The message from Gartner Catalyst 2018? Just do it

IT can no longer let organizational dysfunction get in the way of digital progress. At Gartner Catalyst 2018, IT pros were urged not to wait to be told what to do.

Do you want to take cover under corporate inertia, or do you want to make meaningful contributions? That was the question posed to IT practitioners at the opening keynote of this week's Gartner Catalyst 2018 event.

Analysts suggested that in order to do the latter, IT practitioners need to expand their scope. That's because it turns out the biggest roadblock to achieving what is commonly called digital transformation isn't the enabling technology -- hard as it is to get right -- but culture.

"As technologists we tend to focus so inwardly and so much on technology that maybe as we're doing that we're missing the opportunities that are before us," Gartner research vice president Lori Robinson said. "It's more than just about the technology."

Indeed, in two Gartner surveys CEOs and CIOs listed culture (46%) as the top barrier to digital transformation, followed by resources and talent. Technology was not even cited in the top five barriers to digital transformation.

Culture is not a top-down initiative

Marshaling the resources for digital transformation, in particular, technology resources, certainly falls under the purview of CIOs. So does talent acquisition. But what's culture got to do with CIOs? Not that much, but it has to do a lot with the IT team, Gartner vice president and fellow Danny Brian said.

 "Who represents the culture, resources and the talent? It's the practitioners. It's you. You are the problem. Culture is not a top-down initiative," Brian said, speaking to the targeted audience at Gartner Catalyst 2018 -- IT architects, managers, analysts, developers and planners.

Brian said that he's convinced that good practitioners today have more ability to influence the culture than any top-level leader in their capacity. It's the practitioners in IT's vast and growing enterprise portfolio who bring the internal ecosystems to bear and who engage their organizations' partner and customer communities.

Change the vocabulary and get fired up

So where should you start when trying to enable internal, digital ecosystems? Brandon Dewitt, co-founder and CTO at MX, had this to say in a video that aired during the Gartner Catalyst 2018 keynote: "Start with philosophy -- [figure out] how you work with one another, not for another. We can redefine the vocabulary that we use to interact with one another."

In redefining the vocabulary of work, Dewitt and the Gartner analysts on stage suggested looking at terms like "deliverables," "action items," "timeline," "metrics" and "funding" -- and dropping them from regular use. Terms like these are binding rather than freeing, analysts said.

"When I begin to change my vocabulary, to an extent, I also begin to change my behavior as well, which then changes the culture," Gartner research vice president Kirk Knoernschild said.

It won't be easy, given that these traditional terms and philosophies are so embedded in many companies' culture, which is why Brian said making these changes "will take some courage," even if it may seem like you're overstepping your bounds.

In that vein, the message for IT practitioners at Gartner Catalyst 2018 was clear (and reminiscent of NIKE's slogan): If you know something's right, just do it. Put differently, "Stop doing what you're being told to do and instead just go do what you know needs to happen." That means with or without permission.

We cannot let organizational dysfunction be our excuse for not being the technologists we want to be and that we're paid to be.
Danny Brianvice president and fellow, Gartner

"Why are we waiting to do those things that we know need to happen?" Brian said. "That technology you've been waiting to implement for weeks or months -- and waiting for funding on -- just do it Monday morning and then show the results, do the proof of concepts, take that kind of initiative.

You can't always rely on organization processes, which Brian said will always focus you on what you know now and what you do now. You're more than that and better than that, he said to the audience of IT practitioners.

"We cannot let organizational dysfunction be our excuse for not being the technologists we want to be and that we're paid to be," Brian said. "We can't let it be an excuse not to innovate and not to collaborate. So just do it. Change your vocabulary, personally. Don't wait to be told and become the leader if that's what you need to do in the situation. You might need to get fired up." Let's hope that doesn't lead to any IT practitioners actually getting fired.

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