Earlier this month I explored the tsunami of change that’s been roiling businesses and their IT departments of late, challenging them like few generational disruptions before. Perhaps only the advent of PCs in the 1980s was the last similar wholesale transformation of the IT landscape. Consequently, there’s little recent precedent to guide business and technical leaders on how to reconcile their organizations with the technology dislocations that are having a growing impact on organizations around the world today.

Combine these major technology changes with the radical transformation that seems required by the border-challenging, control-shifting, blitzkrieg nature of next-gen mobility, social media, cloud computing, consumerization of IT, and rampant new oceans of data and you have a recipe for an adoption process that increasingly appears that it must be both subversive and yes, even revolutionary. I posited in my previous post on this topic that the changes are so significant and unique that a “Big Leap” will be required to make the transition to the 21st century notion of IT.

While external innovation continues apace, IT departments are also uniquely vulnerable at the moment to the major changes taking place in service delivery, like rarely before. Not only have budgets been cut or best case, flat-lined for years, since one of the largest downturns in recent history, but more and more IT budgets are being spent outside of the CIO’s purview as well; or in competition with external service providers. The latter point is key: More and more CIOs I speak with are being put in direct competition with the outside world, a very tough proposition indeed given the economies of scale that outsourcing firms can bring to bear.

The most recent hard data on who is actually spending on IT that I can locate is from Diamond Digital’s dual survey of business and IT leaders last year, showing that the IT solutions budget is spreading across the organization, with approximately 30% of all official technology spending now taking place outside of the IT department’s control.

The Changing DNA of Technology And Business

Admittedly, stated this way the message might seem overly dramatic and portentous — see Phil Wainewright’s “Who needs an IT department anymore?” for a more palatable statement of the same idea — and for those who haven’t been tracking the zeitgeist, the coming disruptions will come as more of a surprise that they should. But a disruption it is. From what I can see, the main group dedicated to the application of technology to the lines of business in most organizations is at one of its weakest moments in history, just as some of the biggest and most far-reaching technology changes are in the process of coming head-on — in rapid succession — for the majority of large enterprises.

Are the “Big 5″ IT shifts an IT priority?

Not that all of these changes even have the full attention of many IT departments. While the new generation of smart mobile devices, including Android and iOS tablets, are certainly front and center for virtually all large organizations I speak with, only cloud computing has similar levels of interest and it’s certainly longer term. Social media, consumerization, and big data then come in distinctly after these two. Yet, in the broader world, as I explored in my last post, the latter three are just as significant trends. In fact, there’s very little question that software is going social, becoming push-button easy to use, and is increasingly made smart by vast data sets carefully accumulated by companies. The point of the “Big Five” tech shifts is a good one: The overwhelming drive by technology providers to give their solutions the killer competitive edge in usability, utility, convenience and value. Would that our enterprise IT solutions were motivated by such inclinations.

Thus, the hyper-competition to cater to user’s every need that’s so prevalent in the consumer world often seems completely absent in the enterprise. In our cubicle halls or VPNs, the software we use today usually doesn’t 1) work very well on our mobile devices, 2) connect us very effectively to the people in the rest of the organization, ala Enterprise 2.0, 3) is often dauntingly complex and hard-to-use (lack of consumerization), 4) doesn’t take advantage of the power, innovation, and agility of the cloud, and 5) isn’t very connected to the company’s data and knowledge as a whole (very little real-time big data abilities.) And our workers can tell; they now have better IT at home or in their pockets and purses in many cases. And what’s worse — or reason for hope, depending on your location within the organization — they are taking matters into their own hands, rolling out their own solutions, and letting IT play catch up. And all too often, this means clean-up as well.

