Digital Dreams And IT Nightmares

Advances in new technology have given businesses big dreams of introducing all kinds of innovative new products and services to gain the edge over their competition. But, bogged down with other projects that CIOs consider more critical — such as readying for the avalanche of big data heading their way and ensuring all systems are secure and compliant — many IT departments fear they are being stretched too far and won’t be able to deliver on the wider business objectives of agility and rapid innovation.

According to research published last month, IT departments are currently suffering a lack of confidence in their ability to meet business objectives around digital transformation. However, the survey of 2,700 C-level executives (commissioned by converged infrastructure provider VCE) also notes their concern isn’t generally shared by the businesses they serve. So why the self-doubt? And what can be done to ease IT departments through this apparent ‘dark night of the soul’?

Understanding IT’s Existential Crisis

Their withering self-confidence is less surprising when you appreciate what they’ve been through over the past couple of decades. There was a time when anything the IT department said about technology was accepted without question by the rest of the business. Yes, they were often frustrated by what they were told, but nobody knew enough to question IT’s expertise. They were the gatekeepers, and their arcane knowledge was the sole key to all things technology.

Managers in other departments would explain their business objectives, and IT would go away and come back with a solution. If it took too long or didn’t meet those business objectives, tough. This led to a widespread perception that IT departments were ‘blockers’ rather than ‘enablers’. And if systems failed, everybody blamed IT incompetence, but in turn if they worked well, no one gave them any credit.

But as innovation in consumer technology — from the PC to the smartphone to an explosion of cloud services — overtook corporate IT as the primary driver of business technology evolution, so IT departments increasingly had to face the issue of ‘shadow IT’. Individual business units used standalone systems, off-the-shelf software packages, and online services in a bid to bypass what they saw as intransigence by the IT department. Some analysts and commentators predicted the function’s slow death: in future business managers would simply select their IT services from a menu of interoperable cloud services, with storage, computing power and bandwidth delivered on tap via the cloud, much like water or electricity.

What actually happened was that many businesses created a costly mess of incompatible and often insecure systems, with little or no strategic oversight. And invariably it’s been IT departments that have had to pick up the pieces, typically with little or no thanks for their efforts.

Time to Shake Off the Blues

Yet — as the survey shows — most business managers today appreciate IT departments are a vital and respected function, perhaps more so than at any time in their history. They are much better at working with their non-IT colleagues to understand and deliver on business objectives than they once were. Many have successfully virtualized their company’s infrastructure to ease the transition to a cloud-based world, as well as skillfully enabling a smart, mobile-working environment where people can use familiar apps and devices to plug into the business infrastructure.

They have also leveraged their traditional skills by dealing with multiple vendors to boost the professionalism of the cloud industry as a whole, for example, demanding providers meet their stringent business security and compliance demands and evolve better pricing models. And, as an increasing number of damaging business cloud security breaches hit the headlines, many business managers have realized that perhaps IT’s dogged focus on introducing new services in a planned, secure way wasn’t nit-picking after all.

Of course, IT has concerns about its ability to deliver on all the business objectives as quickly as the business wants, particularly around digital transformation. And yes, of course resources are stretched to the limit — when were they not? But if IT’s good at one thing above all, it’s change. Yes, they’re anxious about it, but they’ve shown time and time again that they will embrace it and come through it. As digital transformation continues apace, and productivity improvements take hold, it’s likely IT departments’ nightmares will quickly subside, to be replaced with fresh, even more ambitious dreams for the future. Long live IT!

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