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Everything is up for grabs, making it a great time to be in IT

by Mark P. McDonald  |  November 3, 2010  |  9 Comments

The past ten years have been interesting times for CIOs and IT leaders.  The last decade saw the dot-com bubble bust, the rise of consumer IT, the global financial crisis, stagnant growth in CIO budgets and at least two rounds of discussion around ‘does IT matter?’ The decade has been a tough one.  It’s about time things got interesting and fortunately they are making it a great time to be a CIO, IT leader or IT professional.

The reason?  Everything is up for grabs.  Everything.

This post looks at how changes across the enterprise are creating opportunities to restructure/reposition/rethink IT, its responsibilities, resource requirements etc.  In describing these items, the post is trying to show potential for change rather than predicting or dictating the changes that will happen.  The post is not intended to say that these will happen, or even should happen; but with this much change in the air, it’s good to think of the different options.

As one CIO mentioned to me, “we have not seen the potential for this kind of deep change since we made the shift from Mainframe to Client Server.” I tend to agree in terms of potential for far reaching change that makes it an interesting time to be a CIO or IT leader.

The enterprise is up for grabs

One difference between an evolution and a revolution is that evolutionary change is based on adapting to the environment while revolution either creates or has at is roots a fundamental change in that environment and its circumstances.

IT would be facing an evolutionary change if it were not for the observation that enterprises are changing as they take the turn from the past and into a future dominated by the need for growth in a sluggish economy, new requirements for productivity, and the need for product and service innovation.

These differences are leading executives to look for new ways to manage the enterprise, its operations and performance.  This opens the door for IT and others to revolutionize their role as simply delivering last years results plus or minus 10% will not drive success.

Over the past few years, leading CIOs have strengthened their hand in the enterprise by increasing their involvement and value created through business process change, demonstrating the power of consolidation and scale via visualization and shared services, showing the way in terms of information and fact based decision making.  These CIOs will have as much stake in the future of the enterprise and any other executive.  Claiming that stake will require placing IT’s traditional role in play for information and technology resources to play a larger role in the enterprise.

IT’s traditional role is up for grabs

IT has its origins in the need for specialized and dedicated skills to build and operate information technologies that enabled the rest of the business.  IT was set ‘a part’ from the rest of the enterprise, as their skills were so specialized and unique that they deserved their own center of excellence.

The IT organization was built to build things.  That ethos is deep in IT practices, management approaches, budgeting and views of importance.  But over the last 10 years it has become apparent that IT is has won the building war.  Most organizations have their major, mission critical applications already supported by IT based applications.  When that happens, the traditional role of building stuff loses its criticality in favor of getting a return for those assets and resources.

IT’s success at automating, informing and integrating the enterprise means that IT needs a new role.  Hence the very nature of IT is up for grabs.  Now that would really matter if there were not change in applications, technology and the IT organization that create the opportunity to think about a revolutionary change in IT, rather than a evolution from data processing, to functions, to services, to who knows what.

This is not to say that the IT organization will go away, per se. Such predictions are too simplistic.  Rather consider that the IT resources, responsibilities, people, skills, processes and capabilities will change, will be reconfigured, will be repurposed in the enterprise. As a friend once said, work is often reallocated and redistributed.  It is rarely destroyed.

The application space is up for grabs.

IT’s success in automating business process is transforming the nature of IT from an organization that can only build things to one that drives innovation, speed and scale.

The introduction of services, the ability to develop ‘apps’ and social media solutions have the potential to redefine the application space moving it for a quest for homogenous, integrated and monolithic suite solutions to a heterogeneous confederation of solutions bound together by common data.

Triaging the application space is seen as a way to concentrate IT’s technical and business expertise on innovation and the solutions that matter.  CIOs thinking about how they use ‘apps’ and service based application development to transfer responsibility for what some call ‘popcorn’ applications to the users as a way of addressing backlogs and nuisance demand.  A popcorn application is one that the users want, its relatively easy to build, but it does not deliver significant business value.

The Infrastructure and Operations are up for grabs.

