Ten strategies for making the "Big Leap" to next-gen mobile, social, cloud, consumerization, and big data

The "Big Five" IT trends are in the midst of making their impact felt in organizations around the world. Is this is a significant chance for IT to drive innovation and business agility at long last, or will the impact of these be the undoing of the classical era of IT? Here are some of the likely strategies that organizations will need to consider to make the "Big Leap" required to guide organizations into the 21st century with next-generation mobile, social business, cloud computing, consumerized IT, and big data.
Written by Dion Hinchcliffe, Contributor

These strategies will help organizations make the transition to a new type of IT, one that is more open, innovative, decentralized, agile, and sustainable. Earlier this month I explored the tsunami of change that's been roiling businesses and their IT departments of late, challenging them like few generational disruptions before. Perhaps only the advent of PCs in the 1980s was the last similar wholesale transformation of the IT landscape. Consequently, there's little recent precedent to guide business and technical leaders on how to reconcile their organizations with the technology dislocations that are having a growing impact on organizations around the world today.

Combine these major technology changes with the radical transformation that seems required by the border-challenging, control-shifting, blitzkrieg nature of next-gen mobility, social media, cloud computing, consumerization of IT, and rampant new oceans of data and you have a recipe for an adoption process that increasingly appears that it must be both subversive and yes, even revolutionary. I posited in my previous post on this topic that the changes are so significant and unique that a "Big Leap" will be required to make the transition to the 21st century notion of IT.

While external innovation continues apace, IT departments are also uniquely vulnerable at the moment to the major changes taking place in service delivery, like rarely before. Not only have budgets been cut or best case, flat-lined for years, since one of the largest downturns in recent history, but more and more IT budgets are being spent outside of the CIO's purview as well; or in competition with external service providers. The latter point is key: More and more CIOs I speak with are being put in direct competition with the outside world, a very tough proposition indeed given the economies of scale that outsourcing firms can bring to bear.

Related: Michael Dell: Line between business and IT is disappearing

The most recent hard data on who is actually spending on IT that I can locate is from Diamond Digital's dual survey of business and IT leaders last year, showing that the IT solutions budget is spreading across the organization, with approximately 30% of all official technology spending now taking place outside of the IT department's control.

Admittedly, stated this way the message might seem overly dramatic and portentous -- see Phil Wainewright's "Who needs an IT department anymore?" for a more palatable statement of the same idea -- and for those who haven't been tracking the zeitgeist, the coming disruptions will come as more of a surprise that they should. But a disruption it is. From what I can see, the main group dedicated to the application of technology to the lines of business in most organizations is at one of its weakest moments in history, just as some of the biggest and most far-reaching technology changes are in the process of coming head-on -- in rapid succession -- for the majority of large enterprises.

Are the "Big 5" IT shifts an IT priority?

Not that all of these changes even have the full attention of many IT departments. While the new generation of smart mobile devices, including Android and iOS tablets, are certainly front and center for virtually all large organizations I speak with, only cloud computing has similar levels of interest and it's certainly longer term. Social media, consumerization, and big data then come in distinctly after these two. Yet, in the broader world, as I explored in my last post, the latter three are just as significant trends. In fact, there's very little question that software is going social, becoming push-button easy to use, and is increasingly made smart by vast data sets carefully accumulated by companies. The point of the "Big Five" tech shifts is a good one: The overwhelming drive by technology providers to give their solutions the killer competitive edge in usability, utility, convenience and value. Would that our enterprise IT solutions were motivated by such inclinations.

Thus, the hyper-competition to cater to user's every need that's so prevalent in the consumer world often seems completely absent in the enterprise. In our cubicle halls or VPNs, the software we use today usually doesn't 1) work very well on our mobile devices, 2) connect us very effectively to the people in the rest of the organization, ala Enterprise 2.0, 3) is often dauntingly complex and hard-to-use (lack of consumerization), 4) doesn't take advantage of the power, innovation, and agility of the cloud, and 5) isn't very connected to the company's data and knowledge as a whole (very little real-time big data abilities.) And our workers can tell; they now have better IT at home or in their pockets and purses in many cases. And what's worse -- or reason for hope, depending on your location within the organization -- they are taking matters into their own hands, rolling out their own solutions, and letting IT play catch up. And all too often, this means clean-up as well.

Fortunately, it's far from gloom and doom for modern IT. In fact, I believe it's a time of opportunity like few others for those that want to grab the brass ring and use technology to drive real business improvements. For those that want to stand with one foot on the business side and one foot in IT, now is the time in the sun you've been waiting for. Forwarding thinking organizations are going to reap the benefits if they can just muster the time and resources to get a little bit ahead of the adoption curve. I should note that it's clear that these topics have struck a nerve. My last post on this subject was one of the most popular I've written here on ZDNet and I've found that this subject is also front-of-mind for many that I talk to this year.

