There is a lot of noise in the IT/ digital space about leadership at the moment. Is it justified? The answer is yes.
And the reason why is that we are being dragged, kicking and screaming into a third era of information and technology in the business world.
The first era lasted for the a few decades – roughly up until the dot com crash. In the first era, the IT team were very separate and ‘other’ to the business culture, but did things that could add a lot of value to the businesses they were in. We were reaping the low hanging fruit of automation. The iconic image might be of a scientist in a lab coat, very much like the ‘Q’ character in the James Bond films. The business world’s tolerance of this ‘other’ culture rapidly dissipated with the Y2K/ dot com crash.
The second era has just ended – although many of us haven’t noticed it yet! It lasted about a decade, and was all about professionalizing, industrializing, ‘service-izing’ IT. It has added a lot of value and predictability to the use of information and technology in business, but it isn’t enough anymore.
The third era, which is just about underway, is about the pervasive use of digital technologies and related societal trends, not just to automate processes, but to innovate the back, middle, front office, and co-create business strategy. Examples of this include more sophisticated use of digital channels and communities, more information and technology in companies’ products, new ways of organizing and managing talent, and making decisions, much more sophisticated analytics, and informational business extensions – entering new markets based on informational capabilities.
In the first era, we had great technologists. In the second era, we have learned to have very capable managers. The third era requires great digital leaders, helping to shape the digital vision and digital business strategy, being the main message carrier, influence the ecosystem to play in new ways, and ignite the passion of internal and external stakeholders to contribute as the digital possibilities evolve.
My experience to date is that for some IT leaders, this is a bit frightening and overwhelming, whilst for others it is extremely exciting.