I’ve spent much of 2016 in the air as one of the digital diaspora, flitting from time zone to time zone, connecting the dots. Last week I was on yet another plane watching a movie, when I heard the phrase: “I believe the internet is the embodiment of evil.”
That one little phrase pushed me straight back into a meandering, post-US election musing I’ve been having. Like many of you I suspect, I’ve been absorbed by trying to fathom the emerging concept of two global tribes at a philosophical stand-off. On one side are the digitally connected, educated elite, while on the other the digitally connected, agitated and aggrieved. Two tribes digitally connected, yet extremely disconnected in the way they feel about the world.
Connecting the dots, it has me wondering what this could mean for the technology sector. What haven’t we imagined yet? If 2016 has taught us anything, it's not to be complacent. The unimaginable can overnight become our reality.
Could a backlash against globalisation and the educated elite translate into a digital backlash? A dystopic scenario where digital platforms and the internet are reframed as part of the problem, instead of the solution. A backlash that could affect our digital enterprises, especially if it undermined consumer and business trust – the glue of social media and the connected economy.
Could the technology-enabled digital platforms that have so rapidly changed the habits and behaviours of billions, created connected distributed tribes and accelerated the growth of a more seamless global economy, become mistrusted and discounted as part of an elitist/intellectual/capitalist/communist/hipster [insert your favourite conspiracy theory here] plot?
A powerful phenomena has been observed this year that mass consumer or voter sentiment can be skewed by ‘faith’ in alternate sources of information. Sources that don’t require traditional, academic or evidence based validation. A broad collective belief in an alternative can empower tribes of citizens to change major policies and whole governments, as seen in the UK’s Brexit referendum or the US Presidential election.
Information, or as Orwell might say ‘disinformation’, is disseminated at warp-speed across the digital platforms where tribes gather, which we as technologists create, sustain and grow.
How could this play out? Imagine if a loss of trust in dominant platforms like Facebook or Twitter, were to turn the tribe towards an alternate digital universe that quickly became the new choice for the dubious and disaffected. A new place to hang out, shop, bank, talk with like-minded folk, create and share information. It’s not too hard to envisage, is it?
But before you rationalists out there scoff, I contest that herein lies the big message for CIOs in 2017: explore the unimaginable. Explore the very thing your enterprise may fear, dismiss or doesn’t dare to entertain. The unexpected may become pivotal to your future.
As technologists, CIOs continuously change the world around us, within and beyond our enterprise domains. We have a responsibility to also continuously explore our environment, sense for surprises and be prepared for the unexpected.
Post-truth may be stranger than fiction. As a CIO, you’ve played your part in inventing and building the technology that holds up the internet. It’s pervasive, powerful and still full of possibility. Almost every part of our lives is becoming dependent on internet connectivity, from growing food, managing airspace and medical support to seeking out social comfort and running our homes.
Half of the world’s CIOs work for organisations that are participating in digital ecosystems as creators, buyers and sellers. But that’s nowhere close to the deep participation rate of top performing digital enterprises. Gartner’s 2016 CIO Agenda Survey found that 80 per cent of those top performers operate in digital ecosystems, connected to twice as many digital partners as the average.
The trends for growth in the digital connected economy are outstripping GDP growth in much of the developed world. CIOs are expecting to spend time, attention and budget in 2017 on building the talent and innovative culture, bimodal and agile practices, and digital technology platforms that will propel their organisations into 2020 and beyond.
As a CIO in this hyper-speed technology and business landscape, where agitated consumers, switch-happy businesses, stunned business and political leaders, twitchy tweeters and fantasy wielding futurists reign, what should your New Year’s resolutions for 2017 be?
Here are a few ideas:
- Approach 2017 with optimism, pragmatism and readiness to pivot to the unseen, unknown and unexpected. Imagine extreme possibilities and keep an open mind, even to the unimaginable. Build these into your scenario planning and risk management.
- Nurture a high trust culture, with the pace and flexibility and camaraderie that you’ll need to respond to and lead your business in uncertain times.
- Re-organise around small autonomous agile teams, to attract and stimulate an even more diverse group of highly talented people. Engage with startups and digital partners to augment your capabilities and products.
- Become a more creative IT unit. Experiment more, encouraging your teams to explore many new ideas, iteratively.
- Spend time developing yourself, for only then can you lead by example with focus, balance and strength.
As the summer holiday season in Australia is only a few sleeps away, I’d like to wish you all a happy unconnected break - get off the grid, hide in a caravan if you can't find a cave! All the best of luck for 2017.
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.