Related: 10 technology trends that will define the enterprise in the 2010s

So what can organizations do as a whole to get ahead of this set of changes, particularly given the shape that many IT departments find themselves in at the moment? Plenty I think. Below are some of the most likely strategies that I've been studying and many have been exploring, even trying out, recently. A few of them are far outside the box or too far from the comfort zone of traditional organizations. Others are so new that many organizations will wait for early pioneers to validate them more fully and make the early mistakes that they will cull valuable lessons learned from. They have widely varying investment levels and ROI, but they will each help organizations make the transition to a new type of IT, one more open, innovative, decentralized, agile, and sustainable.

But what is just as obvious is that we can't sustain the current state of affairs. There's just too much technology rolling into our organizations too quickly, much of it requiring skill sets that are far outside our historic competency areas. To be dealt with effectively, many of these new technologies also require us to more deeply engage the business than ever before. We must now help our organizations transform to new digital business models and ways of operating. In other words, difficult yet highly rewarding activities but ones that require equal talent and business acumen as much as cutting-edge technology legerdemain.

10 Strategies for Making the Big Leap to Next Generation IT

As Dave Gray noted a while back, the Fortune 500 company's life span is shrinking. It's often because the changes in the marketplace are requiring companies to reinvent not only how they were successful originally, but their very purpose. While some of the strategies below may seem unusual or unconventional, that's because we can't merely do what we've done in the past to succeed in IT. There is good reason to believe that each and every one of these can provide the fresh perspective and new way of thinking that makes the challenges facing IT surmountable. I'll cite examples whenever possible, but there's a growing body of evidence of each of these as a real way to make the "Big Leap" to the next generation of IT.

1. Proactively decentralize & localize IT to drive emergent outcomes.

The discussion on emergent architecture that was taking place a couple of years ago has now moved up a level, to become emergent IT. I've adapted the ideas below in a visual of what this looks like and how responsibility for IT solutions must move much closer to the the point of use, while still remaining loosely coupled to business and IT leaders for consistency, standardization, and coherency. Organizations must (and can, with this approach) not only respond to change much more effectively but also use technologies and processes that naturally embrace unanticipated outcomes, where much of the downstream value resides.

More germane to the "Big 5", this approach will enable local experimentation and adoption of the latest technologies to find the best way they can be used. The lessons and success stories can be quickly harvested and spread through community management to the rest of the organization. This mobilizes an army to divide and conquer the new tech and find out what works and what doesn't while still maintaining oversight and minimal useful governance. Also key, is that it is adaptable and resilient model if there suddenly becomes a "Big 10" or "Big 15" or whatever number of new technologies. This approach scales much better that old-school IT. Lesson: IT departments can no longer do it all but can do much to enable distributed innovation.

2. Collapse the ranks between IT and the business, creating CoIT together.

The business/IT divide finally must come to an end. We're all in IT now. That means businesses users must accept that they need to become digital natives. And it means IT people must be willing to learn the business, and not just at a high-level, but enough to lead transformation, whenever possible. I've been calling this process of unification CoIT for short, meaning both "cooperative IT" and "consumer IT."

IT professionals will remain IT professionals in this process, I certainly understand the career and income implications. But other than for HR purposes, everyone is now a business solutions expert with a specialty in "Big 5" tech. My most specific modest proposal here: Divide IT into infrastructure and digital business solutions. You can call the infrastructure piece IT. This gives you a big staff for the needed business transformation. This is a gross simplification of the actual process required, but it's the gist.

3. Encourage and support BYOD, and soon, BYOC and BYOA.

Just like companies have realized they are pointlessly paying for cubicle space, power, HVAC, phone, and countless other costs to maintain facilities (or data centers for that matter) and are moving to telecommuting and the cloud, the same is now happening with mobile devices, personal computers, and soon even apps. Unisys already has a Bring Your Own Device pilot under way and a number of large enterprises I speak with are well on their way for doing this with smart mobile devices, especially for tablets such as the iPad. Bring Your Own Cloud and Bring Your Own Apps aren't far behind once the security, governance, and regulatory issues are clarified. As Chief Information Security Officer of Unisys observed, it makes more sense to swim downstream than fight it, given that most workers already have highly capable IT devices already.

4. Going beyond designing for loss of control.

Given that CoIT departments will continue to have lower and lower levels of control of IT than they used to, how much should they design into their assumptions and processes? To my mind, that's the wrong question. How much control should they give away is more like it. Other than ensuring a robust security architecture and support processes, IT will actually gain more power and influence by being a conduit for self-enablement, for workers, other departments, divisions, trading partners, and others. By being proactively becoming the locus of data, the open conduit to the organization's silos, and providing world class support for those that are trying to bring their own IT to solve local problems, this is one key future of IT, and is what the new infrastructure group will be doing, more of an Amazon Web Services role than a "keep the WiFi up" role. Design robustly for an organically growing ecosytem with the barest minimum of essential control is the answer here. This enables next-generation open business methods that are so vital to the future of most companies.

