EarthStream convened a gathering of senior IT executives at the ‘Gherkin’ in London. The initial networking was followed by a short presentation by digital strategist Ade McCormack on the changes we are facing as we enter the digital economy. This led to a lively round table discussion where both Ade’s perspectives were pressure tested and further related areas were explored. This brief document highlights some of the main discussion points of the evening:
The world is changing and so is the world of work. These changes are fueled by the increased rate of technology evolution. Whilst digital is moving center stage in the organisation, the IT function and the CIO’s are not. This is a problem, as we need digital leaders in today’s economy.
If we go back to our hunter gatherer days, we were highly mobile, social and creative. Our work was judged on outputs, rather than number of hours. We also needed to make decisions in real-time. Our work and non-work lives were highly integrated. This continued into the agricultural era.But, in the industrial era, everything changed. We had to turn up to the factory. We were not allowed to socialise with co-workers at work. So we ceased to be mobile and social. We were judged on hours worked, as the factory simply required labour, as a technology placeholder. We were discouraged from making decisions and being creative. Our job was to just follow the operating manual. Unsurprisingly, such work was uninspiring. So we longed for the evenings, when we would be free from work. Thus emerged work-life balance.
The digital economy can be thought of as man’s return to his true nature. Technology advances are enabling the workers to be more mobile and social. And these technologies have found their way into the workplace. As more and more elements of work become automated, smart workers are selling their creativity as opposed to their labour. Such workers tend to enjoy their work. In order for the organisation to increase its agility, more of the decision making is devolving to the workers.
The digital economy returns us to our hunter gatherer roots, only this time with digital augmentation.
The changing role of work
- Collaborative consumption is evolving as a business model, possibly fueled by what might be called post-recession frugal capitalism.
- Employee empowerment is increasing. This is manifesting itself in many forms including the growth of employees determining their own holiday allocation.
- Personal data is the new currency of the digital economy. Thus who owns it may well shake up the existing enterprise-centric model.
- Given the market volatility, the notion of strategy, particularly in respect to planning over extended periods, is becoming less important. The need for organisations to take a more agile and anticipatory approach is more appropriate. This brings predictive analytics to the fore.
The changing role of workers
- As technology eliminates blue collar work, and increasingly blue-collarises white collar work, the need for ‘process’ workers is diminishing dramatically. To be a valued worker in the digital age, there will be a need to be highly creative, if we are to stay ahead of the ‘progress steamroller’.
- Whilst it is not quite an emerging trend, there is some talk about ‘hyperspecialisation’, where workers niche up their skills to the point where they can claim to be the best in the world.
- Generation Y are likely to have a career path comprising multiple careers with multiple employers / clients.
- Whilst some professions today require tertiary education, the value proposition of universities does not always stack up for those for whom it might be better to take a more apprentice-journeyman-master oriented career path.
- Education needs are difficult to predict when many young people today will be taking up roles that do not yet exist. However focusing on generic skills such as creativity, commercial awareness and service management will likely be of value in the future. As will the ability to fail smartly.
- The education system needs to anticipate the growing need for a tech-literate workforce otherwise there will be a talent shortfall with national economy implications.
- The increasing importance given to collaboration will have an impact on working styles. Large organisations, in particular, will need to adjust.
The changing role of leadership
- Whilst much of what we see today in respect of leadership is of a ‘command and control’ style, it is recognised that organisational agility can only come about by a more decentralised leadership model.
The nature of leadership is likely to morph into a servant-leaders model where it is recognised that the talent is best placed to make the best decisions. It being the leaders’ role to clear all obstacles, so that the workers can focus on doing great work.
- Strategy is increasingly likely to centre on key members of staff, rather than being a set of edicts from the boardroom. This introduces a degree of strategic uncertainty, which will require a very flexible IT infrastructure.
- The leadership must commit to investment in innovative technologies that have the power to deliver greater customer value. Robotics and 3D printing come to mind.
The changing role of the CIO
- Traditionally CIOs have focused on ‘run the business’ IT, with some attention on ‘grow the business’. But there are two other potential budget pots, ‘change the business’ and ‘save the business’. These latter two will become more significant as industrial era organisations are forced to transition to the digital economy.
- Whilst technology management is important, the emphasis now is on the delivery of insight to enable users to make better decisions faster. There is also a growing focus on collaboration. One might think of it as ‘big wisdom’.
- Not every boardroom is alert to the strategic importance of IT. This will increasingly be tantamount to mal-governance. There is an opportunity here for CIOs to take on the role of digital leader.
- For CIOs to be truly strategic, they must gain regular access to the CEO. But this is easier to do if the CEO truly understands the strategic role IT has to play.
CIOs are encouraged to ensure that the responsibility in respect of who owns each IT system sits clearly with the user. With this arrangement, the users are less likely to make glib requests of the IT function.
- Predictive analytics will have a profound impact on organisational success. There is an opportunity here for the CIO to not just deliver the tools, but to deliver the insight.
As the world changes, so too must IT leaders change. This is a tall order for the industry at large given the changing emphasis from technology management to digital leadership. It does however provide a great opportunity for IT leaders to increase their strategic relevance.