As we approach the midway point of 2016, have you given thought to what's next? And I don't mean in a grand, science fiction, sort of way, I mean what's next for IT and for technology as it pertains to you and your organization. Not a technical discussion, but a focus on why it's so important figure out.
We all work to keep our organization's IT environments not just up and running, but as efficient as possible. It's this efficiency that gives us a bit of an edge and, if done right, will help to differentiate us out in the market. After all, IT isn't just a cost center nor liability (though we do see companies still look at it this way), but truly can be a competitive differentiator. A way to help your business "do it better" than the competition. But only if you are willing to embrace it that way. It's a mindset where IT is considered an investment that needs to be monitored, stoked and fostered so it can flourish and provide value to the organization, as well as providing a return on investment. So when you are writing those (rather large) checks for technology and resources, you understand the value of the investment. We see it time and time again where organizations are looking to get by with IT by "doing it on the cheap"; spend as little as possible, but are looking for rich results. A smart investment (which means spending some money) will provide those results.
Understanding and being prepared for what's next is how to foster this mindset. To see IT as a value driver that can help the organization be better. By knowing what is to come, you can make whatever adjustments necessary (money, company culture, political, etc.) to what you are doing and what you are buying to head in the right direction. Right direction being defined specifically by your needs. This is true as much for IT as it is for career development and life. Know the future, prepare for the future, change as necessary to get there, but at all times understand and believe in where you're going. The converse of this can be a bit of an eye opener as well. Not being willing to change, doing exactly the same thing, and being stagnant is not just status quo, but a big step backwards.
In his book The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman talks about this from an organizational and personal perspective. He discusses that since that borders are no longer relevant in the Information Age (and he wrote this back in 2005), skills and opportunity have all been placed on a level playing field globally. That means that an individual or company no longer has an advantage because of where they are located. Competition is truly global and companies and individuals have to adapt to say relevant and competitive so that they won't be left behind.
And here's the scary part: If you don't embrace a willingness to grow and change (again as an individual and an organization) you will be left behind. If you don't figure out a way to differentiate yourself by changing and embracing "what's next", then you are declining. Thomas Friedman calls it reinventing your "special sauce". That means that what you were great at last year, everyone will be great at this year, so you need to up your game and be better. Because if you say the same, what you were great at last year, you will be just average this year. And average just won't cut it today. It's a sobering thought and one we see organizations and individuals not taking seriously enough. If we don't grow and change, we stagnate and die.
So what is to be done? In the IT world, it's constantly understanding what's new on the horizon in terms of technology and approaches to allow you and your organization to be the best you can be. Be as informed as possible on what's happening within the industry, your colleagues, your customers and your competitors. Talk to people that have been there and get their perspective. One of the things we do with our customers is to get together regularly and brief them on what we see other customers within their industry doing in terms of technology, resources, process, and approaches. We also brief them on what we see as future trends that their industry, other organizations, and people are embracing. That gives us the privilege of helping our customers facilitate change.
When it comes to technology the future is generally around the ones we all know: Cloud, data analytics, big data, machine learning, operations and service management, SDN, and others. But it's not just the technologies per se, it's the value they bring. Perhaps in ways that weren't originally anticipated. That helps to determine what's next. And as we all know there is risk in embracing technologies that might not be the next thing or are ahead of their time. Look at tablets before the iPad. They've been around a long time, but just weren't ready. Now they are. I am typing the on my iPad Pro while sitting in a coffee shop being just a productive as if I was sitting in my office. A few years ago that was "what's next".
Knowing what's next can help you get ahead, but you have to be open and willing to embrace it and be ready for when it comes, whatever "it" is. That can present challenges as well: knowing what is coming but not being ready to take advantage of it. This is where a good group of partners can help. They can educate you as to what is happening within the IT industry, within similar companies and provide you a perspective to get you thinking. If they are close partners that you have a history with, they will give you an honest and as close to unbiased opinions and perspectives as possible. That's critical as you are trying figure out what's next. Figuring out whatever is "what's next" can help open up doors and move you in the right direction. But remember that the converse is true as well, so figure out what "what's next" means to you and your organization. Find you "special sauce" and embrace it. You'll be glad you did.