At Gartner’s Symposium/ITxpo: Emerging Trends, held in Barcelona last week, analysts issued on four core messages for CIOs and IT leaders that constitute the cornerstone of IT change and opportunity.

The analyst firm claims the importance of these key messages will shape and direct IT-intensive business decisions and provide a leading edge IT change.

Gartner’s four key messages are:

Social network interaction will become the engine for innovation. Master it.

Competitive rule breakers will rock your industry. Look outside and inside your business.

Technology ownership will be no sure thing. Focus on what you do, not how you do it.

Making information technology a tangible differentiator is a privilege to be won or lost by IT organisations. The enduring contribution will live in information, processes and relationships.

“Amid constant changes in business, IT and innovation CIOs and IT leaders must take stock of their position and where they want to go in the future,” said Brian Gammage, vice president and Gartner fellow. “The four core messages we have outlined, provide direction setters for IT investments, opportunities and business contribution.”

Gartner urged IT leaders to use them to spur debate and develop potential scenarios for enterprise contribution and IT focus. They will maximise organisation’s capacity to be a change champion and to lead innovation.

The firm said social network interaction is where leading edge companies will make their mark and wield their influence.

It advised CIOs and IT leaders to expose the trickiest business and technology challenges to:

  • Open forums and learn how to identify real contributors;
  • Solicit and respond to customers' input, feedback and new service ideas through communities of customers;
  • Use social network analysis software to map out how information and ideas flow among your people across regions, continents and business entities;
  • Pilot interesting new market concepts that encourage consumers, buyers and employees to trade "virtual shares" in promising ideas and innovations.

With China, India, "green IT" and consumerisation visible on the horizon, Gartner predicts that competitive rule breaking will differentiate the winners from the also-rans. Analysts advised those with innovative spirit, design talent, an appetite for risk and the capacity to energise people to do the following:

  • Look outside your home territory. Look across geographies, industries and value chains, and find and track new ideas and new opportunities;
  • Share your findings with peers and other business leaders, including the opportunities you see, the advantages they afford and the drawbacks you can imagine;
  • Question the rule-breaking assumptions about how your company – and about how you – will conduct business in the future;
  • Listen for innovation around you. Listen through what we call a "wow" filter. Imagine what's possible and design how to get there.

Virtualisation, commoditisation, IT modularity and free communication all challenge one fundamental assumption – that enterprises must design, build, buy and own all their hardware, networks and software. In a world where technology ownership will be no sure thing IT managers will be able to redirect the time and energy that would otherwise have gone on hardware, software and networks onto more strategic activities. Gartner advised a focus on:

  • Defining what you should focus on, not just how you should do it;
  • Identifying how IT can fuel new markets, find new customers and set new rules – using "what if" scenarios;
  • Adjust your investment portfolios. Eliminate the applications, technologies and artefacts that divert time, attention and investment. Think of it this way, the more bags you carry, the slower you move;
  • Redefine your critical assets. Hardware, software and networks will not generate innovation and business growth. The new critical assets are business information, business processes and business relationships that fuel growth. Anticipate disruption.

Gartner’s final core message was that making information technology a tangible differentiator is a privilege to be won or lost by IT organisations. Collaboration, communication and rapid execution open the way for IT organisations to contribute tangibly and credibly to business differentiation. According to Gartner, companies that take the lead will make information technology a measurable differentiator by mastering the following:

  • Focus on the end, not the means. Remember, technology is only a means to that end. Too much focus on the technology quickly turns into an opportunity cost, not necessarily an opportunity;
  • Craft clear scenarios that demonstrate how technology will quantifiably improve processes, information, services and relationships – and craft those scenarios to satisfy the sweet spots of different influencers;
  • Take the first step. Be the first one to tear down the walls between organisations and political factions and to eliminate the turf wars that cause so many plans to fail.