A new fad can rise and spread across the globe simultaneously spawned by an overnight social media fest or a celebrity sighting. Go to bed loving purple (e.g. Slack), wake up knowing you must buy orange (e.g. WeChat).
It sometimes feels like that with technology. Cybersecurity? The new black. Data scientists? Must-have accessory this season. Agile? Got fifty shades of that … ho hum … show me something new.
At Gartner’s South East Asia CIO Forum in Singapore recently, a couple of enlightened global CIOs let me know loud and clear that agile practices are the new normal.
They posed the fabulously challenging question – so what’s next? I felt suddenly ‘so last season’, which was the perfect agitation to get me thinking about that very conundrum.
If you’re the CIO, CTO or CDO of a thriving start-up or a sophisticated digital business with a mature enterprise agile environment, you should be thinking about the next future aspiration.
Nothing is more certain than there is no such thing as certainty. In a business environment hyper-charged by the rate of technology change, standing still isn’t an option. If you aren’t evolving, you’re tending to atrophy.
In the fashion industry, the task of clothing and amusing the more privileged portion of the world’s population in style is accelerating.
Zara’s the perfect example, leading the high street fashion industry by pushing consumer expectations ahead with their radical new take on agile fashion design, production and distribution.
It successfully rolls out new collections around the world as fast as it could observe the runway, mimic a pattern and whip up a frock. The way they operate has become a model for most successful global chains, and crossed over into other industries including technology.
The ‘me-generation’ of connected consumers is no different – impatient and entitled. They want to be first, and they want what they see now. Just look at the fans camped outside Apple stores to be the first to get their hands on the latest iPad or iPhone just launched.
Both technology and fashion are at their most desirable when novel. The more surprising and different it is compared to what the masses are wearing or using, the more our early adopters crave the new.
So it is with technology today. Moore’s Law may be slowing the rate of increase of microprocessor power – as the Economist reported in March 2016 – but the incremental growth of new ways and devices to apply technologies is gaining speed. Perhaps it is ‘Vogue’s Law’ that now applies to technology innovation.
Technology and fashion are synergistic and co-dependent. Technology is both a wearable fashion object and a component of garments. Technology enables the global sharing of ideas and designs, and the spread of trends through social media from marketing to selfies. Technology underpins the means of fashion industry production and distribution, from digital pattern making to 3D printing.
Understanding volatile human behaviour is at the heart of fashion, and this is where technology starts to turbo-thrust trend forecasting, using predictive analytics and social media to read and try to predict consumer preferences. Technology delivers enhanced shopping experiences both online and in-store.
What we now see is technology starting to deliver advanced materials for ‘smart’ clothes. Surfing is taking off in Ireland because of new technology in wetsuits.
The SXSW conference in Texas this year explored the new era of fashion manufacturing, from 3D printed and sound responsive clothing, to washable batteries and smart textiles that generate power and capture physiological data to reveal emotional interactions.
When you compare the geeky reputation of technology compared to the elegant artistic trademark of the fashion industry, while obtuse, IT and fashion have uncanny synchronicity in both production pace and consumer capriciousness.
The pace of the fashion industry fascinates me and seems to mirror the shift in IT towards to higher levels of creativity, collaboration, customer empathy, design thinking and agile production teamwork.
So, what’s next after agile? As the fashion editor in the movie ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ said to the callow young intern: “You go to your closet and you select that lumpy blue sweater for instance, because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don’t know is that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs.”
Similarly, we can trace the development of agile practices, high performing teams and adaptive leadership back to at least the 1980s, when it evolved from lean and productivity improvement approaches in Japan post-WW2. Today, agile is becoming mainstream as an alternate leadership and operational approach both in IT and business. Agile is the new black.
Instead of asking what’s after agile, try thinking bigger. What’s after IT? What’s after digital? What will enterprises do when the CIO is the CEO?
When presented with a problem to which you don’t know an easy answer, my advice is to gather a small diverse team, construct a few even more extreme scenarios and then work imaginatively with those hypotheses.
In the creative pursuit of solving it, you may find your own fresh new thing, to spark and transform and keep your enterprise not only ahead of the crowds, but rocketing ahead.
When the CEO next calls you and casually mentions the latest word on their hot list, you’d better be ready. Skinny jeans? So last year. Flares? So 1970s. Wrong – I live in the heart of hipsterdom near Brunswick St in Fitzroy and trust me, big high waisted denim flares are in this month. But please don’t try them at home if you are a CIO – you are inevitably too old for that now!
The forces driving change in technology this year will range from the tangible to the esoteric, with a touch of humanity thrown in. The new season’s looks for technology have a taste of millennials, a lot of social media influence, a phasing out of email and traditional ERPs, constructed with virtual cloud services and less hierarchy, allowing a lot more individuality and colour to delight the mind and the eye.
But I’m so last season. Don’t look at me – go scan your data for patterns and outliers. Observe the brave curiosities, follow and experiment, but don’t get too stuck on those flares. Next season, I’ve reliably been told that it’s walk shorts and long socks. You heard it first here.
Jenny Beresford is a research director with Gartner's CIO Advisory team. Previously, she served as a CIO, VP and GM in consulting and technology firms, an agile coach and a digital program manager, through to hands-on roles in strategic planning, change management, innovation, enterprise architecture and portfolio management.