Five steps for IT to reclaim its business voice

Every business is now a technology business. It doesn’t matter what you do or how you do it, the chances are you couldn’t do it without IT.

The problem is that a gap between IT and business professionals is emerging when it comes to the perception of IT, and the more technology becomes embedded across the business, the more traditional IT is at risk of being marginalised.

In this article, we will look at a significant piece of new research commissioned by EMC that casts new light on the challenges and pressures on IT teams, and CIOs in particular. Using the research, we will address how and why current attitudes to the technology function within businesses are changing, and suggest five ways IT teams can respond to this change.

The impact of disruptive digital technologies

As technology becomes more embedded across the business, the marginalisation of IT within organisations is a danger which many business leaders are aware of. CIOs are faced with the challenge of deciding how to position traditional IT in relation to emerging innovative business technologies.

Back in 2014, a report by Gartner found that CIOs may hesitate to make digital business technologies part of IT's responsibilities. This is mainly because they are operations-focused and digital technologies are emerging in nature: the IT teams have been used to owning and supporting back office and infrastructure technologies, which is not always the best fit for emerging digital technologies.

Gartner concluded that “Regardless of the eventual stance, we believe CIOs should have an opinion, and should participate in innovating and in testing the business cases for these technologies in the early stages. Many companies are looking to digital business technologies as their next source of competitive advantage. There is too much at stake — in both business value and technology investment — for CIOs to stay in the margins.”

IT is everywhere, embedded in every role and process. But with businesses struggling to keep up with rapid technology changes, now is the time for IT to reassert its authority and reclaim its ground.

So what needs to happen, to avoid the marginalisation of IT?

Organisations want and need technology that is fully integrated into their business and that can scale, adapt and respond faster than ever before. IT should be at the very heart of this: managing the ever greater volumes of data and addressing business unpredictability, evolving customer needs and market pressures.

EMC’s Converged Platforms Division set out to better understand what needs to happen for IT to reclaim technology. EMC spoke to C-suite and frontline employees in both IT and business roles in companies with 50 to 1,000 or more employees, representing different sectors in 13 countries around the world.

We surveyed over 2,700 business and IT professionals in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and the findings reveal significant challenges for IT teams, regardless of company size, sector or geography.

The study found that many CIOs doubt the ability of their IT infrastructure and professionals to meet long-term needs as technology becomes embedded across the business. CIOs feel they lack control of IT decisions but the findings also reveal five areas where they can fight back and show relevance by leading change and demonstrating leadership. These are explored below.

  • Refocus IT’s time and expertise away from ‘keeping the lights on’

IT’s traditional focus on ‘keeping the lights on’ allows the CIO little time to innovate, or work to the same objectives as the rest of the business. The EMC research paints a picture of the CIO in danger of becoming increasingly isolated and under-pressure; coping with the challenges of steadily rising expectations for IT, interference from colleagues in other roles and a lack of common ground with the rest of the C-suite.

Two-thirds of CIOs, compared to just over half of business CxOs, think their IT professionals work in isolation from the rest of the business and often also from each other.

Moving away from a ‘keeping the lights on’ approach, towards a more self-sufficient IT infrastructure, can make it possible for IT teams to once again showcase their knowledge and become a driving force within business.

  • Be ready and willing to respond to change

The study reveals that three quarters of CIOs say that five years from now they will need to be able to launch new products, services and applications in half the time it takes them today, but most (69 per cent) are concerned that business growth will quickly reveal weaknesses in existing IT.

There is a need for IT to be able to adapt and scale more rapidly than ever before, and to accommodate more IT decision-makers across the boardroom. Intelligent infrastructure will be key to accommodating this, providing IT professionals with a foundation from which they can support the rest of the business as it grows.

  • Give IT the confidence to sit in the driving seat

As IT has become more embedded across the business, confusion has emerged about who is really setting the IT agenda. Our survey has highlighted that in many organisations the power over technology decision-making is already shifting to other parts of the business.

In 39 per cent of the companies surveyed, the IT agenda is set by functions other than IT and business, for example marketing (11 per cent) and sales (10 per cent). This disconnect is seen in the boardroom, with 58 per cent of CIOs convinced they have overall control over IT, while just 14 per cent of business CxOs agree with them.

Furthermore, CIOs and CxOs each believe that they are the greatest driver of change (37 per cent and 40 per cent) and that all other roles are resistant to change. There are power struggles within the business that need to be addressed if IT is to reclaim technology leadership.

  • Make the IT function flexible, by supporting it with the right infrastructure...

But if IT is to navigate these power struggles and reclaim technology leadership, it needs to be able to accommodate change. To survive and thrive in a connected future, the business therefore needs to move from a traditional IT infrastructure to an integrated environment, which turns growing complexity into software-based simplicity.

Perhaps it’s no surprise then, that over 80 per cent of all business leaders agree that a scalable, flexible IT infrastructure will reduce risk by providing a solid foundation for business growth and innovation.

  • …and nurture a flexible, commercially aware culture within IT

The IT function as a whole needs to adapt, professionally and culturally, to the concept of IT infrastructure as an advanced, on-demand utility it can use rather than manage. The time saved not having to keep the operational lights on will release IT professionals to share their expertise across the business. This, in turn, will reduce the risk of the marginalisation of IT as a whole.

Technology is becoming more embedded in every business process, and as this trend develops, so does the opportunity for IT to become more relevant, more aligned and more integrated with business growth. Investing in more flexible IT and powerful infrastructures, such as modernised converged data centres, will deliver the high performance, speed and agility businesses need.

Change is rarely easy, but managed, technology-supported change that makes everyone’s working lives smoother, will make the journey significantly more comfortable. By addressing this, and the five points above, IT will be in a position to reclaim its voice in business.

Nigel Moulton, CTO EMEA, EMC Converged Platforms

Image source: Shutterstock/everything possible