How modern IT teams are breaking all the rules - and why that’s a good thing

IT teams haven’t always had the best reputation. Before the cloud, much of our work centered on installing clunky applications that no one really wanted to use, and maintaining systems that never seemed to have enough capacity (remember begging for more storage on the email server?). The world has changed, and for the better. End users have access to a vast range of apps and services, with interfaces that are far more engaging. 

But IT teams have had to evolve as well. We’re no longer rewarded simply for installing patches and keeping servers up and running -- though those things are still important. IT has a more strategic role, helping the business side of the house to navigate the sea of choices in the cloud, and working beyond the firewall to connect with customers, partners and third-party providers.   

Amid all this change, what was true for IT teams yesterday doesn’t necessarily hold true today. Rather than stay in our lanes and follow a fixed playbook, IT is rewarded for challenging convention and finding new ways to solve problems -- and finding new problems to solve, if they help the business compete better or move faster. 

Here are five ways that modern IT teams are breaking the old rules to move their organizations forward.  

1. IT thinks like a product manager 

The days of building an application and expecting people to use it just because they’re required to are over. The proliferation of high quality apps both inside and outside of work means that employees now expect more from the technologies they use. When we built a new videoconferencing system for internal use recently, instead of going heads-down on the project we enlisted a product manager who encouraged us to survey our users and design the product as if we were building it for customers. We heard about people’s pain points and particular needs and designed the service accordingly. We even launched it like a product. We put posters and how-to guides in each conference room, set up an internal site with more detailed information about how it worked, and set up a feedback mechanism that allows us to tune the product over time. The result has been higher engagement and satisfaction. This is the new model for IT.   

2. Manage the process, not the machine 

Modern IT teams think about processes, not systems. In the old world, IT was all about keeping servers and applications up and running. Now, the Amazons of the world take care of stability while IT works higher up the stack. That means understanding the dependencies among applications and services, monitoring their availability and knowing the implications of an outage when one occurs. If Dyn or Cloudflare goes down, what does that mean for our ability to serve customers? How do we communicate this to business managers, who need to know what the outage means for customers, productivity and operations? The new IT has a far more strategic role, keeping business leaders informed of what to expect and mitigating damage when third-party services fail. 

3. Modern IT looks outward 

IT teams used to be inward facing; their role was defined primarily by the systems and applications within their organization or department. Modern IT teams are increasingly external in nature. Applications are more likely to extend beyond the firewall and out as far as partners, suppliers and customers. As McKinsey put it in a recent report, we’re in the midst of “a radical reframing of what IT is and how CIOs manage it -- not as an internal collection of information technologies but as a broad network of ecosystem technologies.” IT now resolves incidents involving multiple service providers and stakeholders. That means we have a more collaborative role, communicating problems and keeping all the affected constituents updated. We also have to pay more attention to what our competitors are doing, and what’s coming next from our technology suppliers. Progress is happening fast these days, and IT teams can’t be caught off guard by the latest developments in AI, automation and other emerging areas. That means attending conferences, reading the tech press, and being aware of what’s happening in our industry. 

4. IT doesn’t fight chaos; it manages it   

Wait, isn’t it the job of IT to reduce chaos? To an extent, but unpredictability is now a fact of life as the line between work and home blurs and employees use whatever apps and devices that best suit their needs. Rather than try to fight it, IT’s role is to minimize the disruption happening around us and keep the company’s networks and data secure. Trying to ban tools like Dropbox in the workplace is futile. Instead, try seeking approval for employees to use a paid version like Dropbox Business, or other alternatives that come with better management and security features. The new IT is about accommodating constant change and managing risk. We no longer control users; we empower them. 

5. It’s all about the business 

Technology has never been so closely aligned with competitiveness as it is today. Whether it’s automation, AI, IOT or mobile apps, businesses are scrambling for new ways to ways to keep their customers happy and gain an edge on the competition. To serve these evolving needs, IT must understand how the business works. What are the main drivers of profit and loss? How effective is our website at driving leads? Where is marketing falling down? What can sales do better? Without knowing the key business drivers, IT can’t make the best recommendations for using technology to get ahead. Modern IT teams give strategic counsel, embed with departments, and help business leaders navigate the ocean of choices in the cloud. Forget bits and bytes, the new IT is all about the dollars and cents. 

Our jobs in IT have evolved, and they’re likely to evolve further as automation and AI move deeper into the workplace. Patching PCs and servers was mundane anyway, right? The new IT is more dynamic, faster evolving -- and more challenging to manage. We all need to advance our skills and keep up with the new rules for workplace tech, otherwise we might find ourselves getting left behind. 

Sid Suri, Vice President for IT market strategy, Atlassian 

Image Credit: SFIO CRACHO / Shutterstock