In his keynote celebration at ServiceNow Knowledge 2023, CEO Bill McDermott touched on all the powerful new technologies essential for the digital economy but he also called out bluntly a very human failing that will doom even the most technologically sophisticated transformation effort.
“Enterprise technology has been pretty pervasive for about half a century, but one thing that keeps holding us all back is we’ve allowed somewhere the narrative of ‘IT versus the business’ to take hold,” McDermott said in his keynote.
“That’s wrong — and it is time to leave that fallacy behind.
“Today the IT strategy is the business strategy. That’s it. Period.”
For the 25-30 years I’ve been around this business, that “IT versus the business” construct red-flagged by McDermott has baffled, mystified, and infuriated me. That was particularly true when otherwise highly intelligent and effective business leaders would talk almost nonchalantly about how “IT and the business” spoke separate languages, had totally different priorities, had zero visibility into and awareness of what the other was doing, and pretty much lived in separate worlds.
That has always been a backward, corrosive, and counterproductive mindset, but in today’s tech-immersed world, it is positively deadly.
By calling out this terribly flawed mindset, McDermott did a great service to the entire global business community because it’s a mortal danger to every company in every industry in every region of the world. Conversely, companies that eagerly move beyond the IT-isn’t-part-of-the-business fallacy give themselves much better chances of becoming high-impact players in the rapidly emerging acceleration economy.
And that was one of the primary themes of McDermott’s rousing keynote: the rise of digital business is the ideal time — in every possible way — for business leaders to toss that foolish construct into the garbage, and forge a seamless and unified team that, fully aligned, can imagine and achieve far more than was ever possible in the fragmented past.
“And you know this — you know why it is so important because CEOs are now fully immersed in the technology strategy,” McDermott said.
“They usually have one of you sitting next to them, of course, but they’re into it.
“They’re no longer looking at IT as a cost center where they have to lower its cost every year by 5% or 10%. That’s ridiculous!
“Instead, CEOs are looking to improve innovation and drive growth. Listen to the stat: 40% of the CEOs in the world today think that their companies will no longer be viable in 10 years if they don’t radically change the course now. And digitizing their future is the number one thing on their mind,” McDermott said.
“What does that tell us? It tells us that now is time to be bold. And it is time to be super-courageous — because they need your counsel now more than ever before.”
Now, I can understand if some of you are rolling your eyes and saying, “Good grief, Evans, you’re even daffier today than usual.”
But the essential point behind McDermott’s comments is that as business leaders look to build end-to-end processes and achieve end-to-end visibility and accelerate the pace of insights and operations and shorten the time from insight to opportunity, the old way of “IT versus the business” represents the absolute possible approach to achieving those essential objectives.
And as ServiceNow continues to establish itself as a company that can help deliver those high-value outcomes via its promise to be “the intelligent platform for digital transformation,” the fallacy of that past mindset yields to the dazzling potential of a unified future.
In the eyes of Bill McDermott, here’s what that future looks like.
“CEOs are under a lot of pressure right now, and so are you. How do I get more efficient and productive? How do I help my CEO keep the promise to the capital markets?
“The cost is going out. Margins are going up. The big, bold ideas are what you have to bring to the equation,” McDermott said, noting that CIOs have to be able to seamlessly interconnect existing systems to modern cloud-based systems to focus the full power of the entire enterprise on dazzling customers.
“CEOs are figuring out that today it’s all about making the past work and making all of those prior investments look good and driving extraordinary innovation at the same time. So this is a magic moment: technology teams have never been more relevant or more strategic than you are today.
“So it is not a question of should you be in the room — it’s a question of how you kicked the door down to get in the room! Because that’s where they want you — in the boardroom, in the big offices making those big decisions. So use your power. You have that power. And the business wants it.”
And just as the corrosive cultural barriers between “IT and the business” have to come down, so too must CIOs become enterprise-wide evangelists that connect and harness the power of every facet of the organization to drive those new business outcomes.
“The notion of a digital agenda being limited to a few people or the CEO is not real,” McDermott said.
“The CEOs and CIOs have to come together. But you also have to bring all the personas in the enterprise on the relationship path with you.
“So more and more, instead of just doing IT with ServiceNow, we have to get all of the executives aligned and understanding what the mission is and what we’re trying to accomplish to cut down the cycle time of getting to win.”