Kathy Gibson is at Gartner Symposium in Cape Town – Connectivity has driven a fundamental change on the world we live in – and placed technology leaders in a position to help shape the future.

It’s been 50 years since the first message was sent over the Arpanet, the forerunner to today’s Internet, and the world is looking to the next 50 years with some trepidation.

The role of the CIO is changing as IT becomes the foundation of a digital society, and there’s a real opportunity to confront challenges with technology accelerators, organizational agility and connected people.

Brian Burke, research vice-president at Gartner, points out that we are in a period of global uncertainty.

Despite the challenges in our country, he says there are many reasons to be optimistic, since change brings opportunities.

“In the last 50 years we have seen technology transform enterprise, human interactions and society itself,” says Valentin Sribar, senior vice-president at Gartner.

“The next five years will bring as much change as those 50 years,” he adds.

Driving those changes are new technologies, and the entry of digital giants into every aspect of our lives.

“As the CIO your job is hard enough: and you are now facing waves of challenges,” Sribar says.

With all of the “and” dilemmas, enterprises can no longer choose what to do – they have to do it all.

Opposites create real value when they are done together, he adds. But this takes sophisticated leadership to execute.

Leaders separate from the pack in the turns, Sribar says. “You can turn these dilemmas into opportunities by working on your organisation’s technological capabilities.”

Gartner has coined the terms Techquilibrium, where organisaitons can be traditional companies and technology companies at the same time.

“Last year we introduced the idea of ‘continuous next’ – but no-one knows for sure what the changes will be. This leads to the concept of winning in the turns, using techqulibrium to win in the turns.”

We have all faced many turns, he adds. These include economic, geopolitical and societal turns, among others.

Turns like these challenge the status quo and force the organisation to respond by leveraging opportunities.”

The decisions that leaders take decide if they will win in the turns – or not.

During the last big turn, 2008, leading organisations broke away from the others and gained huge advantages.

“Leaders accelerate out of the turns faster than anyone else,” Sribar says. “And they are predicting many turns ahead.”

The most critical turns confronting organisations now include geopolitical and economic challenges.

All organisations are affected by new trade policies and taxes. “It is not trivial to re-architect organisaitonal capabilities in response to these turns,” Sribar says.

These shifts can happen quickly – and shift just as quickly.

Flexibilty is needed to be able to adjust as the turns appear. And technology fitness gives organisations the flexibility to cope.

“CIOs can help business people embrace agile and flexible mindsets. It is one of the key ways to achieve techquilibrium,” Sribar says.

In the future, we won’t be able to distinguish between traditional and technology companies, he adds.

The goal of techquilibrium is when digital and traditional are in balance that is right for that business.

“To get your techquilibrium you need to go as far as you can in the transformation of your business and your operating models.”

Attaining techquilibrium takes about seven years, Sribar adds. “With each turn in the industry, the techquilibrium point changes.”

As customers become more accepting and regulation catches up to technology, the point moves. “And the whole industry will shift to a new techquilibrium.”

The digital giants have a huge role to play in driving techquilibrium, creating market acceptance and opening up opportunities.

Most companies are still quite far down on the techquilibrium scale, and need to come out of the next turn more agile and flexible than before, Sribar says.

“Knowing what turns are ahead, and what to do about it, requires that CIOs think like designers, anticipating opportunities for turns they don’t see yet, and planning for more extreme turns.”

Scenario planning with artificial intelligence (AI) will help to identify coming turns, while agile techniques assist in navigating them.

Leading companies ingest as much data as they can, generate hypotheses, add AI to power through scenarios and find the golden few that will make the difference – and then design their actions.

This makes them more likely to win in the turns, Sribar says.

By 2023, nearly all CIOs will be piloting AI programmes, he adds.

Geopolitical challenges will directly impact the cloud strategy, and organisations may have clouds for different geographies. Gartner predicts that, by 2021, three quarters of large global enterprise will implement a multi-cloud capable hybrid integration platform.

“You need to design with an emphasis on where people and assets are located, and where work is done,” Sribar says.

Savvy CIOs embrace the fact tht IT work is increasingly spread out through the organisation and across the globe.

In fact, tech job postings are now more and more in line of business departments rather than in IT – with the skills being placed closer to the business.

“Leading CIOs do not care where they are. Technology is more than IT – and leading CIOs have no desire to directly own all the technology. IT people are now more business-savvy and business people are more IT-savvy. This is the power of ‘and’.”

To enable flexible business pools, IT leaders have to invest in their digital platforms.

The system of record is now everywhere, with containers helping to move workloads around as required; and AI/ML now providing the insights and actions for the turns we cannot yet see, Sribar says.

This visibility lets CIOs examine the turns and design actions, he adds.