These are both exciting and challenging times to work in IT. New technologies and trends such as cloud computing, Bring Your Own Device, (BYOD), consumerisation, social and mobile are opening up a world of new possibilities and helping to move technology from being a back-office function that supports operations to a front line service contributing directly to the bottom line.
However, with these developments comes new pressures; technology is now more accessible to non IT staff, awareness and knowledge of its application within the enterprise has never been higher and, as a result, neither have expectations about what can be achieved in terms of functionality and speed of delivery.
And whilst investment in customer-facing technology solutions, where return can be more easily measured, may be increasing there is increasing pressure on the day-to-day running costs of back-office systems and infrastructure.
Add to this the recent spate of high profile IT failures that have damaged the reputation of the organisations involved, hit profits and reduced confidence in IT in general. Meanwhile vendors are pushing cloud solutions directly to CEOs and other executives with claims that they will reduce costs and eliminate risk whilst increasing flexibility and reducing time to market. On the back of this industry commentators are predicting that IT functions will be bypassed if they do not adapt or cannot match the speed and agility offered by these vendors.
No wonder then that a recent survey by the Economist found that 57% of CEOs expect their IT functions to change significantly over the next three years whilst 12% predict a “complete overhaul.”
New technology and trends, tech-savvy colleagues, higher expectations, high profile failures, vendors going directly to other executives, business units potentially bypassing the corporate IT function and CEOs expecting significant change; one could say that CIOs and IT departments are facing the perfect storm. So what are they to do?
We seem to be approaching a defining moment in the life of the CIO and the IT function. One that will potentially determine whether their future, if there is one at all, is in a strategic and leading role or whether they will revert back to being a tactical support role with business units dealing directly with external providers.
Forrester recently announced the publication of its Business Technology Strategic Planning playbook explaining that, faced with increasing dependence on technology, tech-savvy colleagues and pressure from CEOs for IT to have a direct impact on business goals, CIOs need to transform their functions into ‘business technology’ organisations. The risk of not transforming will be, according to Forrester, a “career-ending decision” for CIOs. The announcement describes the difference between Business Technology (BT) and IT as being subtle but important; BT is the “fusion” of the IT function into the rest of the organisation. Whilst this results in the lines between IT and rest of the enterprise becoming blurred Forrester argues that reporting lines are not as important as well-defined roles in the BT environment.
Whether reinventing the IT function (and with it the role of the CIO) as a Business Technology function is the right approach remains to be seen. But faced with the perfect storm created by multiple technical and organisational changes one thing is clear: a new model for IT is needed.