It’s the year 2030 at Poppy, a hypothetical Nasdaq-listed digital enterprise, headquartered in Shanghai, China. The company’s grown exponentially over the past 13 years, since its early days as a maverick venture capital-funded startup in 2017 loosely modelled on digital giant Alibaba, but initially focused on education services.
Poppy’s now captured the global youth market hungry for smarter learning environments that accelerate their education, qualifications and knowledge. Currently ranked in the top three in its market, it has achieved this by using smart machines and algorithms to dynamically interpret billions of data points collected via a plethora of devices and sources in the company’s Internet of Everything.
The company understands each of its customer's individual learning preferences, environmental and emotional variables, and their optimal knowledge absorption pace. It’s now poised to dominate the personalised learning services market, and expand rapidly into related horizontal and vertical markets through acquisitions planned for 2030. The company is big and growing, and needs to be able to flex and extend as quickly as the market expands and innovation flows.
The CIO role has evolved alongside the digital enterprise. The person in this role is now is a seasoned global executive who is able to attract, inspire and enable a pluralistic workforce of multi-talented, independent thinkers.
The nucleus of her IT organisation is a high-performing team of talented leaders. Each leader has a deep specialisation demonstrating their capacity to learn and apply knowledge, yet each was recruited into the team primarily for their values, intellectual curiosity, optimism and adaptability as a cross-functional team player. These leaders maintain their personal balance, while embracing and flowing with the fast speed, uncertainty and ambiguity of the business environment of 2030.
Self-managing, largely autonomous pods
Poppy’s IT organisation is organised in a highly flexible arrangement of clusters or pods of teams that switch between assignments as ideas flow, priorities rebalance and demand surges. The IT domain is porous, changing as teams form and reform, including people from other parts of the enterprise and fostering diversity of thought and expertise. This is compared to hierarchies of functional or product-centric groupings seen in 2017.
The CIO leads a team of pod leaders, each forming a self-organising, autonomous team of up to 30 people. Individuals participate in teams or pods, and can also join groups of specialists to extend their expertise. External vendors, partners and individual experts are also engaged for specific tasks or projects, joining teams or pods for limited periods, similar to agile team formation and contracts used in 2017.
Innovation and enablement hub
The IT organisation is also an innovation and enablement hub for both external and internal products and services, rather than a principally internal technology function like in 2017. The IT domain is largely concerned with an appropriate balance of inventing, experimenting and optimising/tuning.
To innovate products, the CIO engages people from the arts through to the sciences. IT domains in 2030 need anthropologists to interpret behaviours and psychology. They need designers to imagine and create products and services to optimise customer experiences. Architects and digital urban planners model and shepherd the digital environment.
Engineers build components of external and internal IT products and services connected in a mesh across the Internet of Everything. Data scientists craft ever-smarter machine algorithms and attend to the availability and quality of data that feeds the systems' learning.
Could this really happen?
This scenario represents just one potential future world, driven by technology and management trends. However, this evolution could be waylaid in a number of ways:
- Emerging management approaches (such as holacracy) may not scale or prove effective in a broader range of organisations.
- Individual leaders may fail. Not every command leader will become a coach/leader able to work with new degrees of freedom, fluidity and uncertainties. Companies may pay lip service to the approach but not really promote autonomy in the pods.
- There may be no CIO or technology/IT organisation at all by 2030, as all knowledge and responsibility is fully dispersed across the business.
Advice to CIOs in 2017
It’s time to think like the millennial who will become the CIO of 2030. Imagine and evolve your own and your IT leaders' ethos and style. Embrace the agile "servant-leadership" practice of "leading from behind" to enable greater autonomy, creativity and self-management across the IT workforce.
Develop alternate scenarios for the IT organisation that extend the principles of agile teams. Encourage your workforce to experiment with different ways of organising and working, continually observing, reflecting, learning and adapting. Help emerging IT pod leaders to be creative in how they monitor, understand and support their people as individuals with extreme flexibility in forming and reforming groupings or teams.
Demonstrate and strongly support cross-domain collaboration and risk-tolerant exploration to rapidly accelerate "ideation to delivered value" cycles for the enterprise. Start now to find opportunities to challenge people, take them out of their comfort zones to work in teams they may never have thought of, and explore their boundaries as an experiment and an innovation stimulus.
Jenny Beresford is a research director with Gartner's CIO Advisory team. Previously, she has served as a CIO in global enterprises, held VP and GM roles in consulting and technology firms, worked as a hands-on enterprise agile coach, an innovation lead and a digital transformation director. She will speak about ‘CIO Futures in 2030’ at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo on the Gold Coast, 30 October – 2 November 2017.
Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.