In today’s ever more technology-centric world, the stodgy IT department isn’t considered the home of innovation and business leadership.

Yet that might have to change as some of the biggest advances in the history of technology make their way into the front lines of service delivery.

Here’s an exploration by Dion Hinchcliffe of the top five IT trends in the next half decade, including some of the latest industry data, and what the major opportunities and challenges are.

Much has been written lately about the speed at which technology is reshaping the business landscape today. Except that’s not quite phrasing it correctly. It’s more like it’s leaving the traditional business world behind. There’s a number of root causes: The blistering pace of external innovation, the divergent path the consumer world has taken from enterprise IT, and the throughput limitations of top-down adoption.

As a result, there’s a rapidly expanding gap between what the technology world is executing on and what the enterprise can deliver. Many now think this gap may actually become untenable, and they may be right. Yet recent large surveys of CIOs continues to show an almost exclusively evolutionary and internal focus. Many feel that a technology emphasis is wrong right now, and they’re certainly right, if it’s not integrated with top priority business objectives. However, these days it’s technology advancements and new digital markets that are often the key to an organisation’s future.

At the end of the day, businesses must be able to effectively serve the markets they cater to, and doing so means using the same channels and techniques as their trading partners and customers. Organisations must adapt to the evolving marketplace to succeed. Fortunately, I do believe there are approaches that can yet be adopted to address this increasingly significant challenge.

A tectonic technology shift

One only need look at what’s on the mind of CIOs these days (60% believe they should bedirectly driving growth and productivity) versus what they’re well known for delivering on. Or perhaps more problematically, what their IT organizations are able to deliver on. Never in my two decades of experience in the IT world have I seen such a disparity between where the world is heading as a whole and the technology approach that many companies are using to run their businesses.

The issues are legion: There are at least five major “generational scale” changes to the computing landscape happening at about the same time: Delivery platforms are shifting (mobility, cloud, social), communication and collaboration channels are being reinvented (Web, mobile, social), the consumer world of technology is driving innovation, and data is opening up and exploding out of the proliferating apps, devices, and sensors that organizations are deploying or are connecting to (but alas, are often not engaging with.) And as you might expect, much or most of these topics are in back burner mode in many companies just now seeing the glimmerings of recovery from the downturn.

Moreover, workers are now demanding many of these innovations and expecting their organizations to provide something close in capability to what they can get nearly for free (or actually for free) on their own devices and networks. Managers and executives, albeit mostly on the business side, are typically pushing for 1) service delivery on next-generation mobile devices like the iPad, 2) much easier to use IT solutions, and 3) access to better, more collaborative and useful intranet capabilities.

“Easy”, highly mobile, and “social” are the mantras of this new generation of IT. So to is the rapid (read: instant) acquisition and delivery of business solutions. There is a growing realization amongst workers and management that technology, though increasingly complex in itself, can be wielded far more rapidly and efficiently than their currently parochial capabilities are providing.

But this is not a blame game. IT is not necessarily at fault, or at least only indirectly. Instead, it seems to be the entire structure and process through which organizations absorb and metabolize technology. It’s centralized. It’s controlled. It’s top-down. There are exceptions, but in most organizations, technology decisions are made at high levels and then pushed across the organization. This transmission process is slow and unpredictable. It’s also often not supported on the ground where reality reaches the business.

Unfortunately, the slow-pace of IT adoption, hindered by traditional project management practices, endless customization processes, IT backlogs, security concerns, and a dozen other drags on delivery performance, is only part of the problem. The fact that the technology world is largely no longer driven by the enterprise world (as it used to be for decades) is another major reason that technology and business is having a harder time these days aligning.

A few examples will suffice: The endless and seemingly real-time flow of useful and highly innovative new mobile and Web apps for managing travel, money, news, communication, productivity, and countless other key functions is only an inadequate trickle in the enterprise today. The ability to quickly connect, communicate, and collaborate via social conversations, photos, audio, video, and more with anyone in the world is much more limited currently in most businesses.

Finding and acquiring new software is just the click of a button in an app store in the consumer world, but an arduous, manual, and failure prone process in most organizations now. User experiences are changing: The aging and slow-to-evolve graphical user interface is being uprooted by touch based interfaces in new consumer apps that work much better in many physical situations. In contrast, the same overhaul is happening an order of magnitude more slowly for business apps.

Where does technology and IT go from here?

If we project these trends forward, what will the outcome be? Is there going to be a final fork in the road for consumer and enterprise technology, with each side looking at each other through a diverging pair of windows, with minimal crossover between the two? Or will the two worlds continue to blur together, as technology cross-pollinates from the growing wall of innovation coming from the Web and consumer technology world? Given the virality and pervasiveness of consumer technology, the latter is by far the most likely scenario.

So what are the key IT trends of the next half decade? How will organizations adapt to them? In a conversation I had recently with the Editor-in-Chief of CIO Magazine, Maryfran Johnson, we discussed what I dubbed the “Big Five”, the biggest technology influences of the next half decade. This includes next-gen mobility, social media (or more specifically social business), cloud computing, consumerization, and big data. We agreed that these five — of all current tech trends — are at top of the list for what most organizations need to be planning for in their current strategies and roadmaps as they update and modernize, as well as (hopefully) out-innovate their competitors.

Below I will explore the approaches that might break the logjam that’s preventing much of the business world from becoming as current with the technology advances as they should. But first lets take a look at each of these technology trends with an eye towards the most up-to-date statement of the advantages they can provide. I’ll also provide a key new insight on overcoming the challenges of adopting them more effectively and successfully.

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