Monday, September 18, 2006

What is an IT ecosystem?

I'm participating as a blogger here at Forrester's Technology Leadership Forum 2006 in Scottsdale, Arizona, this week.

This event, aimed at senior IT and business executives, has as its theme, "Prospering in Your IT Ecosystem." Forrester's use of the term ecosystem is somewhat new. I've used the term ecosystem myself in reference to the relationships between major technology vendors (e.g. SAP, Oracle, IBM, Microsoft) and the hundreds of complementary product and service providers that co-exist with those major vendors. The smaller providers survive, and sometimes thrive, by filling gaps in the solution set, and the major vendor benefits by extending its reach and representation much farther than it can on its own.

Forrester's concept of an IT ecosystem, however, is much more comprehensive. The CIO is no longer just responsible for leading the "IT department." He or she is responsible for managing relationships within an "ecosystem" comprising three types of participants:
  • Consumers: the end-customers and users of technology within the organization.
  • Producers: the technology vendors, including both product and service providers
  • Influencers: the key stakeholders within the business that have an increasing voice over the direction and role of IT.
The boundaries between participants in the IT ecosystem are becoming less definite, leading to many interesting complications in the role of the CIO today. In the first two sessions Forrester's Tom Pohlmann and Laurie Orlov each highlighted some of these issues. For example,
  • A recent Forrester survey of CIOs indicates that IT strategy is increasingly being dictated by business leaders (influencers) outside of IT, and CIOs expect this trend to accelerate over the next two years.

  • The perception of CIOs versus CEOs are quite different regarding the value of IT to the organization. CIOs are an optimistic bunch: 82% see the outlook for their industry as positive and they expect a 5% increase in IT spending this year. CEOs take a much more cloudy view: an recent IBM survey asked CEOs to indicate sources of innovation within their organizations, they listed nearly every function except the IT group. They only mentioned IT when asked to identify barriers to innovation.
Clearly, the challenges facing the CIO and other senior IT executives is evolving. The technologies to master have never been more diverse, the expectations of the business have never been greater, and skilled IT resources are getting harder to find. Pohlmann pointed to a UCLA study that found a 70% drop in college student interest in computer science from 2000 to 2005.

There was much more, of course, in these first sessions, but this will need to suffice for now. I'm off to another presentation.

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