nurture connections everywhere, Gartner argues. Where and how innovation happens has changed and CIOs can no longer drive change alone. The organisational ecosystem, vendor partners and even customers are all becoming drivers of innovation. That requires another type of cultural change, in terms of communication and information sharing.
Hung LeHong, distinguished research vice president and Gartner Fellow, says: “CIOs need to take the acceleration in digital investments caused by the pandemic to pursue the next level of outcomes in healthcare, education, industry, and public and commercial life. This will require new ways of partnering and building platforms that support ecosystems to solve world-class problems together.”
Gartner identifies three types of connection: one-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-many. The first, one-to-one connections, are generative partnerships where the enterprise and a technology partner work together to build a new solution. The resulting assets are co-owned, benefit both parties and produce revenue for both. The analysts estimate that generative-based IT spending will grow at 31% over the next five years.
Second is one-to-many connections, where the organisation works with many partners to tackle a problem from different perspectives. This could be a local authority creating a public-private partnership to solve a transport problem. The third connection, many-to-many, is often known as a platform business model and involves many enterprises bringing their products and services together, such as through an app store or API system.
“Ultimately, what these three types of partnerships show is that the CIO needs to become a partner expert, nurturing connections to build partnerships of all types,” says Mr LeHong.
Going beyond the ‘where’
Both areas outlined above focus on the change in where innovation is happening and where value is created, both within the organisation and without. That’s why Gartner’s final area of focus is the need to go beyond the ‘where’. “The answer to the question ‘where next’ cannot be just in terms of a location or direction. ‘Where’ is actually the exploration of how value can be found and seized,” said Daryl Plummer, distinguished research vice president and Gartner Fellow.
Technology can help organisations move beyond legacy business practices and historical insights, says Gartner. For example, as privacy becomes more of a customer concern, organisations could use machine learning to create synthetic data – valid and predictive data sets that can be used to generate insights without invading customer privacy.
Machine learning could also be used to help individuals overcome bias in decision-making. Instinctive responses can be hard to overcome, so AI could be used to increase financial inclusion by evaluating suitability for financial products based on signals that people might miss. Mr Plummer says: “As a CIO, you should demand technology that has built-in support for minimising bias, systematically confronting real harms and identifying ways to reduce them.”
The Gartner report paints a picture of rapid disruption that will change the way we work – and how organisations operate – and which presents a golden opportunity for the CIO. The ability to lead from anywhere brings freedom to working practices. The best talent can be brought in from anywhere in the world, even from solutions like private talent clouds, which make the best IT talent available on a project basis in the most flexible way possible.
But CIOs can go beyond the organisation and nurture connections with third parties to drive new models of innovation. Ultimately, they can deploy technology to rethink processes and business models. The future of work goes beyond the old-fashioned, office-based, norms and opens up a world of opportunity. It’s up to CIOs to seize the moment.
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