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Stop the Upgrade Path; Time to 'Re-imagine IT,' Says Gartner

Today's IT leaders need to re-imagine the role played by information technology, and that requires being able to think beyond simply modernizing what's already in place. Achieving "creative destruction" will help the organization move beyond its current practices--which currently consume the bulk of IT resources--and into a world of cloud computing, mobile usage, media tablets, and social media. That's the message being delivered by Gartner at its annual Symposium ITxpo 2011 conference, which is taking place this week in Orlando.

"Most IT organizations have 70 percent or more of their time, money and mindshare locked into reliability, keeping things going," said Tina Nunno, vice president and distinguished analyst during her presentation to 8,500 conference attendees. "Yet demands for game changing IT capabilities are growing every year. IT leaders must transform their businesses, products, services, and value proposition to the external customer, and challenge traditional ways of thinking."

How to get there?

"You must pursue simplicity by putting people and their needs at the center of design. You must dare to employ creative destruction to eliminate legacy, and selectively destroy low impact systems," explained Peter Sondergaard, global head of Gartner's research.

A place to start is with system deployment itself, which must begin to include integration of cloud-based operations. Sondergaard said that while only 3 percent of current IT investment is made on public cloud initiatives, that investment will grow five times faster than IT initiatives overall, reaching about 19 percent annually by 2015. IT directors need to have a "cloud first" strategy, he added.

But the focus on cloud work will involve more than just picking service providers. The analyst firm said in a statement that cloud computing is also about specialization. Because each service provider typically focuses its attention on doing one thing well, such as e-mail, human resources, or managing servers, the IT organization may need to become a "cloud brokerage," to manage those multiple services that previously came from one source--itself.

"Cloud brokerages can aggregate, integrate, govern, or customize cloud services to make those services more specific to the needs of the consumers," said Daryl Plummer, managing vice president and Gartner fellow. "Three out of 10 IT organizations will become cloud brokers for their business, and that is one way they will survive."

The attraction for mobile devices and media tablets among the user base--the base of mobile users now exceeds the base of PC users, Gartner estimates--means that development teams within the IT organization must shift focus to emphasize mobile projects.

"By 2015, mobile application development projects targeting smart phones and tablets will outnumber PC projects by four to one. The PC is no longer king," said Gartner Research Vice President Hung LeHong. "IT needs to be part of building out this future. Things should be so simple that people should be able to do what they need to do on any device."

"Simplicity done right does not eliminate complexity; it makes it invisible," LeHong said. "You're not trying to 'dumb down' an experience; you're trying to enrich it."

LeHong added that context-aware computing will come to the forefront in mobile development work. "Context-aware applications take context about me in the physical world--such as my location, time of day--and my usage patterns in the digital world, and deliver it to the me in the mobile world," he said. That means IT leaders will need people on their teams who understand how to use clues--smart phone location, social network activity, or intent based on past behavior--to deliver options as users expect them.

In the area of the social media, Anthony Bradley, group vice president, noted that social media is not necessarily an IT issue but a leadership challenge. Bradley defines social media as a "communications channel opened for the purpose of developing valuable relationships."

"Culture matters," he said in a brief YouTube video on the topic posted from the event. It requires a "new way of thinking, not in terms of individuals in teams but in communities. How do you get communities of people to do work for your organization to the extent they haven't before?"

Gartner offers the "Six F" model, he added, to understand the predominant attitudes about social media held by senior leadership: folly, fearful, flippant, formulating, forging, and fusing. Understanding where the organization currently sits on the scale of attitudes about social media will help it understand how far the social enterprise has to grow.

The company acknowledged that achieving the level of change mandated by a re-imagining of IT will require IT leaders to "embrace calculated risk." CIOs tend to be perfectionists who are highly detail-oriented. It's what has made so many of them good at their jobs. However, it can sometimes lead to issues with risk and uncertainty, said Nunno. "Never taking risks means you are predictable and an easy target for your competition. Strive to take calculated risks and surprise both your business and the competition."

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