This post is based on my new report 'Reinvent The Role Of Infrastructure And Operations Executive In 2013’ 

In 1898 there was the first international urban planning conference in New York. This conference was the first of its kind as it looked to address the challenges of the world’s fast growing cities. It’s hard to contemplate today but the main topic on the attendees’ lips was —horse dung! That’s right, the concern was that in 50 years time cities such as London would ‘disappear’ due to nine feet of manure being generated by the horses used to transport people around the city. Well, we all know that did not happen and I am happily sitting in the comfort of Forrester’s London office –dung free. Our savior was the automobile and experts did not account for this technological innovation.

Ok, John, so what has this got to do with the future of I&O executive skills?

Well, there continues to be a lot of talk on various social networks about the future of IT and the I&O professional. We live in such a tech fueled world that this is a topic that appeals to both I&O and non I&O professionals. Many people think that the future will be a highly commoditized IT environment fueled by advances in cloud and mobile technologies. While this could very well be true, we simply can’t predict accurately, the tech future beyond 10 years really. Even this is a stretch because of the phenomenal rate of technology advancement, so we could possibly make the same mistakes as those experts in 1898. Much in the same way that it was wrongly predicted that cities would disappear we can’t be naïve to make the assumption that the role of IT or the role of the I&O professional will simply ‘disappear’ – in fact I believe that this role will be more important than ever. 

We can though, predict that requirements for future I&O Execs are going to change substantially. In my new report I discuss some of the drivers that require I&O execs to rethink their approach for the better:

  • From technology cost center to enabler of business capabilitiesToday IT’s value is largely measured by the bottom line cost of its services. This is changing. Instead, I&O executives need to portray IT as a competitive enabler with focus on innovation and helping the business ‘maintain and gain’ external customers.

  • From managing infrastructure components to governing workloads. The stability and availability of networks, server, and storage technology components are no longer an indication of I&O success. To be blunt, the inside-out approach of engineers focused on technology for its own sake must stop: Your business cares about outcomes and holistic services, not server, storage, and network technologies. To deliver better business results over the next decade, Forrester advocates that you take a workload-centric approach.

  • From technology dictatorship to customer-centric IT service democracy. The days of "you can use any technology so long as it's provided by IT" are disappearing. I&O executives must realize that their "users" are internal IT "customers" who have an increasing array of IT choices and more importantly have an increasing choice of where to source their technology requirements. 

This change of approach also means a change in skills that I&O execs need to develop to remain successful. Sometimes these skills are referred to as ‘soft skills’ – a term which I hate as they are hardest skills to master. In my report I delve into some of these:

  • Leadership skills. In a business context, leadership is simply defined as leading a team toward a unified business goal or objective. But this gives little indication as to how leaders and their teams actually achieve their goals. To build your brand as a great leader, be on the lookout for opportunities — be it high-profile cross-team opportunities and projects to get involved in, coaching opportunities to develop your staff and demonstrate your own experience, or visibility opportunities to communicate the value of your team to the broader organization. 
  • Business and industry knowledge skills. While developing business and industry knowledge is a vast skill that becomes stronger with time and experience, there are many opportunities to get started today. From a business perspective, take time to understand your organization's business model and strategic priorities. From there, get more mechanical by involving yourself in the I&O budgeting process and business case justification calculations, such as return on investment (ROI) or whatever is standard for your organization.
  • Business information technology skills. Developing business IT skills requires you to accentuate your wealth of technology experience and put it in the context of business solutions. Start by understanding your organization's processes, weaknesses, and strengths along with those of the industry. Combine this knowledge with your technical expertise to offer I&O solutions that demonstrate IT's ability to deliver value, cut cost, mitigate risk, and provide competitive advantage.

In the report I also outline a ‘Seven-Step Personal Skills Improvement Plan’ to help I&O execs focus on these skills. The reality is that while the rate of technology innovation is truly exciting it’s the changes in IT skills and roles that we need to be most cognizant about in order to ‘survive’ from a professional point of view.

So if you have any comments, views or opinions into the role of I&O and the I&O exec moving forward then I would love to hear them and for this post to prompt discussion in this area.