In the past, IT teams have generally been seen as the engineers or technicians within the organizations they work for. They have tended to work in silos, apart from the wider business rather than working collaboratively with it.
Historically, IT teams often held the keys to innovation and also much of the functional thinking within the business. They frequently had long-standing relationships in place with technology providers, that few across the organization were party to, and they would also sometimes have a virtual monopoly on the in-depth technological knowledge that was more often required in the past to make an informed choice of system.
As a result, they were also often regarded as the gatekeepers, and sometimes the blockers, to technology deployments across the organization. While the business has relied on the technical expertise of IT, there has been little sense of proactive engagement and interaction.
Indeed, the very fact, that people tend to talk about IT and the business - even though they both work for the same organization is a testament to some of the values, cultures and ways of working we have seen in place within companies over the past 40-50 years.
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A new relationship model
Today, however, the situation is changing fast. Technological barriers have never been lower. You no longer need to be a technical expert to make informed decisions about the right system or solution to buy. Modern solutions are much more accessible to the wider business, and transformation initiatives are typically being driven by leaders operating outside of traditional IT structures.
It is certainly true that business users are increasingly bypassing IT when signing up for plug-and-play cloud solutions, and chief digital officers (CDOs) – often with a much more multifaceted profile than CIOs - have even caused some people to reconsider the CIO’s remit within the organization.
Given all that, you might be forgiven for thinking that the role of the internal IT team and the people within it, is redundant or at least at risk. Far from it. It is certainly true that the role is changing significantly but it is of even greater value than it has been before. We are seeing a new-found alignment between IT and the business - and there are benefits to both parties. In order for an IT director, CIO or CTO to survive in a modern business environment, where a CEO or a CFO can go straight to a solutions provider and buy an off-the-shelf solution, they have to work in partnership with the wider organization.
These days IT teams are moving away from their subservient, service-based relationship with the rest of the business into one where they can work in collaboration with it to deliver value from technology, as well as innovating with newly-bought solutions to create systems of differentiation in a competitive marketplace.
Far-sighted IT teams realize that to achieve success in this new environment, they need to work closely with the rest of the business and support it in maximizing the value gained by technology as well as shaping the roadmap of what these ecosystems can look like moving forwards. Even where businesses are going out and buying best-of-breed solutions that don’t really require IT, the IT team still has an important role to play, focusing on innovations and developments that ensure the organization gets maximum value from its technological investments.
Increasingly, organizations that succeed in the modern world are those where IT is in line with and enabling and coordinating the business rather than primarily working in a separate silo to it. IT teams of the future, therefore, will increasingly be moving away from a technological and engineering-focused hub, into a value-based and a relationship-focused approach.
The value that IT can bring to the organization therefore will be significantly changing. It can still play a part in the engagement with the external solutions provider both in the pre- and post-sales cycles. It can also give the business the benefit of their understanding of the overall technological market worldwide to pinpoint new and emerging trends and give the wider business a sense of what kinds of solutions might be appropriate to invest in moving forwards, as well as the roadmaps for software that the business is already using to meet their needs. There must always be a focus on how this knowledge and expertise can bring real benefits to the business. This expertise should not be applied for the sake of technology in itself, of course, but instead it could lead to proofs of concept that determine the actual potential for the business. This expertise can only be successful if the CIO is able to market these ideas and the capabilities of IT to deliver.
Beyond this, freed from their traditional role of buying systems and keeping the lights on, IT teams need to take on a more of an imaginative, visionary and creative role. They need to concentrate on other areas, focused on exploration and agility. This requires a whole new, layered and cloud-based architecture and new solutions for integration and security. Once these digital experiments (e.g. machine learning, robotic process automation or the Internet of Things ) have proven their added value for the business, they must be translated into new products and integrated into the current IT landscape. And IT needs to work with the business to ensure this happens.
So, today, there is much less focus on everything being done through IT in terms of selecting and buying new systems directly and much more instead on business partnering, approaching the market and delivering value-added services together.
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Mike Robinson, UK Head of S/4HANA Cloud, Delaware United Kingdom