5. Provide an app for that business problem.

In the future enterprise, users will always be asking for the app that will solve their next problem. Either build it for them in your app store, or let them safely and securely access 3rd party apps in an external app store in minutes (and definitely not days or weeks). The consumer world has shown us that it's really that simple to tap into the vast long tail of pent-up IT demand, despite a few devils in the details. It's also key to self-service, access to low-barrier software acquisition for business agility (consumerization), and drives healthy internal IT competition

Related: Jive Software seeks to up IT's game with social apps

6. Open up and self service-enable all existing IT resources.

Providing all the integration points and applications is a non-starter in the Co-IT era. This will be required to fully realize on #1 anyway. There are now powerful, simple, and easy ways to do this from using silo smashers like SnapLogic, open mashups, or Gnip to your favorite open source ESB. What's different here is that the CoIT department is going to support their open SOA as a first-class citizen, just like an open API on the Web. This is a way of applying the "Big Five" shifts asymmetrically, by enabling everyone "out there" to do the work, rather than IT having to do all of it themselves. This asymmetry is perhaps the biggest lesson of consumerization and it's one far too valuable to be ignored in modern CoIT. It also goes a long way towards enabling emergent IT and decentralization that can have very positive effects such as real economic protection against future disruptions as actors on the edge automatically pull the organization into the future.

Note: "All" is a very big word in large organizations. All here means IT resources people are asking to connect with and use. Even though too many IT departments don't know what external stakeholders want self-service with, it's actually pretty easy to find out.

7. Use social media as a business and IT agility weapon.

Most of those in IT don't look at social media strategically, but as it's defined as social business, it's a completely different story. If you're unsure about this, read what Marc Benioff has been saying on why social is a business imperative or my discussions here over the years. But there's a surprisingly deep and important link between social media and business agility which I've explored in detail earlier this year. Social is a major enabler of business change, and a social business strategy is going to be absolutely essential for the CIO in most large organizations to capture the CoIT changes necessary to thrive in the near-future enterprise.

Related: Clay Shirky: Social networking will change business like PC, laptop, email

8. Reorganize the business around open supply chains.

Instead of monolithic applications with their own databases. The Web and NoSQL has shown us that those days aren't necessarily over, but our business architecture and digital supply chains are not really very different at all. This has recently gotten into a hot topic again with Steve Yegge's long-winded but outstanding, must-read discussion last week about Google's platform savvy, or lack thereof. It's something I've explored again recently as well, but the strategic message is this: Business today is fundamentally about building platforms for your customers, partners, and workers, whether they realize it or not. This platform is also your supply chain as well. Get cracking.

9. Data must be usable by everyone, CoIT-style. Invest in Big Data capabilities.

I'd be belaboring the point if I said that enterprises don't get Big Data. They generally don't and could learn a lot from most large Internet companies, for which data is not just important, but a lifeblood they consume with deeply in every pore. Strategic data use is a core competency of everyone in the next-generation enterprise. Big enterprises do get traditional data fairly well however, but that was the old view, the lock-it up and perhaps cluster it if required view, then warehouse it and occasionally put it in a data mart for a few people in white robes. Real business data is now more strategic, much bigger, much faster (real-time), uses very new technologies and techniques (social analytics, social BI, fast data, machine learning), and what's more everyone expects that you are able to deliver services backed by it to everyone. It will take a while for many organizations to build real Big Data capability, which is good since the tech is evolving so rapidly, but build it they must.

10. Support, and drive where possible, meaningful business transformation with the Big Five IT shifts.

The details of this strategy I will save for another post, but the point is that organizations can't address the potential of the "Big 5" IT trends of today by going through the traditional routine of updating the IT landscape but keeping the way the business runs the same. These new technologies, for the most part, enable fundamental rethinking of our businesses that includes all new approaches that are far more innovative, cost-effective, agile, richer, and better. What this means and how to get there I'll cover in more detail soon, but you can get a sense of them in these strong examples of disruptive shifts with social that I enumerated recently.

Naturally, this is not an exhaustive list and I'm sure there's much more than the business and IT organizations can be doing to create the "Big Leap" that will simultaneously result in a much-needed sense of urgency, a matching internal mandate, and the requisite prioritization and resources within their organizations. However, I genuinely believe the strategies above have the right sensibility: They put everyone in charge of the change required, harness the core of why the consumer world and the Web are driving innovation today, and focus not on incremental improvements nor on total revolution but on a practical yet meaningful marriage of our organizations and the enormous technology innovations being made the moment.

I'll be covering this subject in detail in a morning keynote at Defrag 2011 on November 10th, in Denver, Colorado this month. I'll post my slides and additional thinking here afterwards. In the meantime, I've be very interested in your thoughts on what else organizations should be doing to prepare for a very promising, but very different IT future.

Please put your comments and questions in Talkback below.

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