Agility is the new velocity: 3 insights from the 2020 Gartner IT Symposium

Phil Oster, VP of Technology at John Paul Mitchell Systems, and Steven King, VP of Program Management at Workfront, present at the 2020 Gartner IT Symposium

What a year 2020 has been.

COVID-19, loss of loved ones, wildfires, wars, recessions, bankruptcies, unemployment, slashed budgets, and on and on. None of which anybody saw coming.

Against this backdrop Gartner recently concluded its 2020 Gartner IT Symposium, a four-day virtual event billed as “the world’s most important gathering of CIOs and IT executives.” I had the opportunity to attend and learn from a number of highly experienced IT professionals.

As to be expected, the conference themes were heavily influenced by global trends. These were succinctly summarized by Phil Oster, VP of Technology at John Paul Mitchell Systems (JPMS), when he expressed that “COVID-19 was our springboard. We had to pivot quickly.” And he meant everything had to pivot, including people, plans, projects, priorities, processes, products, and much more.

Phil’s experience was not unique—every organization felt the urgency to change in 2020. In every business around the globe, IT was at the heart of the storm, enabling and delivering the changes necessary to navigate the crisis and build digital resiliency for the future.

I would like to share a few thematic insights I gleaned at the Gartner IT Symposium that speak to the future of work.


Orchestrating work across an enterprise is already a challenging proposition. Doing so while delivering meaningful outcomes in a dynamic, fast-paced environment is even more difficult. Yet, that is what teams and leadership are tasked with accomplishing everyday, and this requires agility.

To attain agility, Gartner proposes a framework it terms the Composable Business, which was featured widely at the symposium. This means creating a modular organization made from interchangeable building blocks that enable a business to reorient as needed in response to internal or external factors. Like an enterprise composed of organizational microservices.

To do more and do it faster is a matter of scale. To pivot nimbly and transform with confidence is a wholly different skill set, which must be adopted from the front desk to the boardroom. During the opening keynote, Don Scheibenreif, Distinguished VP Analyst at Garner, said this:

"We are not planning for one future. We need to plan for many possible futures. We're actually seeing a rebirth of scenario planning among our leading clients."

This is a timely statement as 2020 has reminded us that market change is relentless, disruptive, and, quite often, unpredictable. Organizations must plan for the unexpected. With change as the new normal, it follows that agility is the new velocity.


The events of 2020 accelerated the digital transformation of business, with 2021 shaping up to be all about the acceleration of digital investments.

Of course, the most tangible manifestation has been the massive shift to working from home. Tina Nunno, Distinguished Analyst and Gartner Fellow, reported that over a billion people worked from home in 2020, and that 30% of the global workforce will continue to do so by 2024.

Eric Artz, President and CEO of REI, added his voice to this conversation, saying:

“The dramatic events of 2020 have challenged us to reexamine and rethink every aspect of our business and many of the assumptions of the past. That includes where and how we work.”

The result? This past summer REI announced that it would sell it’s newly built 8-acre, 400,000 square foot headquarters and opt for a more decentralized approach to its presence in the Seattle area.

What surprised Gartner is the speed with which leading clients have accelerated digital strategies for the future, despite still-uncertain market conditions. These clients believe that organizations who follow this course will come out the other side as clear market leaders.


During his guest keynote, famed author and speaker Simon Sinek said something that resonated with me. In essence, he said that we need to be more human in business. More authentic. Care about our people and make sure they are taken care of.

I couldn’t agree more, especially in this time of social distancing and change.

A generous example of this is JPMS. With COVID raging, the company decided to cancel its long-planned 40th-anniversary event slated for August 2020. JPMS made the extraordinary decision to redirect $4 million earmarked for that event to its salon partners, and dubbed it the salon stimulus package.

Why did JPMS do this? Phil Oster said the business owners summed it up simply, “We should take those funds and we should finance the industry that made us successful because that’s what we’re about.” Beyond the projects and budgets and priorities, deep within us, I believe that is what we all want to be about.

IT leaders that embrace the key takeaways from this year’s Symposium will lead their teams with agility, speed, and authenticity to accelerate outcomes for their businesses.

To learn more about how JPMS centralized work to operate with more agility, listen to "How IT Leaders Can Drive Transformation in 3 Simple Steps" on demand.