LAS VEGAS — In December 2019, Gartner made the prediction: Embrace disruption.
"Unfortunately, we nailed that," Thomas Bittman, distinguished VP of Gartner Research & Advisory, said in the opening keynote at the Gartner IT Infrastructure, Operations & Cloud Strategies Conference taking place here this week. "The COVID pandemic changed the rules [but] infrastructure and operations leaders — I&O leaders — absolutely stepped up to the challenge. You have changed the world.
"But our work is never over," he said. "Yesterday's heroics are now today's expectations."
For I&O leaders looking to move their organizations forward, Gartner is recommending they follow seven steps that make up the acronym FORWARD.
Organizations are facing a "triple squeeze" of concerns from the outside world, Bittman said:
- Inflation: 90% of CEOs Gartner surveyed expect inflation to be around awhile
- Talent: Talent is getting harder to find and keep
- Global supply constraints: Bottlenecks are clogging up the world
"We've got the skills we need to face these challenges," he said. "But now, it's up to us and I&O to help lead our organizations forward into a future where our business acumen enables I&O to mesh well with our business units. A future where platform engineering and intelligent automation put tailored solutions in every employee's hands. A future where I&O teams not only have the skills they need, but they expand their horizons and grow to meet future needs. And a future where we are the center of innovation in our organizations."
Outreach Within the Organization to Embed I&O
Roger Williams, VP of Gartner Research & Advisory, agreed that we need to move I&O forward. But how? By gaining more power through strong connections — having others outside IT who can advocate for IT because they need IT. Eighty-eight percent of CEOs will maintain or accelerate their digital pace — and the triple squeeze isn't slowing them down, he said.
"This requires more than our technical skills," Williams said. "We need business acumen, and the best way to get it is by actively immersing ourselves in our organization."
I&O teams need to better understand how technology is being used across an organization, he said, throwing out this challenge: "Have every member of your I&O leadership team spend 20% of a standard workweek, eight hours, immersed in business challenges." When doing so, you'll find ways to make a big impact you otherwise wouldn't have found, he claimed.
Fusion Teams and Business Technologists
I&O leaders must also engage with business technologists — those outside of IT who are modifying analytics, customizing processes, and configuring — because, like it or not, "there will be more and more business technologists embedded throughout your organization," Williams said.
By treating business technologists as an extension of your organization, everyone benefits. In fact, he said, go a step further and create fusion teams — teams of both business technologists and IT staff — to gain both business and technology domain expertise. "The prevalence of fusion teams is evidence that the boundaries between IT and business areas blurring," he said.
"Immersing ourselves in our organization's fabric is how we start moving I&O forward," Williams said. "Fusion teams and business technologists are vital in this effort."
Reduction of Complexity with Platform Engineering
How do I&O leaders find time to immerse themselves in business problems to remove digital friction when they are drowning in their problems? asked Dennis Smith, VP of Gartner Research & Advisory, during the keynote. His answer: "Accelerate the adoption of automation and platform engineering to move I&O forward."
"Platform engineering is an early stage technology that's all about creating layers of components and services that enable anyone to develop solutions quickly and safely. And it's attracting huge interest," Smith said.
There are a number of benefits to platform engineering, including:
- Minimize waste
- Reduce security risks
- Easier integration
Automation at the Heart of I&O Strategy
The next I&O forward evolution, Smith said, is using automation to change how we work. "Intelligent automation is an essential part of moving I&O forward," he said. "After all, what better way to free up eight hours for business immersion than by making routine time-consuming tasks to go away?"
The benefits of automation include:
- Increased speed to market
- Increased business agility
- Mitigated risk
- Optimized service costs
But when it comes to automation, where do you start?
Follow the lead of mature organizations, which are much more likely to invest in service desk automation, repeated tasks, and new infrastructure configuration.
Smith urged the keynote audience to embrace both platform engineering and intelligent automation. "Use platform engineering to create common, shareable tools to help developers, fusion teams, and business technologists to do their job better," he said. "And at the same time, adopt intelligent automation to reduce routine tasks, increase efficiencies, and get all users a better digital experience. In other words, stop focusing on tools and start building engines."
Workforce Reskilling and Optimization
However, to build the right engines to move their organizations forward, I&O teams must have the right skill sets, according to Bittman.
"That means developing the right skills in the workforce, empowering them to achieve their maximum potential, and then putting them in the right spots at the right time," he said.
Gartner's research predicts that in the future, employee turnover will be 20% higher than pre-pandemic levels. "If we fail as leaders to create an environment in I&O where we foster our talent and support our talent in this labor market, our talent's going to find somewhere else that does," Bittman warned.
While we must keep investing in technical skills, softer skills in business and collaboration are only going to increase in importance, he added.
Dynamic Work Management
We also need to move from traditional work management strategies — where we put employees in jobs aligned with their skills — to dynamic work management, in which we switch our focus from the workforce to the work that needs to be done, Bittman said.
"Keeping talent means giving [employees] new opportunities and new positions that take away some of the boredom and burnout they might have, gives them new things that they can do," he said.
Research and Innovation Engines
If these best practices are followed, I&O will now be integrated with the business and will be more efficient, thanks to automation and platform engineering. And it has the right workforce. So how do we move ahead to then next big thing? Smith asked.
"How do you filter out the bad fits and impractical options and focus in on the technologies that solve problems for our organizations? Well, we build an innovation engine," Smith said. "It's a mechanism that draws in new technologies, tests and evaluates them, and then generates the best candidates for going further and having further development with."
The innovation engine, he said, is the final piece to move I&O forward.
"Innovation engines can give us the crucial go/no-go technology evaluation," Smith said. While there will be no-go technologies and technologies that are promising but not quite right at the time for the organization, Smith said using an I&O forward innovation engine is worth it for those "Goldilocks" technologies — the ones that are just right, solving a painful and costly problem and that align with an organization's overall objectives.
"Build your innovation engine right, and it will certainly drive I&O forward," he said.
7 Steps That Can 'Change the World'
There is no going back, Williams said. Disruption continues to be the order of the day, so I&O must move forward.
"When you take the steps to move I&O forward, you're not just moving I&O. You're moving your entire organization," he said. "The momentum you build will change I&O, change your organization, and change the world."
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.