Originally published by InformationWeek.com
The growing importance and complexity of IT mean that the CIO needs a seat at the table when it comes to driving innovation.
It’s an interesting time to be an IT leader. Innovation in the enterprise is at its peak. Cloud and SaaS adoption is rampant. The modernization of infrastructure and business tools is transforming the way enterprises do business.
Each year, the big clouds launch hundreds of new products — from serverless frameworks to developer platforms. Productivity giants like Google, Slack and Box introduce new ways to make work better. In short, IT is undergoing a revolution. However, life for IT execs has not improved. They face increasing pressure to keep the business running while also securing data as new application systems enter the workplace, all while keeping costs down. Meanwhile, security threats — internal and external — are growing at an alarming rate. Then there’s the new GDPR framework, which creates its own set of unique challenges for companies operating on a global scale.
The job keeps getting bigger and more strategic to the business. Sadly, IT’s role remains undervalued. This perception that IT is a “bottleneck” or a just cost center must change. Companies that embrace this new thinking will navigate digital transformation with minimal casualties and increased revenue.
Why a change in mindset is a must
Let’s face it, every company is vying to become a technology company. This means more applications, more platforms and more data. Managing each of these components accordingly can mean a difference between generating ROI and flat out losing money. And there’s only one group within the organization that has the power to see this through successfully: IT.
Take Ford, for instance, a 115-year-old company making the shift from an automobile manufacturing company to a technology and software business. They are making huge investments in robotics and software development and making their engineering more “agile.” How are they doing it? Their CIO Marcy Klevorn has made it a priority to empower IT and change its culture.
Then we have Kroger, a household grocery store that took an early-adopter approach to technology — and it’s paying off big. Earlier this year, they launched Sunrise Technologies, an investment arm their IT team built to commercialize the technology that’s made them successful to date. This is a prime example of how a company making the shift to digital the right waycan create new revenue streams.
These are just two examples, but there are countless others like Yamaha’s CIO changing the focus of IT to support a new digital tier “in race for new revenue” and pharma giants like Sanofi are turning new technologies into new revenue streams.
The harsh reality: A day in the life of an IT exec
IT today is still a second-class citizen. In movies and television, they are portrayed as such: awkward, surly nerds relegated to the basement, whose only contribution is “Have you tried turning it off and on again?” There are kernels of truth in those caricatures, though. In reality, IT is often viewed as a cost center, a necessary evil that exists solely to “keep the lights on.”
IT lives in this world for two main reasons. The first is that, historically, it’s been hard to prove IT’s ROI. Many companies struggle to measure and demonstrate the value of technology investments. As a result, IT is seen as a cost center, not a profit center or business driver.
The second reason is that IT does often “keep the lights on”, but out of necessity, not by choice. Think about all the daily tickets to solve, fires to put out, end users to help, and manual work to do. There is simply no time or budget for high-value, strategic work. When information workers are wasting a quarter of the work week on manual, repetitive tasks, it’s no surprise that “keeping the lights on” prevents IT from innovating.
Consequences of not treating IT as a strategic partner
The biggest and most obvious risk to alienating IT is security. Even if you have a security team, they’ll be relying on IT to implement the policies to respond to threats. Let’s not forget Shadow IT; if a company doesn’t give IT a seat at the table, you’re sending a clear message to all employees: they are not important. In turn, employees become reluctant to discuss the applications they want to use and they’ll go rogue. This is precisely the scenario you want to avoid.
But this is just scratching the surface.
While not obvious to everyone, IT departments are largely responsible for keeping your employees productive. Their mechanisms enable your employees to work. I am talking everything from email to the communication tools that companies use to get work done. If you don’t see it this way, you risk massive productivity loss. Yes, I am talking to you, the CEO: IT is the backbone of your business’ productivity but they currently lack the resources — tools and budget — to do their jobs.
And, as mentioned previously, there’s the fact companies could be missing out on new revenue streams.
What you can do about it
Technology is changing at a rapid clip, and while success stories like Ford and Kroger give IT hope, they are few and far between. The stigma still exists across most companies, and the repercussions on business are very real. Alienating IT is not only going to slow you down but it will wreak havoc on security and user productivity. It’s time all leaders wake up and give IT a seat at the table, give them resources for their projects, help them help you by raising their status within the organization. Only then will you be on a path to true digital transformation.