Technical developments in ‘as a service’ technologies are restructuring the IT stack as more of it goes from private to public. This gives CIOs the opportunity to radically restructure their I&O operations, relationships, costs and resource requirements.  It even creates the opportunity to ‘spin out’ infrastructure and operations either into a services company or directly into business units and geographies as these

Several CIOs I’ve talked to expect dramatic >30% cuts in I&O costs.  Now expecting them and realizing them are two different things. But the potential to change a cost and capital-intensive part of their operation is something that is attracting attention.

The IT organization is up for grabs

Changing the types of applications you build as well as the nature of your infrastructure lead to changing the IT organization.  Here we see leaders already moving to forms of Lean IT structures.  These are structures concentrate on the quality of IT resources on deep business, technical and management skills rather than on the quantity of people working for IT.

The possibility of refocusing people formally engaged in operating the IT infrastructure to evolving and innovating the enterprise creates an opportunity to define IT as a new center of excellence around enterprise productivity and performance.

Is it a great time to be a CIO and IT executive?  Or is this all conjecture

This has been a long post and I thank you for reading this far and hopefully it has stirred up some thoughts, reactions and ideas.  What is going on?  Should IT look to change its fundamentals, or is the future a continuation of the past.

The future is ours to define and with such a wide range of forces available it is up to us to realize the future.

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Category: 2011  cio  strategy  technology  

Tags: 2011-planning  cio-leadership  cio-strategy  it-and-business  it-leadership  it-strategy  strategy  strategy-and-planning  

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a Vice President and Fellow Emeritus in Gartner for General Managers Program.




Thoughts on Everything is up for grabs, making it a great time to be in IT


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Gartner, Mark P. McDonald, Dave Hannon, UT IM 30, Uptime Devices and others. Uptime Devices said: Everything is up for grabs, making it a great time to be in IT http://bit.ly/cxKQUL […]

  2. Tim Olsen says:

    I appreciate the positive spin! Conceptualizing what is at stake as being “up for grabs” creates a sense of urgency that IT will need to be proactive in impacting the bottom line, and finding their place as SaaS and Cloud Based solutions are adopted and demanded by an increasingly tech savvy user base.

  3. […] Mark McDonald over on Gartner’s blog network wrote a great piece this week titled Everything is up for grabs, making it a great time to be in IT. […]

  4. […] IT to evolve into some high form of life.  Mark P. McDonald of Gartner has an article entitled “Everything is up for grabs, making it a great time to be in IT” that suggests now is the time for restructuring, repositioning and rethinking everything about […]

  5. Mark McDonald says:

    Thanks Tim for your comments. I do think that IT has a sense of urgency to get a head of these issues and set the stage to the benefit of the entire company, not just IT. So rather than scramble now, they need to start putting forth a position of what IT will be like in the enterprise, how it creates value not by doing what they do better, but also by doing new things that are possible now with the different technologies.

  6. […] Everything is up for grabs, making it a great time to be in IT by Mark McDonald on Gartner […]

  7. […] would not be unlike a recent blog post by my cohort here at Gartner, Mark Macdonald, about being a great time to be in IT.   Prosperity consciousness. Just kidding about vendors, […]

  8. Brian Joyner says:

    Interesting thoughts on the future. Everything I seem to be reading these days points to an expanded role for tech pros and it makes perfect sense to me. They fix problems. Always have and always will. In the old days that meant fixing the problems with the technology itself, but now days, that ability to solve problems seems to have expanded into fixing the larger problems of businesses themselves. I haven’t had the chance to read the report itself, but I was pointed to this blog by a co-worker…

    http://techpros.mgt.ncsu.edu/2010/11/10/new-research-shows-ceos-view-it-department-as-innovation-leaders-in-enterprise-2/

  9. […] Mark McDonald’s post highlights the urgency for a revolutionary change The enterprise is up for grabs. One difference between an evolution and a revolution is that evolutionary change is based on adapting to the environment while revolution either creates or has at is roots a fundamental change in that environment and its circumstances. […]



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