Fortunately, it’s far from gloom and doom for modern IT. In fact, I believe it’s a time of opportunity like few others for those that want to grab the brass ring and use technology to drive real business improvements. For those that want to stand with one foot on the business side and one foot in IT, now is the time in the sun you’ve been waiting for. Forwarding thinking organizations are going to reap the benefits if they can just muster the time and resources to get a little bit ahead of the adoption curve. I should note that it’s clear that these topics have struck a nerve. My last post on this subject was one of the most popular I’ve written here on ZDNet and I’ve found that this subject is also front-of-mind for many that I talk to this year.

So what can organizations do as a whole to get ahead of this set of changes, particularly given the shape that many IT departments find themselves in at the moment? Plenty I think. Below are some of the most likely strategies that I’ve been studying and many have been exploring, even trying out, recently. A few of them are far outside the box or too far from the comfort zone of traditional organizations. Others are so new that many organizations will wait for early pioneers to validate them more fully and make the early mistakes that they will cull valuable lessons learned from. They have widely varying investment levels and ROI, but they will each help organizations make the transition to a new type of IT, one more open, innovative, decentralized, agile, and sustainable.

But what is just as obvious is that we can’t sustain the current state of affairs. There’s just too much technology rolling into our organizations too quickly, much of it requiring skill sets that are far outside our historic competency areas. To be dealt with effectively, many of these new technologies also require us to more deeply engage the business than ever before. We must now help our organizations transform to new digital business models and ways of operating. In other words, difficult yet highly rewarding activities but ones that require equal talent and business acumen as much as cutting-edge technology legerdemain.

10 Strategies for Making the Big Leap to Next Generation IT

As Dave Gray noted a while back, the Fortune 500 company’s life span is shrinking. It’s often because the changes in the marketplace are requiring companies to reinvent not only how they were successful originally, but their very purpose. While some of the strategies below may seem unusual or unconventional, that’s because we can’t merely do what we’ve done in the past to succeed in IT. There is good reason to believe that each and every one of these can provide the fresh perspective and new way of thinking that makes the challenges facing IT surmountable. I’ll cite examples whenever possible, but there’s a growing body of evidence of each of these as a real way to make the “Big Leap” to the next generation of IT.

1. Proactively decentralize & localize IT to drive emergent outcomes.

The discussion on emergent architecture that was taking place a couple of years ago has now moved up a level, to become emergent IT. I’ve adapted the ideas below in a visual of what this looks like and how responsibility for IT solutions must move much closer to the the point of use, while still remaining loosely coupled to business and IT leaders for consistency, standardization, and coherency. Organizations must (and can, with this approach) not only respond to change much more effectively but also use technologies and processes that naturally embrace unanticipated outcomes, where much of the downstream value resides.

More germane to the “Big 5″, this approach will enable local experimentation and adoption of the latest technologies to find the best way they can be used. The lessons and success stories can be quickly harvested and spread through community management to the rest of the organization. This mobilizes an army to divide and conquer the new tech and find out what works and what doesn’t while still maintaining oversight and minimal useful governance. Also key, is that it is adaptable and resilient model if there suddenly becomes a “Big 10″ or “Big 15″ or whatever number of new technologies. This approach scales much better that old-school IT. Lesson: IT departments can no longer do it all but can do much to enable distributed innovation.

Emergent CoIT: Reconceiving IT to Balance Risk, Control, and Trust with Innovation, Choice, and Agility

2. Collapse the ranks between IT and the business, creating CoIT together.

The business/IT divide finally must come to an end. We’re all in IT now. That means businesses users must accept that they need to become digital natives. And it means IT people must be willing to learn the business, and not just at a high-level, but enough to lead transformation, whenever possible. I’ve been calling this process of unification CoIT for short, meaning both “cooperative IT” and “consumer IT.”

IT professionals will remain IT professionals in this process, I certainly understand the career and income implications. But other than for HR purposes, everyone is now a business solutions expert with a specialty in “Big 5″ tech. My most specific modest proposal here: Divide IT into infrastructure and digital business solutions. You can call the infrastructure piece IT. This gives you a big staff for the needed business transformation. This is a gross simplification of the actual process required, but it’s the gist.

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