During 2013, we had a mix of originality and predictability for participants within Enterprise IT. In looking forward to 2014, I could play it safe and predict the inevitable acceleration of known trends (e.g. “APIs Become as Basic as ABCs"). I could also take guilty pleasure by speaking of unspoken and impossible dreams (e.g., "SharePoint Dies and Stays Dead"). Instead, my prediction is this: Enterprise IT will learn to play left-handed.
Cannon to the Left of IT
We've always known about the cannon to the left, first described in the story of a suicidal mission in a poem by Lord Alfred Tennyson. The qualitatively driven creative professionals in marketing and product have been there since the beginning; haranguing enterprise IT professionals and CIOs with labels of tedious and pedantic. The differences in 2013 have centered around the emerging trend of CIOs being asked to report to CMOs.
In places where IT is not being fully subsumed by marketing, it is ceding important territory. With Forrester Analyst Brian Hopkins predicting that IT will begin to lose ownership of some of it’s prime territory up to and including Business Intelligence platforms. Now that BI has proven to be a difference maker at the competitive level, some executives are making the shift from housing BI in IT, traditionally a bottom line shop, into core business disciplines like sales and marketing which are top line shops.
Cannon to the Right of IT
The inevitable future promised by the cloud is now here and the commoditization war by providers has just begun. The financially driven trend of shifting costs to SAAS and PAAS solutions for big block architectural components is not the exception anymore, and it is quickly becoming the rule. Some highly respected people may still debate about whether cloud-based infrastructure is truly cheaper than on-premise infrastructure. What people don’t debate, however, is the cloud’s ability to preserve one of the resources more scarce than capital - executive attention.
No matter whether the CIO, the CFO or the COO are the ones pushing for the shift, the momentum is clear. Enterprises are not going to commit such a large capital investment into the people required to operate and maintain systems that are so significantly removed from their competitive advantages in the marketplace.
Cannon in Front of IT
The calls from the executive suite to do more with less have not stopped. They seem only to have increased. Even in enterprises with growing workforces and vibrant futures, there is still a push to grow value generation and throughput at a faster rate than employee costs. This is a business fundamental that will never change. Even if the growth of purpose-driven businesses continues, the call for top-line growth that accelerates faster than bottom line costs will not cease because this increasing separation between the core metrics is what defines the health of the organization.
So if you are an IT executive, what are you to do when you are asked:
- to do more with less
- to give away ownership of your most exciting systems
- to outsource what was once your core competencies
Forward, the Light Brigade! Charge for the guns!
How can enterprise IT, volley’d and thunder’d with shot and shell, come back from the mouth of hell? Is it theirs not to reason why? Is it theirs but to do and die? There is not only a way for the noble IT departments survive, there is a way for enterprise IT to thrive. For the past few decades, many IT players have been journeying to the right. Some continue on, going deeper and deeper into the swamps of certainty never to find a bottom.
A few noble travelers have come out on the other side. Now is their time to shine. The transformative CIOs will rise in prominence. The right-brained creative and holistic thinkers who have been the pariahs in their left-brained organizations will get more opportunity to engage directly with business partners. These possibility driven leaders of tomorrow will persevere on, fueled by their faith, to forge new value propositions for IT.
Don't be too quick to apply the label of "more creative" to those people driven by the right brain. Creativity exists within each of us and manifests in different ways for everyone. You can, however, recognize these "left-handed" IT players most notably by observing:
- Do they focus on qualitative end states rather than quantitative metrics?
- Do they create constructive conversations that center around possibility rather than obstacle?
- Do they deliver messages with pictures rather than written words?
- Do they speak in parables and metaphors?
- Do they work for the humans who engage with systems rather than the systems themselves?
- Do they employ systems thinking over process thinking?
If you are one of the few enterprise IT players who are capable of “playing left handed” and leading with a qualitative lens, get ready for the time is nigh. If you are one of the more traditional “right handed” IT professionals, you can still do your part by helping to measure and execute the visions of tomorrow. Whichever role you play, please honor the light brigade. Honor the noble six hundred.