In recent years, IT’s influence has waned as other internal departments have gained more control over the budget to drive their own agendas. As their control over these budgets has grown, business executives have increasingly bypassed IT to implement new technologies so as not to get bogged down by technology professionals who have struggled to keep pace with the rate of innovation and have focused on potential challenges associated with new solutions. In fact, right now more than 1,400 enterprise SaaS applications can be procured without IT involvement.
This situation can change, however—and fast. Over the next two years, IT departments around the globe will identify and seize the opportunity to transform themselves back into the department of “yes.” As 2016 progresses, enterprise IT departments across industries and geographies will stop holding up new ideas and products, and instead spearhead new ones that support overarching business objectives.
How will we see this transition play out? Below are the important steps to reinventing IT in 2016 and beyond, making the department a center for “yes.”
Embrace the Smaller Team
To become more efficient, IT teams need to be smaller. Many enterprises have moved their systems and processes to the cloud, reducing the need for large teams to manage on-premises systems. Although a self-hosted SaaS company may require 50 IT people to manage the technical operations for hardware, networking and colocation real estate, a similar company using the public cloud for infrastructure only needs three people to do the same work since the undifferentiated “heavy lifting” is outsourced to the cloud provider.
In the same way, an enterprise moving from on-premises Exchange to Office 365 does not need the same quantity of dedicated Exchange administrators after the transition to cloud collaboration. And a business moving from on-premises ERP and HRIS systems to cloud alternatives does not need as many database administrators on staff afterwards.
When fewer people are needed, executives can cultivate more-nimble IT groups that can focus on value-added work for the business versus minute technical and maintenance-focused tasks. With this transition comes the need for IT pros to adapt their skills to be able to solve problems after legacy systems move to the cloud. Enterprises should ensure their IT teams are able to think analytically; make smart, data-driven decisions; understand how data transformations work with cloud-based systems; and learn how to use new tools and programming languages such as Python and R for data sciences.
Make Collaboration Around Data a Priority
As we see IT pros embrace new technologies and resources, we will also see a concurrent transformation of the chief information officer position into the chief innovation officer. This person, responsible for leading IT teams, will work extensively with the chief data officer, jointly owning the comprehensive data-analytics strategy.
The CIO and CDO roles will essentially become one. In the meantime, as we move toward that shift, the CIO should be responsible for the systems aspect of the IT organization, ensuring best practices around security, governance, SLAs and contracts with IT vendors. The CDO, on the other hand, should be tasked with data curation, analytics, business insights and governance. The CIO role is a cost center and the CDO role is a profit center, using data to find ways to save money or make more money.
For CDOs to be successful, they need to use the data from their existing back-office production and workforce systems. They must also correlate to other data streams to optimize insight that can better inform business decisions and procedures.
Consider, for instance, a manufacturing company that creates motors for industrial operations. These motors are instrumented with sensors that send performance information to a data warehouse maintained by IT. The CDO should use data from Internet of Things (IoT) sensors inside heavy machinery; these sensors can actively alert the manufacturer and owner about a potential failure. The data from these IoT sensors can then be correlated with the customer database maintained in cloud-based CRM systems; in addition, a trouble ticket can be created in a cloud-based customer-support system.
This data approach could also be useful for research companies. CDOs can use employee communications data to identify patterns that could reveal security breaches—for example, employees sending “secrets” to competing organizations.
A third example could involve a large enterprise IT vendor with government contracts. IT vendors selling to government agencies must adhere to strict compliance rules about gifts (including lunches, spiffs, transportation and so on). CDOs can cross-reference data in calendar systems with CRM, order taking and expense management to ensure sales representatives have not violated rules and thereby potentially subject the company to legal action.
Embrace New Roles and Responsibilities
IT pros’ daily operations and routines will be altered to better serve the company as a whole. The overall technical insight that they provide should now be in the form of security. Additionally, governance for SaaS applications should act as the guardrail prohibiting a business manager from making poor technology choices that affect the larger company. These poor choices could include the following:
- A VP of sales choosing a sales-force-automation SaaS vendor with weak security standards, or failing to enforce multifactor authentication when available.
- A VP of finance choosing a cloud-based accounting SaaS service that lacks SOC2 or PCI compliance certification.
- A VP of HR choosing a cloud-based HRIS platform with weak HIPAA protections, thereby jeopardizing employee private information.
IT professionals can help eliminate these poor choices by taking on responsibilities such as ensuring SaaS vendors are using state-of-the-art, trusted security controls or enforcing new standards, such as multifactor authentication, while vetting vendors for best practices.
Empower the Millennial Worker
Businesses and millennials are often challenged to find the right balance between traditional/embedded and emerging collaboration technologies. IT departments have the opportunity to empower this generation of workers, but only if they are willing to embrace change and new collaboration methodologies. IT departments must prepare to train millennials on some of the more traditional platforms in their portfolio, such as Microsoft Office and SharePoint. Many millennials are accustomed to cloud-based systems that enable co-editing of documents and easy sharing from a desktop or mobile device. Microsoft Outlook, IBM Notes or Novell GroupWise will feel antiquated compared with Snapchat, WhatsApp and Gmail. Adding nontraditional collaboration platforms (think enterprise social networks) to a company’s mix will be crucial for tapping into how workers in this demographic naturally communicate and collaborate.
IT departments that foster a culture of innovation will prove themselves invaluable to their companies. It’s a golden opportunity for IT to reposition itself in the organization as an agent of change to foster an atmosphere of creativity, innovation, inclusion of young employees and a “yes” mentality.
About the Author
Greg Arnette is a founder and the CTO of Sonian, Inc. Greg has been working with AWS infrastructure as a service since 2006, creating innovative software applications for an enterprise audience. His prior experience with SaaS, colocation and enterprise data management enabled him to see—earlier than most—the opportunity cloud computing would provide in solving enterprise IT pain points. Before Sonian, Greg was founder and CTO for IntelliReach Corporation, an SaaS email-governance service that was acquired by Infocrossing.