It’s been said that the only constant is change, and that is certainly true for information technology. Starting from the very first networked computer, IT has seen nothing but a steady stream of both hardware and software improvements that have brought us the dynamic, cloud-ready infrastructure we have today.
But despite all of these advancements, the role of IT has stayed largely the same through the years: implement and constantly improve the data and communications environments that organizations and individuals rely on in their professional and personal lives.
Lately, however, technological changes are starting to alter the long-standing role of IT, at least in its relationship to the business or organization it serves. No longer does IT simply provide the underpinnings for the various activities that its parent concerns itself with. Increasingly, IT is becoming the driver of that activity, leading to situations in which businesses may rise or fall not based on their products or services, but whether their IT infrastructure can provide an adequate framework to prosper in a competitive environment.
Gartner hit on this notion recently in its recent worldwide survey of top IT officials that suggested most organizations use less than half of their available technology’s business potential. At a time when mobile technologies, the cloud and new social networking architectures are dramatically altering the way individuals cooperate and compete, most CIOs find themselves tasked with managing and maintaining legacy architectures and struggling to keep up with the times in an era of flat or shrinking budgets.
Instead, says lead author Mark McDonald, organizations should be actively engaged in changing its relationship with IT — moving away from the long-held notion that IT is merely the backroom facilitator of data infrastructure and services and more toward a full partner in the drive to open and capitalize on new business opportunities and the creation of new revenue streams. Without a change in attitude regarding what IT is and what it can do, organizations are missing a valuable opportunity to successfully navigate the technology transition that is happening on the broader stage.
Indeed, IT has in fact become the business at many organizations simply by virtue of the fact that nearly all business processes reside in the data infrastructure, according to ADP’s Avi Saha. This is a sharp break from the past when IT focused strictly on technology and the business concentrated on generating profits. In the modern world, establishing new profit centers are largely a function of two things: innovation and time to market. And what do successful business ventures of late all have in common? IT that is actively engaged in building and sustaining business activity.
In essence, today’s enterprise needs to radically rethink IT’s role in the organization. One way to do this is to foster a unified strategic view of IT and business objectives, says D. D. Mishra, former head of IT governance and outsourcing at Vodafone India. Rather than developing these plans in isolation, they should become one and the same, with the business side of the house articulating the strategy and IT adapting its processes and technologies to achieve it. Ultimately, this should result in clearly defined, actionable goals that will benefit IT infrastructure and the organization as a whole.
Of course, writing the words is easy. Implementing such a fundamental change in mindset will be exceedingly difficult, as it will require the buy-in of a number of very entrenched interests.
Change is hard, but as we’ve seen in both the business world and the animal kingdom, failure to change leads to obsolescence and extinction.