Mark McDonald

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Mark P. McDonald
8 years at Gartner
24 years IT industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a former group vice president and head of research in Gartner Executive Programs. He is the co-author of The Social Organization with Anthony Bradley. Read Full Bio

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What is the difference between remaking and re-imagining IT?

by Mark P. McDonald  |  April 11, 2011  |  6 Comments

CIOs see the need for change but it’s often difficult to describe the type of change required.  Without a clear description of the particular type of change, we too often fall back to defining change at the extremes.

At the high end there is enterprise transformation where a firm tries to get itself off a burning platform and onto a path to a better future.  That change approach produces great results, but it is very costly and highly disruptive.  Transformation basically freezes the organization in place while it goes through the transformation process.  Few people have the luxury to take a year or two out to complete a transformation.  Transforming while performing is a target but rarely does an organization do a good job of ‘paining the train while its moving.”

At the other end there is incremental improvement, the day to day adjustments that just make things work better. But no one improves their way to greatness, at least according to the consultants.  So whiel I am continuously getting better, I always find myself a little behind the change curve — so I need a way to leap frog my current reality into the future.

Then there are two levels of change in between:  remaking IT or re-imagining IT.   These better reflect the realities CIOs face as not everything is wrong, but more than few things need to change in the face of business expectations and new technology models.

Change by creating a remake

When someone remakes a movie, like the 1998 remake of Psycho, they tell the same story with new actors and lately new movie technologies (i.e. 3D).  A remake and it’s close cousin the ‘sequel’ represent change and bring the story to a new audience but it does not make significant changes in the direction of the story.

Likewise a remake of IT changes the IT environment but not the IT’s culture, momentum or direction.  An IT remake is often caused by major shifts in the technology infrastructure, like the cloud.  We are seeing this know when people are asking to hire ‘cloud’ architects, developers, etc.  That is a remake strategy in action, replicating the old structure with a new qualifier. The result is same basic IT organization, practices and players all working on a modern infrastructure and tools.  Just look at your organization today, how different is it structurally than the organization you had to support client/server or perhaps even the mainframe.

CIOs can see today’s challenges as an opportunity for a remake.  After all the cloud is just the type of deep technology change that is the catalyst for change where everything could change but after it’s all said and done, little had actually changed.

That is not the level of change that will create the results CIO’s need to support growth, deliver faster, be more agile, or change your cost profile.

Change through Re-Imagination

Re-imagination seems like a version of a remake.  The basic story is the same.  You recognize the plot and the characters.  But it’s not exactly like the story you know.  There are changes some subtle and others obvious.  These changes do not refute the validly of the story but they make it much more interesting and engaging.

Think of the Coen Brothers movie “Oh Brother where art thou”. The story is Homer’s the oddest, but the story is different, it has been re-imagined producing a new and engaging view on a story as old as Western Literature.  Another example is last year’s re-imagining of Star Trek which with the exception of Mr. Spock is basically a brand new story and plot line. A coming re-imagination of the Spider Man movie “The Amazing Spiderman” due in 2012.

In terms of IT, re-imagination recognizes the change in context facing IT — its plot line — in terms of supporting business growth and the opportunities for infrastructure enhancements.  That context does not refute everything that IT has accomplished, rather it changes emphasis and more importantly it opens new opportunities.  That is why I believe CIOs need to re-imagine IT rather than call for IT transformation or even just a re-make.

The direction of that re-imagination needs to concentrate on a few areas like IT’s strategic relevance, the economics of new infrastructure models, benefits realization and IT skill building.

CIOs are the producers of IT and like producers they are responsible for assembling the team that will deliver the best value possible.  That includes hiring the Director(s), their management team, the talent, their people, and everyone else.  The crew of a movie is based on the context of that movie — action adventure movies feature different crews than romantic comedies.

The  basic functions are the same, the context is different and CIOs can create that unique type of change — re-imagination – that goes beyond incremental improvement, but does not require the disruption of transformation.


Category: 2011 Change on the cheap Management Re-imagine IT Strategic planning Strategy     Tags: , , , , ,

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 ralph   April 30, 2011 at 9:45 pm

    Just wondering if Homer’s “The Oddest” is a remake of Homer’s “Odyssey”, or a re imagination.

  • 2 Mark P. McDonald   May 1, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    Probably neither as most of what they do on the Simpson’s is parody and they do it very very well. Hopefully people will not think to parody IT as I hope we are past the Pocketprotector/geek jokes.

  • 3 Splitting IT – Operations and Innovation | Eric D. Brown   May 19, 2011 at 10:12 am

    […] in thinking about this space is Gartner’s Mark McDonald.   Take a look at his post titled What is the difference between remaking and re-imagining IT? In that post, Mark writes:…a remake of IT changes the IT environment but not the IT’s […]

  • 4 Remembrances of ReOrgs Past « The Dark Side Geek   May 20, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    […] a concept that has always resonated with me, and its nice to see that people like Chris Brown, Mark McDonald, and Rachel Dines see the potential. But a ‘new’ paradigm? I won’t go that far. […]

  • 5 Splitting IT - Operations and Innovation   June 18, 2011 at 10:38 pm

    […] in thinking about this space is Gartner’s Mark McDonald.   Take a look at his post titled What is the difference between remaking and re-imagining IT? In that post, Mark writes:…a remake of IT changes the IT environment but not the IT’s […]

  • 6 What does it mean to reimagine IT?   November 6, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    […] What is the difference between remaking and re-imagining IT? […]