LAS VEGAS -- One mantra repeated over and over at this week's Gartner IT Infrastructure, Operations & Cloud Strategies Conference is that success depends on the ability to handle change. And it was at the very beginning of the opening keynote on Tuesday that it was first recited.
"Our success depends on our ability to handle change to avoid emerging threats and to rapidly take advantage of opportunities," said Gartner's Distinguished VP Analyst Tom Bittman, who with Distinguished VP Analyst Dennis Smith and Senior Principal Analyst Autumn Stanish, used the keynote stage as an opportunity to illustrate the need for generative transformation in infrastructure and operations (I&O).
Transformation, Bittman said, isn't a one-time thing. It's an ongoing journey in which you're either leading transformation or you're being transformed. Instead of reacting to changes, where you may end up somewhere you don't want to be, I&O leaders need to take charge and accept that there is no fixed endpoint or goal.
"[I&O leaders must] embrace the process of transformation as a way of operating," he said. "And we have a name for this. We call this generative transformation.
"Generative transformation is about continuously transforming, continuously improving performance, efficiency, service delivery, and, most importantly, continuously adapting to new technologies to meet new business objectives [and] new goals at the speed of business."
What this means for I&O leaders is overhauling inflexible processes, architectures, skills, and organizational structures that are holding you back, he said.
Gartner breaks generative transformation into three parts:
- GenAI: Embracing generative AI to empower your people and transform your processes.
- Infrastructure platform engineering: Using infrastructure platform engineering to optimize infrastructure delivery.
- Empowering people: Equipping your staff with the capabilities and the mindset needed to support your generative transformation.
Generative Transformation Ingredient No. 1: Generative AI
Generative AI has the potential to disrupt the infrastructure and operations business perhaps more than anything else we've all seen in our careers, Bittman said. But how you should use GenAI as a part of your generative transformation within infrastructure and operations?
Bittman laid out four things that you need to do:
Determine your ambition.
How much are you willing to use GenAI? The possibilities range from the everyday to the game-changing. Everyday includes productivity gains, like automating repetitive tasks, that will save I&O staff from drudgery.
"That's a great incremental improvement," Bittman said. "You should aggressively adopt GenAI for everyday productivity. But you should consider more, and it requires imagination and staff empowerment."
Keep skills at the forefront.
Gartner predicts that a lack of GenAI skills and testing will negatively impact 90% of businesses. That means your staff will need training in how to leverage GenAI effectively.
"But it's not just training," Bittman said. "You need to ensure that you have an infrastructure and operations culture that rewards creativity, experimentation, innovation, and not just productivity. Otherwise, GenAI will never leave the realm of the everyday."
You must establish guardrails to protect your data and mitigate the risks. "Distrust and verify is the rule of thumb," Bittman said.
While the models used in infrastructure and operations likely will be highly accurate, it only takes one unreviewed automation to cause an outage. "Create guardrails for your staff, but don't completely tie their hands," he said. "Give them room to innovate and experiment."
Build and execute a plan.
Build and execute an adaptable plan that manages the risks, measures the rewards, and finds the right balance, Bittman advised. It's crucial to adopt an intentional and phased approach to deploying GenAI across infrastructure and operations, whether you are focused on the everyday or the game-changing.
Generative Transformation Ingredient No. 2: Infrastructure Platform Engineering
"We're seeing a concerning trend of some customers giving up on I&O and looking elsewhere for their own infrastructure," Smith said. "I'm not sure about you, but that concerns me, and it concerns me a lot."
One approach to bridging the gap between infrastructure teams and those that consume infrastructure is platform engineering. It's time to apply platform engineering principles to optimize the delivery of infrastructure platforms, according to Smith — Gartner calls this infrastructure platform engineering (IPE).
There are a number of benefits to infrastructure platform engineering:
- For product teams, IPE accelerates application delivery cycle times.
- For developers, it increases autonomy.
- For platform customers, it reduces cognitive load.
- For the I&O team, it reduces the duplication of tools; improves the ability to quickly adapt to changing business needs; creates more opportunities for team members and improves retention; and applies engineering practices to automate and operate infrastructure, ensuring better reliability, security, and compliance.
Smith laid out four key IPE principles.
Principle No. 1: Platforms need to be delivered as products. You will need a dedicated platform owner who will develop the vision and roadmaps for the platform, as well as dedicated resources to deliver and maintain a platform. And you will need to demonstrate success through metrics.
Principle No. 2: Start with the thinnest viable platform. The platform should begin simple and evolve with validated effectiveness and usage.
Principle No. 3: Platforms need to be demand-driven. Platform teams must be highly engaged with customers; prioritize new platforms and enhancements based on customer needs.
Principle No. 4: Platforms should provide easy paved roads for users. If platforms are documented and easy to use, customers will be compelled to follow the easy paved road rather than building their own.
Customers just want an easy button, Smith said. "If we give our customers the easy button while reducing risks, why would they go elsewhere?" he said.
Generative Transformation Ingredient No. 3: Empowering People
The third thing generative transformation will require is new human capabilities.
Teams need to be equipped with confidence, knowledge, and resources to thrive in a future that demands continuous learning, Stanish told conference attendees.
"The true game-changer lies in our ability to empower our people to have a generative mindset," she said. That means employees must be free to create ideas without any constraints and are culturally and systemically supported to continuously challenge the status quo.
Stanish shared three ways I&O leaders can empower their people to think generatively:
- Assess and hire for the characteristics you need, not the qualifications.
- Amplify growth opportunities and provide transparency and skills development.
- Cultivate a culture where it is safe to explore, try new roles, and learn from failures.
"Without the ability to think critically and creatively, your organization will stagnate," Stanish said. It's important to foster an environment that encourages experimentation and accepts that failure is part of the learning process because the generative mindset can't thrive in a culture marked by a fear of failure, she added.
Psychological safety is crucial. Gartner's 2020 Learning & Development Disruption Survey found that employees with high psychological safety have a 67% higher probability that they'll apply a newly learned skill on the job. Those experiencing low psychological safety are 78% less likely to admit that they're struggling with a new skill. That means managers need to encourage their employees to take risks and to explore new roles without the fear of repercussions, Stanish said.
Why Generative Transformation Is the 'Only Way Forward'
Innovations are coming faster and faster and are building on each other, Bittman concluded. "We've got to build the capability to thrive through accelerating change, and we believe the only way forward is generative transformation, embracing transformation as a way of operating in a way of delivering business value with agility," he said.
Smith agreed. "The health, growth, and future of your organization, it requires a new approach. It requires a generative transformation that will equip you and your teams with the capabilities you need to handle all the inflection points yet to come."
About the authorRick Dagley is senior editor at ITPro Today, covering IT operations and management, cloud computing, edge computing, software development and IT careers. Previously, he was a longtime editor at PCWeek/eWEEK, with stints at Computer Design and Telecommunications magazines before that.