BARCELONA: IT leaders must relinquish control over their systems and software as businesses adopt more digital technology, and instead concentrate on leading the direction of technology use, according to Gartner.
At the Gartner 2015 Symposium in Barcelona, several of the analyst house's top researchers outlined how chief information officers (CIOs) need to adapt to the trend that technology is being put to deeper use across enterprises rather than remain in the domain of the IT department.
While the standing and importance of the CIO role has evolved over recent years, from being a business's head of technology to a position responsible for using IT to drive business results, Gartner's analysts championed CIOs more as leaders rather than controllers of enterprise technology.
Peter Sondergaard, senior vice president and head of research at Gartner, noted that over the past decade IT departments have been contributing less to the total technology spending across enterprise as other departments become more technology-savvy.
"Technology is now out in the open, no longer hidden by business units. So the good news is that enterprises are embedding technology throughout their organisation; the bad news is [CIOs] control less of the total; that is if you view that as bad news," he said, in a keynote speech to an audience of CIOs and technology leaders.
"Technology ownership has shifted and talent has shifted, all these factors have expanded the universe of technology leadership out of your control, but that doesn't have to be bad news."
Sondergaard highlighted that more cloud platform, software and service vendors have created a wealth of resources and capabilities that CIOs can make use of, providing they are willing to relinquish control over their non-critical IT assets and applications.
"Accept the reality that you control a smaller part [of IT] but you now have resources to draw on outside of your organisation," he said.
"And inside your organisation you can have great influence but not total control. That can be good because influence sticks, control does not. So here's your opportunity to change your leadership style; you must change the perception of IT value in your organisation."
Sondergaard and his peers also noted this approach extends to security as well, reinforcing the idea that CIOs and IT departments cannot control and defend against every hacker attack, and instead need to concentrate on mitigating the damage a successful hack can have.
This is something Gartner suggested can be aided through outsourcing and turning control over to automated systems.
"We must move away from trying to achieve the impossible perfect protection, instead invest in detection and response; everyone gets hacked in the new world, it's just a matter of time," said Sondergaard. "Act more like an intelligence officer that a policeman."
"You cannot control the hackers but you can control your own infrastructure using more automation, more outsourcing, and more network-based algorithms," he added.
Trim the tech
Gartner's vice president, Daryl Plummer, said one way for CIOs to become leaders rather than controllers of enterprise IT is to divest old systems that are not critical to the business or fail to provide any differentiation from rivals.
He said this can be achieved by outsourcing legacy systems and processes that have been built up over decades of operation, but this will require CIOs to abandon the idea that owning, operating and running their own systems in-house is best for the business.
"Cut the dead weight," he said. "The reality is there's someone else who can do it better and will do it better; you should let them.
"This is not just traditional outsourcing, the best divestures don't just shift who does the work or where it is done, they deal with ownership of technologies, people and whole lines of business to capable advisers," he explained.
Plummer also highlighted that CIOs should kill pet projects and other systems that are not delivering results for their company and abandon fears over cloud security and instead embrace external systems, resources and developers.
Another way to lead technology change without having IT control is to encourage investment into digital startups, with the goal of making use of their innovations and potentially absorbing them into the company.
"Leading companies will act as venture investors, not waiting for the current suppliers to build digital capabilities, instead they are investing in smaller technology startups, buying a stake in a future and then guiding the direction," said Sondergaard.
He said this has already happened with banks buying financial technology startups and noted more industries are following suite, such as industrial firms investing in industrial software and retailers buying into software firms creating retail algorithms.
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