Business Technology, 2020

What will IT's role be in the business in 2020? Upcoming Forrester research will tackle this subject but Alex Cullen gives a preview in this Q&A.
Written by Alex Cullen, Contributor

What will business and technology be like in 2020 – and what’s IT’s place in this new world?  This is the subject of a teleconference that James Staten and I held for our clients yesterday, and also the subject of an upcoming Forrester report.

In this teleconference, we painted a picture of the impact of business-ready, self-service technology, a tech-savvy and self-sufficient workforce, and a business world where today’s emerging economies dwarf the established ones, bringing a billion new consumers with a radically different view of products and services, and surging resource costs – especially energy costs – crush today’s global business models.

In the past, when new waves of technology swept into our businesses – everything from the 1980’s PCs to today’s Empowered technologies, the reaction was the swinging pendulum of ‘decentralized/embedded IT’ followed by ‘centralized/industrialized IT’.  These tired old reactions won’t work in the world 2020.  Instead, businesses must move to a model we call Empowered BT.

Empowered BT empowers business to pursue opportunities at the edge and the grassroots – but this empowerment balanced with enterprise concerns.  Key to this balance is the interplay between four new ‘meta-roles’:  visionaries, consultants, integrators and sustainability experts, combined with a new operating model based on guidelines, mentoring and inspection.  Also key to this is a mind-set change: from IT’s need to control technology to IT embracing business ownership of technology decisions.

The teleconference chat window was busy as James and I presented our research.  Here are the questions we weren’t able to answer due to time.

  • Can you say more about how a guardrail is different than a policy? Is it more like a strongly supported best practice?

There are a lot of elements to moving to a ‘guardrails’ approach, such as  replacing lots of rules with many fewer rules that focus on outcomes, and using rules that identify boundaries rather than prescribe actions.  There is a large body of research that people act more responsible in an environment of a small number of guidelines than they do in an environment of many specific rules – a mind-shift that has yet to happen in most IT shops.  Watch for an upcoming Forrester report examining this in greater detail.

  • How to manage the proliferation of systems in this model?

We in IT see proliferation of systems as flat-out bad – and for good reason given our experience.  But we can’t continue with this attitude: some proliferation does in fact give the business more agility.  And the services model of new technology reduces the cost impact of this proliferation – we aren’t proliferating data centers anymore.  The new approach will be based on a ‘zoning model’ which reflects enterprise-wide needs for consistency with business area needs for speed and innovation.  In the core zones, you will strive for system consolidation – and in the edge zones, you’ll allow more system proliferation.

  • How does this empowered BT model integrate with organizational "demand/supply" model (business demand/IT supply)?

The “demand/supply” model may be a good one to evolve from, as it separates business-focused planning and solution-definition functions from the work of provisioning and operating a solution in-house.  Over time, the demand side will diffuse more into the business areas, while retaining some centralized responsibility for the roles of Integrator and Sustainability.  Forrester will be publishing more on the organizational evolution where we can address this question further.

  • Most of the time business people bring in new technology to help them, but there is a portion of the time where they bring in technologies simply because of hype.  How do you combat that in an Empowered IT model?

Mind-set change!  We don’t try to combat that.  Only business execs can determine whether something new will help them, or if it’s just hype.  But implicit in the Empowered BT model is that the entire organization ‘gets smarter’ – with the help from the new IT.

  • What is the importance of user research/usability in this new model?

User research/usability stays with, or moves to being embedded in business areas.  IT can help them with this, perhaps through a Center of Excellence or a peer collaboration function.

  • If IT doesn't determine how to become the BT Visionaries of Consultant's, will it therefore become less of a strategic function of the business? If so how does it become that strategic function in 2020, i.e. recognized by the business

It will be very hard for IT to be seen as a strategic contributor if it cannot play a part in these two roles.  This part could be being these two roles - IT as the source of visionaries or as the center for consultants, or it could be simply as a value-adding partner to these two roles – the advisor for the visionary, or the project manager for the consultants.

  • How do you measure model success?  Won't this model cost more to sustain?

Success will clearly be based on business metrics – but success measurement could include a ‘technology leverage’ or ‘business impact of technology’ aspect, in a Balanced Scorecard-type model.  This is early thinking – and an area where we’d really like input from you.

What are your thoughts on IT in the year 2020?  If you were to start from a ‘clean sheet of paper’, what would you put in place?  Comment here or in Forrester's community site.

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