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Business transformation and the human touch

The overarching theme at Gartner’s CIO Leadership Forum in Scottsdale, Ariz., last week was not just IT business transformation, but overall business transformation and how the CIO can help the business adapt and change in these crazy times.

The word adaptability was the key phrase that I came away with, whether the session was on risk management, gaining a competitive advantage, CEO concerns, mobility or the “humanization of technology” — yes, an actual phrase floating around at the show, and no doubt soon to be floating around in cyberspace.

As Brian Wong, the 20-year-old Internet/Twitter/gaming/social networking/mobile brainiac behind, put it: “Feel or Die.” That was his closing comment for his “Making Sense of It All: Mobile and The Humanization of Technology” keynote.

Through, Wong is having quite an impact on the advertising industry. He is adding a human touch through an application that rewards gamers for doing what they love — playing games. Players are rewarded through gifts (provided by advertisers) that can be used in the “real world” and even re-gifted to a loved one.

In business terms, you can use an “achievement layer” to reward customers, and create interactions with customers that can seem human, even though the experience is Web- or technology-based, he explained. The point being that, well, IT needs to start acting like a human being.

Another keynote by Polly LaBarre, co-founder and editorial director of the Management Innovation eXchange, and a founding editor with Fast Company, touched on this human-touch concept as well. “The Web is the OS of life,” she said. “It’s how we live and breathe.”

Her message emphasized the need to build an organization that is resilient enough to change as fast as the world is changing. How do we make innovation an everyday thing, something that’s part of everybody’s job, every day?

One avenue is by creating a mass collaboration platform, but another important component is to “build an organization that is as human as the human beings that are inside it,” she said.

Again, it all comes back to business transformation. Today’s organizations are not built to be adaptable, to change as your workers and customers change, she said. A lot of people around me at this keynote shook their heads in agreement, and were up for suggestions on how to shake things up a bit. One example LaBarre gave was a company called Cemex. The global building materials company created a collaboration platform called Shift (as in “shift your thinking/actions to innovate”), filled with real-time collaboration capabilities for its 70,000 employees. The employees decide which teams they want to join, and have the power to build an agenda. The end result was rapid change. Within six weeks of rolling out Shift, 500 employees came up with a portfolio of ideas — that were implemented across the organization — to use more efficient and alternative fuel sources at the company.

The CIOs around me liked that idea. The next idea of a “self-managed organization” didn’t go over so well. Morning Star, a $700 million tomato ingredient producer with 400 employees, did away with job titles. No one has a boss or defined roles. A real-time social network is used to hire the people you want on your team and reward your peers for a job well done.

The CIO next to me, who works for a 160-year-old insurance company, laughed heartily at this idea. “It may work for a small company …” More laughs from him. He went on to explain all the political battles that would ensue, and lawsuits.

Still, I think many CIOs — at least the ones I spoke with — did come away knowing that adaptability was a key part of their jobs. How could it not be, when technology itself changes so rapidly? I think in many ways, it’s the business leaders who have to adapt, and not always the IT leaders. Or, as one CIO of a national educational institution put it, “How do we get the business to start thinking more like IT?”

Let us know what you think of this blog post; email Christina Torode, News Director.

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