Digital Society is not just a vision anymore – it’s now a reality. Decisions that cios make not only impact their own organization, but have a much wider effect. This is reflected in the theme of this year’s Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo: leading the digital society. We talk to Ed Gabrys about this.
Ed Gabrys is the chair of this year’s Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo for the third and final time. He is currently bringing the next chair up to speed, who will act as a fully-fledged‘shadow chair’. And as soon as the Symposium has ended, preparations will get under way for next year. This starts with an extensive evaluation and coming up with ideas for content that could feature in the next edition. As the event draws closer, the momentum is stepped up, the analysts become more involved, and the keynote speech is written. ‘It’s quite a process. Before I became chair, I actually had no ideaof how many moving parts there were in such a huge event. You could describe it as organised chaos. There are so many ideas, so many things that people want to talk about, that changes constantly have to be made.’
The subject of leadership has gained ground in recent years. ‘We focus on CIOs, and the questions they are dealing with are mainly about digital leadership. A few years ago, this was mainly associated with the back office, but that is changing more and more, affecting the front office and disrupting organisations and industries. But it has since become clear that it is not only about disruption in those areas, but disruptive forces affecting society as a whole.’ ‘Developments in social media, for example, or a new way of working, or the way new generations use technology all influence the role of CIOs in the public and private sector alike. Their actions have an e????ect on society, which is what we will discuss in Barcelona.’
Leadership is a topic that Ed Gabrys specializes in himself. ‘It’s about making choice. Firstly choices about the level of digitalization within an organization, but also about the extent of the impact that CIOs want to have on digital society, understanding that technology has a noticeable effect on both their organization and society as a whole. The choice is the CIO’s to make, and it’s also their job to get executives on board with the choices that are made. After all, the entire organization has a huge responsibility, not just the CIO. Take a manufacturing company that is thinking about using IoT or advanced analytics – two technologies that are already widespread in that sector. At first, the CIO might think that there won’t be much of an effect outside the organization. But the decisions you make on using this technology in the products and
services that you provide certainly have a substantial impact on society. Also what happens in the back office affects the front office, and often the society as a result. Because people rely on technology and expect it to be used in the right way. But the decisions you make on technology can have both intended and unintended side effects. In both cases, it is good to be prepared. Even if the CIO isn’t an executive, their decisions still have a major knock-on effect.
All of this calls for a different type of CIO. ‘I don’t think there is any such thing as a ”typical” CIO. But it’s important for every CIO
to have leadership qualities. CIOs are often either technically minded or people-orientated. I think both qualities are important. If you know everything about technology but not how to interactwith people, then you have a problem. If you are good with people but know nothing about technology, then you also have a problem. It is possible to combine the two, and the way to do this depends on how ambitious the CIO is. Other executives, from CMOs to CIOs, play an important role here. They need to be inspired in such a way that gets them on board and helps them to understand what technology can do for them. We will go into communicating about AI with the board at the Symposium. More and more organizations are working with all kinds of AI, and it’s important for them to understand how that will impact them. Complex technology must be translated into ideas that the business can actually implement in practice. How much automation do we want and what insights do we want to get out of it, for example? How do you translate that for nontechnologically minded leaders? And the business itself has to look at the way it utilizes AI, and how it deals with the responsibility incumbent upon it.
Communication and culture changes are a key aspect of my own research. Organzations want to adapt to the way technology affects their organization. They want to be more enterprising or operate more like a start-up. In terms of communication, it’s a matter of convincing other executives of the benefits of technology. The best way to do that is through storytelling, which is a natural way for CIOs to communicate with others. ‘People are instinctively drawn to those stories. And they are not technology stories, they’re stories about the people themselves, and you can use them to show what that technology means for them. We have developed ideas and examples that CIOs can use to tell their story in their own organization. When attempting to communicate your message, the questions you need to ask yourself are: what do you want to achieve, what behaviors do you want to change, and what assumptions would you like to correct? If you cannot answer those questions, then you need to rethink your strategy.’