The view from Gartner CIO Symposium

Tuesday 28th November 2023

From Ben Clark

Those who have been to the Gartner CIO Symposium in Barcelona will testify that it is an exhausting few days, consistently filled with meetings, information and sensory overload, not to mention the fight for a half-decent cup of coffee. 

I attended my first Gartner event in 2017 and admitted being somewhat overawed and overwhelmed by everything. It was a dizzying experience that left me slightly ill at ease. Maybe this was due to the distinct lack of emphasis on architecture, anywhere. If there were only a handful of seminars in 2017, there were even fewer in 2018. Those that did occur did not do so in the massive auditoriums, but in the entrance hall, where you would struggle to hear anything being said and had an attendance of 30-40 people out of the 10,000 there. It felt that architecture was irrelevant, an oversight, and those discussions that did take place were technically focused, not business architecture focused. 


Fast forward to 2023, and the air has a distinct change. Whilst the number of architecture-specific seminars still needed to be improved compared to areas such as AI and security, what grabbed my attention was the scale compared to years past. Instead of being an irrelevant sideshow, they were given a very high place of prominence. The show of hands in the rooms indicated that of the approx. 700 – 1000 people there, and at least 50% were CIOs, when previously there were none. CIOs who previously were not interested in architecture due to the “keeping the lights” and delivery-focused nature of their roles, were taking notice of the way architecture could bridge that gap between strategy and execution. Of course, this, in large part, is driven by the massive disruption that AI is bringing and how to effectively communicate that change. 

Getting ahead of the curve

Delivery of IT projects has often been the overriding objective for any CIO. However, with the amount of disruption and change occurring within the market, it is going to become even more critical to model things out and to engage the business in scenario-based planning. We know that this is a vital tool for any business architect, even if it is one that they seldom get to use because they are committed too low down in the decision planning life cycle. Just delivering on very expensive technology with no foresight will get very expensive very quickly and could lead to them looking for new employment opportunities! 


In a minor digression, on Saturday, I saw a wonderfully funny play that I would highly recommend, Backstage Billy, about the “Chief Butler” to the Queen Mother who served her for an incredible 50 years. One of his great strengths was the anticipation of the needs of his clients, not solely reacting to them. That is something that architecture needs to do: rather than be reactionary, anticipate what services your business stakeholders need from you. After all, any architectural function serves the needs of the business. How high would your status be if you used scenario-based planning to underpin your architectural efforts? Think of your stakeholders’ needs and deliver them what they require before they even ask for it. 

Ahead of the curve

Image courtesy of Gartner.

BCM and Roadmaps

Image courtesy of Gartner.

Communication and Roadmapping

There was a common theme that I wholeheartedly agreed with: architects need to constantly work on improving their communication skills. The message resonated and reminded me of my first Gartner, so I went rummaging in my archives from 2017 and found this on transformation and change. 


“A lack of certainty mimics punishment in your brain. There is a need to build certainty with people when going through a change programme. Enterprise Architects are not always that good at communication. It would be best to have a communications plan that you regularly update to ensure certainty; a well-structured roadmap can be a vital tool in this regard.” 


A key part of any architect’s tool kit is their ability to communicate a transformation journey using a roadmap. According to Gartner, it is equal first, along with business capability modelling as a key tool in the bag as 70% of all business architects use one. The roadmap style of choice is usually, as was demonstrated at Gartner, a one-page PowerPoint slide, that often hinders rather than helps, but is a story for another day.  

Chief Architecture Analyst at Gartner, Phil Allega, was adamant that architects go wrong with their roadmaps. He stated that “Too many are not strategic transformation plans, but migration and upgrade roadmaps; these do not garner the business’s attention and can reinforce the negative connotation of an architecture function to the business stakeholders”. For a roadmap to land, it must be part of a storytelling effort. It must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. In other words, it needs to make clear: 


  • What we did yesterday 
  • What are we doing tomorrow? 
  • What do we desire? 


All these need to be clearly linked to business goals, value streams, and the benefits that the initiatives will bring to your company. A roadmap needs to do that to succeed in its fundamental purpose.  



Phil Allega wants all Enterprise and Business Architecture functions to ensure that their roadmaps “visualise the state of change that is happening, might happen, and could happen”, if:  


  • Execution results change in flight 
  • Implementation results do not fully meet the headwinds 
  • The headwinds call for simultaneous adjustment in plans and execution 


This requires quite a dynamic set of roadmaps to tell your story, which will take you many hours if you are using PowerPoint rather than a tool. However, if it is as important as Phil states, you must do it. 

Another year, another Gartner, though, as this one only mentions AI once, damn it, twice; it would not have cut this year’s symposium! Though it mentions the Metaverse as much as Gartner did in 2023, which is considerably less than they did in 2022! 


We all know that architecture can plug the gap between strategy and execution. However, it is not the method, tool, company, data, people or process that is the linchpin issue that needs to be solved. It is how it is architecture is communicated. It is a continuous theme, and one that is not unique to Gartner 2023. 


It is encouraging that architecture teams can combine an underused tool in their kit bag (scenario planning) with their most commonly used one (roadmaps) to make a real and long-lasting difference to your clients. 

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