In the 21st century, the only constant is change. Nearly all of that change is technology-driven.
As Marc Andreesen famously quipped, “Software is eating the world.” It’s going to be a fair few years before the full implications of this observation become obvious, but – as Ross Dawson adroitly observes in the second episode of the ThinkFWD CIO Series podcast – accelerating technological change has already begun to transform every business unit.
Ownership of that change begins with the CIO, as Ross outlines in this infographic. Every aspect of the business is being measured, digitised, quantified, analysed and visualised – and all of these are core functions of the C-level technology leader. Yet these functions do not sit in isolation – they affect every other element of the business. A sales department with better customer relationship management systems performs better. Engineers with real-time feedback from customers can employ ‘lean’ development methodologies. And every employee, wherever they sit within the business, can learn more about their organisation more easily than ever before.
This marks an empowering shift within the enterprise, one that necessarily produces a powerful centrifugal tendency, pulling apart management silos as employees connect to org charts or business units without regard, seeking only to be effective in reaching their goals. The CIO is the agent of this change, which, if poorly handled, feels more like disintegration into chaos than a shift towards new productivity.
The CIO also guides and educates the entire business – from directors to frontline employees – on how to make their newfound capacities work for the organisation as a whole. The CIO has to listen to and learn from the organisation, and use their observations to refine processes and maintain connections so the enterprise continues to benefit from change while mitigating its downsides.
At the same time, the CIO must have the foresight to plant and encourage ‘green shoots’ – new business models that will inevitably spring up as new processes work their way through the organisation. Almost all mid-21st century businesses will reframe themselves around service delivery – even manufacturers, as leasing arrangements replace ownership. So, as Ross Dawson reminds us, APIs and employee-led service design are the future of business, and it will be the CIO’s responsibility to make sure tools are available to let employees (working in concert with customers) design new services quickly, cheaply, and effectively.
Yet that’s only half the battle. The CIO must also train their focus outside their organisation, scanning the sector for likely partnerships that could yield valuable services or opportunities to sell their own services to likeminded entities. This is already a familiar model: video-on-demand competitors Amazon Video and Netflix both rely on and cooperate via Amazon Web Services. Service models encourage such ‘ecosystem’ activities, mixing the roles of customer, collaborator and competitor in denser mixtures of services that a single business could never hope to provide on its own.
All of the standout 21st century business models – Google, Amazon, Uber – structure themselves as ecosystems; organisations that promote their own prosperity by offering a platform for the prosperity of others. CIOs and companies that crack this code, learning how to build strong, scalable and profitable ecosystems, are the companies that will be most competitive in global markets. Mastery of these new skills is essential for the CIO, and the CIO has to communicate the importance of these skills to the directors and senior management.
A business composed of service offerings won’t need the same level of physical or even organisational coherence that characterises how we think of businesses today. The org chart, with tidy little boxes indicating individuals with specific roles, is being supplanted by a busy and dynamic network of connections between individuals with specific capacities that can be called up as needed.
Some of those capacities will lie entirely within the organisation. Some will lie entirely outside, while some will straddle the gap. The ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ of a business begins to lose its meaning in this new world. What will continue to matter is how each business provides the right outcomes for a customer base that’s increasingly dynamic and ever-changing.
That future – where Ross Dawson concludes – looks strange to us from where we stand today. But we’re already most of the way there. The CIO has gotten us this far, and it remains their responsibility to guide us into a new way of working: enabled by IT, supported by the CIO, and surging with new productive capacity.