Gartner predicts more non-tech firms will focus on digital product management in move to ‘ContinuousNext’

Gartner ContinuousNext digital product management
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While some companies that have been focused on embracing new technologies to better serve customers may have already appointed chief digital officers, Gartner analysts say they also need to think about appointing digital product managers as part of a move to an approach they call ContinuousNext.

The research firm, which is hosting its IT Symposium/Xpo in Toronto this week, outlined the concept of ContinuousNext as a strategy that addresses areas such as privacy, augmented intelligence, modernization of old legacy technologies and culture, among other areas. This was positioned as a natural evolution from digital transformation, a term commonly used to describe projects to make use of mobile apps, social media services and related channels.

While the crowd of CIOs and CDOs attending IT Symposium/Xpo might feel they’re already working towards many of the ContinuousNext imperatives, Gartner analysts also suggested they think of a fifth one, dubbed “digital product management.” This reflects the possibility they will not only be creating innovations for internal purposes, but ones that could be applied to customers or even peers in their own industry.

Already, for example, organizations such Canada’s Desjardins Bank has created Radar, a mobile app that helps its P&C insurance customers receive an alert when they face risk of extreme weather within a 500-metre radius, VP and Gartner Fellow Hung LeHong pointed out. Global container and shipping firm OOCL, meanwhile, has spun off CargoSmart.ai, which can provide both internal and external customers with information about shipping, analytics and vessel locations.

LeHong said Gartner research showed that 78 percent of companies that it considers “top performers” have already adopted a mindset focused around the creation and management of digital products, versus 38 per cent of those deemed “trailing.” He likened the shift to how many SaaS startups and larger tech vendors describe their suite of products as a platform, suggesting something similar will happen with CDOs and the IT leaders in more traditional enterprises as they embrace ContinuousNext.

“For IT, your first product is your platform. You will manage your digital platform as a product with continuous modernization,” LeHong told the IT Symposium/Xpo keynote crowd, adding that the rise of application programming interfaces (APIs) mean a company could add features from third parties to the platforms they create. For instance, a bank could use APIs to weave in payroll and accounting applications from other vendors to complement a platform aimed at small business customers. “This will be the future of competition — the new competency.”

Of course, there is already some confusion within enterprises around who should own or lead digital transformation efforts, from CIOs to line-of-business leaders such as CMOs. LeHong suggested that digital product management will be assigned based on who the platform or digital products serve. Those that are employee-facing, for instance, will likely be managed by IT staff, given they often build on things they’ve already been running. More customer-facing digital products will more likely be managed by functional business team members.

“These will be-highly empowered individuals who manage the product on a continuous basis every waking day,” he said. “When (digital product managers) start to arrive, your whole organization will begin to act, look and feel more like a software company —  a digital company.”

Gartner recognizes that digital product management and other elements of its ContinuousNext concept will require significant cultural change within many firms, said Mary Mesaglio, a distinguished vice-president within the analyst firm’s CIO research team. She noted, however, that this is an area where internal marketing often falls flat, putting up a slide filled with buzzwords like “transformation,” “innovation” and so on.

“Yuck — what does that even mean?” she asked, joking that companies often accompany such statements with stock images of “beautiful young people” on their slide decks. “Now everyone will love the message, right? No. You have to start by saying in plain language what you want your organization to be when it grows up. No corporate speak, no fuzziness. Real words. Then, figure out how you’re doing to get there.”

Mesaglio cited Transport Canada CDO Julie Leese as an example of using a “culture hack” — offering pizza to the first team of developers who were willing to share examples of their work on code repository GitHub to become act with greater transparency.

Gartner’s 2019 IT Symposium/Xpo continues through Thursday.

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Shane Schick

Shane Schick

Shane Schick is the Editor-in-Chief of B2B News Network. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and was the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.