Corporations can change the world by combining their organizational capabilities with the unique human capacity to imagine. That is the fundamental premise of Martin Reeves' and Jack Fullers’ new book, “The Imagination Machine.” The question is, are CIOs putting in place the teams and the right skillsets needed to create their corporate futures? I posed that question in a recent CIOChat.

How Do You See IT Organizations Changing in the Next 5 Years?

CIOs anticipate many changes being needed over the next five years. Former CIO Isaac Sacolick put the question in perspective by sharing the five year view from 2016 to the present.



Early digital transformation

Many are implementing but struggling

Some cloud

Hybrid and some multi-cloud

Integration is hard

Integration is easier with low code

Without question, former CIO Wayne Sadin is right when he said that, “going forward there will be less focus on infrastructure as hyperscale grows. There will be more citizen developer/IT collaboration as low code grows. IT and OT will coalesce as the physical world connects with the digital world.” Similarly, CIO Martin Davis suggested the next five years is about “SaaS, cloud-based offerings, and low code/no code. So, IT organizations will change from coding to providing services.” At the same time, Davis thinks “the key is going to be a big focus on improving meaningful connections between humans and technology. 2020 showed us many gaps and opportunities that will be at core of investment in next 60 months.”

At the same time as organizations work to better connect people, former CIO Ken LeBlanc said that organizations need to become “more integrated with other business functions as technology skills become more pervasive in knowledge workers focused on data, integrations and service management.” CIO Gerard Au agreed with LeBlanc, suggesting that “IT organization going forward need to be less operational and more strategic. In 2020, we saw the acceleration of many initiatives that are trying to push us forward as an organization. In the next 5 years, IT organizations needs to be leading these kinds of initiatives rather than be waiting for others to be ready to.” For CIO Deb Gildersleeve, this means that, “more and more organizations are going to prioritize innovation at the edges of the business and be looking for tools that can help drive transformation outside of IT.”

Related Article: How COVID-19 Is Impacting IT Recruitment Practices

What Kind of Plan Is Needed to Get to This Future State?

CIOs need to clearly establish a new mindset. For Sacolick this means, “Do not add to the plan, reinvent the plan. We are coming out of COVID and markets, customer needs, hybrid working, and AI/data opportunities are all game changers. Stop adding to the plan, define a strategy with no more than a handful of top priorities.” Davis agreed, saying, “Figure out how to tear up the plan and start again in an agile manner to deliver new customer focused value faster.”

Organizations clearly need better alignment to deliver this, particularly with HR for workforce planning, culture, employee enablement and engagement. Sadin said this is about the “tone at the top. To succeed, CIOs who replace their technology hat with a digital transformation strategist hat. This enables CEOs to embrace this next normal as a chance to transform their organizations.”

This requires a stronger prioritization and collaboration process between teams that are often siloed. It involves mixing IT and the business together to solve things like creating effective solutions to support an increasingly hybrid workforce as well as creating solutions to everyday problems. It also means increasing agility throughout their company so the business as a whole can increase the company’s right to win.

Related Article: How CIOs Can Lead Change

What Critical Skills Do We Need to Reach This Future State?

CIOs came up with a long list. Here is a summary of the most common points:

  1. Empathy for your people, the wider organization, customers, suppliers.
  2. Ability to collaborate with diverse teams, to learn, experiment and leverage feedback.
  3. Communications and collaboration.
  4. Innovation, risk taking and iteration.
  5. Talent development/management.
  6. People who can develop from scratch a completely new world.
  7. Real and practical approaches.
  8. Layered and Lego approach solutions that evolve.
  9. Business acumen, innovation and communication.
  10. Empathy, creativity, design thinking, communication, collaboration, marketing, value-driven data scientists.
  11. Ability to rapidly assimilate data, correlate it and synthesize responses.
  12. Moving from "system/app" focus to a "business process" focus (inside your organization and across the value chain).

Gildersleeve summarized the above list by saying that “technical skills are big, but also weighing in soft skills like collaboration, communication, empathy, problem solving and having more of a business-oriented strategic mindset. the big thing is that IT’s role is changing, and if you want to be most impactful, you must be able to insert yourself into other lines of the business in a way that’s collaborative and communicative. that’s been the slowest area for IT to evolve.”

Learning Opportunities

Hiring Specialists or Training Generalists? How Will You Acquire These Skills?

CIOs saw value in both approaches to increasing the skillset of their teams. McBreen said, “Organizations are moving towards more thinkers, generalists, and information data science and management. Partners will do most work (infrastructure, service, operations and development) and internal staff will architect, think and lead. Generalists will know business and technology. They will concentrate on unique solutions. As for organizations, they must be agile, and not just in IT or in development, across the entire business. The rate of change, disruption and opportunities are accelerating. I suspect command/control, top-down, single-mindset companies will become extinct.”

But Davis took a different perspective when he suggested, “It will likely always be a both situation, there is nearly always a shortfall of the keys skills.” Sacolick agreed, stating IT leaders “should pursue expertise based on their strengths, but it's hard to be relevant as shallow generalists.” Meanwhile, McBreen claimed it “is tough to find great generalists in market. In some cases, they might be a super user who becomes your generalist.”

Gildersleeve went a bit further, suggesting that “everyone needs to broaden their skills — even specialists will have to build their soft skills. The best teams are a mix of both and is something leaders should prioritize if they truly want to have an innovative teams.”

What Steps Must CIOs Take to Ensure Their Organization Has the Needed Skills?

Davis suggested organizations start with team construction. “The best teams have a mix of people and skills. For this reason, leaders need to put their attention on creating innovative teams.” Beyond this, Gildersleeve said CIOs need to invest in training, providing opportunities to showcase less technical skills, giving employees the tools and technology, they need to be agile and innovate. Sadin, meanwhile, stressed that CIOs must "stay in sync with the needs of the organization, which means CEO and the board of directors need to grant the CIO a seat at the big table.”

Getting specific about the actions CIOs need to take, Sacolick said the CIO recipe is about the following:

  • Promoting learning and experimenting.
  • Driving simplicity and proprietary where differentiating.
  • Consolidating to fewer ways of working and platforms.
  • Selecting low code, no code and democratizing technology and data.
  • Seek diversity, not "top talent."
  • Leading an Agile culture.

Related Article: How CIOs Build Effective Teams

Building the Future Today

David Bray shared the adage "culture eats strategy for breakfast" on my very first CIOChat. Divining the future is never easy, but with the rightly chartered teams, it is possible for CIOs to play a part in creating the corporate future. Peter Drucker is credited as saying, “managers must now manage discontinuities.” And today this is about developing the right skills sets and enabling the team of teams to engage to solve for the corporate future.

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