I was just at a conference where one of the presenters said “IT should no longer be considered a cost center” He did not mean that IT departments should directly bring in revenue but should be considered more of an investment center in the same way R&D is. This means we need our IT departments to have a more strategic role because decisions by IT professionals will have an impact on profitability of the organizations.
This concept really made me think about how IT has been changing in the last few years. In most of the engagements I have had with companies about improving process and how to best leverage the technology they already have, there has been a strong representation from the IT department. IT could previously be considered a cost center required to support business goals but nowadays they have an important seat at the strategic business table in a growing number of companies.
The old IT department
I think most of us have been around long enough to remember when IT was simply the keeper of all things related to technology. They had the power to divvy out resources however they saw fit. They determined what you had available, when it was available and for how long. Resources were considered a scarcity and therefore valued as much as gold. In some companies this may have caused some inefficiencies because the resources were not always provided in priority of what would produce the highest business value.
The New IT department
I see two main changes in IT departments in the last few years. The first is that the majority of the IT management of software systems, the installation of software, managing/scheduling updates, patches, and the purchase of new workstations/servers, etc. is managed either by a dedicated subset of the IT team or by a 3rd party IT company. The second change is that IT workers are becoming more knowledgeable about the company’s business and therefore can contribute to how the company can use technology to achieve their goals at a high level.
Both of these changes are necessary for how we work in today’s world. Technology is a great thing but it also can make our lives miserable if not implemented properly or possibly by using the absolutely wrong technology. Having IT staff involved more in the business side means they will be able to contribute their expertise on how or even what technology can be used. Also with so much buzz around new technology (Cloud, 3D Printing, IoT, material development, social collaboration, gamification, machine learning, laser scanning, augmented reality, etc.) they will have a good sense if the maturity of the new technology will meet the expectations or meet business requirements.
Transitioning to new IT department
Transitioning from the old model to the new model is not always a smooth transition from my experience. The skills required in the old model are quite different than in the new model. Amongst other things, the new model will require a better understanding of your company’s business. You will need to understand what and why (not just how) information flows between applications and departments.
These new requirements for IT personnel are shaking some organizations’ IT departments. To be an IT professional in this type of organization no longer requires the same skills. The biggest shift I have seen has been at VP and director levels and is slowing moving to the rest of the organization.
Since all organizations depend on optimizing technology to be competitive, it is no wonder that the need for technology experts at the strategy business table is a key requirement. Technology used to be just an enabler but now it is integral and is at the foundation of what we all do.
The requirements of our IT professionals are changing as our dependency on technology increases and the rate of change of disruptive technology increases exponentially.
Having IT professionals that have a seat and a voice at the strategic business roundtable is becoming the norm. IT professionals will need to evolve their skills from only revolving around technology and more to understanding the intersection of business and technology.