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What I have learned from CIOs at the Gartner Orlando Symposium and ITxpo.

by Mark P. McDonald  |  October 26, 2012  |  4 Comments

I am just back from Gartner’s Symposium in Orlando and from the buzz at the event it has been a valuable experience for all.  On Sunday Night I posted a welcome message that outlined some of the challenges, issues and requirements CIOs face in the future.

2012 = 1997


In many ways 2012 is like the world in 1997.

In 1997 IT concentrated on Y2k and ERP implementation.  It dominated the agenda.  Off to the side there was this thing coming called the Internet and eCommerce.  eBay was founded in 1997, Amazon went online just two years before and 1997 was the year that Steve Jobs returned to Apple.  It was a time when Marketing was leading many of the initiatives related to the ‘web’, just like today.

1997 – 2000 were three pivotal years for IT.

2012 – 2015 are three pivotal years for Technology and therefore for IT.

You can get a summary of the event at Gartner’s official page. So rather than recap the talks, this post will reflect on the topics discussed by CIOs in Orlando.

  • Looking inside first before seeing outside opportunity. CIOs had a stronger internal focus regarding digital technology as opposed to how technology transforms the business.  CIO questions and discussions concentrated on understanding the nature and dimensions of digital technologies and what they mean to IT, the infrastructure and operations.  There was less of a focus on applying these technologies to create value and revenue.  This was in contrast with the Indian CIOs I met the prior week in Goa.

Fun Fact: 91% of the attendees at the event carried some form of tablet device – the world is reaching a level of digital density where things can get really interesting.

  • Transforming the infrastructure for some of the right reasons. Simplification, consolidation and cost remain a focus of the CIO agenda and CIOs strategies.  Cost, compliance, risk and security drive this focus as organizations condense their traditional IT footprint in order to reduce their exposure.  This is a valid and prudent step for a world where the glass will be half empty more often than half full.  This is part of the right strategy for digitalizing the business and moving the enterprise from an IT infrastructure to a Technology Platform.  When I asked about that idea, only a few CIOs recognized the future business potential of consolidated and unified systems.
  • Social climbing the path of productivity. There was a renewed interest in social and collaboration technologies as organizations are moving beyond social media strategies based on marketing.  This finding may be a bit biased given last year’s release of The Social Organization book, but social media based mass collaboration is moving into the mainstream.
  • Digital marketing right now is small but growing.  While the prediction that ‘marketing will come to dominate tech spend’ got a lot of press, the CIOs I spoke with described most digital initiatives as transitory marketing projects rather than enterprise transformational programs. Based on their comments, it looks like business leaders are positioning themselves to follow the same playbook they did with eCommerce.

CIOs need new answers to new questions. Digital technology presents a significant transformative force for growth, value and success.  The potential is greater than what we say back in the early days of the Internet, and that is saying something.  At symposium this year, CIOs recognized this potential and sought to understand it technically, operationally and in the context of their current IT strategies and plans.

Study and analysis is a sound approach, but one that should be time boxed and exchanged for a bias for action.  That action is what the ‘marketing’ people are doing right now, they are trying things, capturing attention, focusing energy, their work shows potential without consequence. But IT cannot reprise its role of ‘Debbie Downer’ and expect to have a seat at the table.  It needs to lead to take new ideas and deliver them at speed and scale.

This year’s symposium was one of the best, a sentiment shared with many of the CIOs I spoke with.  From a compelling analyst keynote about the Nexus to talks from Colin Powell, Seth Godin, AG Lafley, Meg Whitman, among others; the diversity of speakers, topics and sessions indicated that

Technology is Breaking Out of its IT box.

It is an exciting time to be a technology leader.  It is a trying time to be an IT professional for the simple reason that the context we face has changed.  After a decade of devaluing CIO IT budgets, the interest and investment curve is starting to change. Change in terms of investing in technology-intensive capabilities, not necessarily investing in IT organizations.  In response CIOs need to concentrate on:

  • Focusing on applying technology to support growth
  • Connecting the enterprise to deliver results faster and shorten time to market
  • Lead to raise their effectiveness of their resources and the use of technology across the enterprise.

Focus, Connect and Lead – three simple imperatives that describe success in the future.  Three imperatives that many CIOs missed when technology moves from client-server to the Internet.    IT missed that change and spent a decade cleaning up, integrating and consolidating its operations.  That mop up exercise continues to dominate the IT agenda and it will require leadership to break out and re-imagine IT as an organization of Technology, Information and Innovation.

2012 Orlando symposium was a start, now its time to run and win the first sprints and then the race.

My thanks to all who attended in Orlando; it was great to see you.

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Category: 2013  amplifying-the-enterprise  digitalization  leadership  strategic-planning  

Tags: 2013-planning  cio-leadership  digital-edge  it-leadership  personal-observation  strategy-and-planning  symposium  technology-leadership  

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

Thoughts on What I have learned from CIOs at the Gartner Orlando Symposium and ITxpo.

  1. Kathy Mast says:

    Mark – thanks for sharing your insights about Symposium. They are very valuable for those of us unable to attend this year. Thanks, too, for the “charge” to I/T leadership. Business growth is on the minds of most C-level execs and they want us to work with them to make it happen. They want Cloud, social media, analysis of big data and mobile….with security. We have to deliver!

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