Imagining the IT organization in 2021: empowered to innovate

At Forrester IT Forum 2011, Marc Cecere imagines the IT organization in 2021: empowered to innovate and strategize, not just maintain.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor on

LAS VEGAS -- What will the IT organization look like in 2021 -- and who will make the decisions?

That's the question Forrester Research analyst Marc Cecere sought to answer here at the 2011 Forrester IT Forum, using just three words: empowered business technology.

As he described it, the "empowered BT" model strikes a balance between "aligned IT" -- where IT calls the shots, with little business input -- and "embedded BT," the opposite.

Empowered BT will move many IT roles away from a tactical approach and more toward a strategic one, Cecere said, allowing IT organizations to focus more on innovation and less on operation.

"Empowered BT will move many IT roles from 'do' to 'consult,' " he said.

On average, 75 percent of the activities in an IT organization are just to maintain service levels. "Just to feed the beast," he said.

A transition toward empowered BT will allow specialization to occur, reducing traditional functions such as application development and delivery and migrating that to become a business function. (Infrastructure and operations will likely remain the same.)

For example, a security professional may not just be concerned with maintaining a protective perimeter, but deciding how to protect specific assets, he said.

"The IT organization needs a Britney Spears to integrate all those pieces," using the pop artist as a stand-in for someone who integrates producers, songwriters and tour managers for a single album launch. "Architects are the Britney Spears of the IT organization."

As a result, product managers will take on more oversight, moving away from managing specific projects and instead stepping back and interfering only in emergency situations.

Enterprise architects will also become more strategic, removing themselves from their occasional role as an extension of the help desk and focusing more on innovation and assembling and integrating the pieces.

Ditto for application developers and sourcing and vendor managers, the latter which will increase the amount of "consulting" they do to monitor work going on outside the IT organization.

"Data is going to be everywhere: different formats, managed by different groups," Cecere said. "There's a lot of stuff to maintain."

One use case: mobile, where the applications and devices themselves can't and won't scale, he said.

"They're not ready," Cecere said. "A lot of applications built on the business side are not going to scale. They are thinking about functionality, not scalability. It's up to IT to [bridge that gap]."

So how do you get there?

Cecere said it's neither a goal-abiding project nor a "big bang," instead describing the process as a team of 5-year-olds playing soccer: chaotic, but somehow the ball gets down the field and into the net.

But there are potholes along the way, from change and integration to cost and legality.

Some early warnings signs:

  • Questionable vendors and high-priced solutions.
  • "Ugly" systems handed to you to maintain or fix, such as "strange apps or macros."
  • Duplicated IT skills hired into business areas.
  • High IT costs -- but it's often hard to measure. "Now cost occurs on the business side as well, outside the IT organization."

To avoid complications, Cecere recommended giving employees the "slack" they needed to focus on empowered BT. Implementing mechanisms to learn business needs and involve them in decisions is also a good idea, he said.

More quotable quotes:

  • "I've been to companies where they have morning and afternoon org charts."
  • In response to a question about whether IT organizations are too technocratic: "Yes, but it's because they have so much to do."
  • "There are industries where IT is just not that important, so it doesn't matter where their CIO reports."
  • "A lot of venture capitalists won't fund startups if they find an IT organization in the business plan."

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