Should Business Trump IT – and How?

It used to be that IT departments could focus on enabling technology in their companies and leave other managers to worry about the business issues. But if Cisco CEO John Chambers has his way, that attitude will change. Chambers believes that the IT department of the future must think about business issues first and technical issues second, but is that really a viable model for future IT administrators to follow? It depends on your perspective.

IT and Business Users 

The average computer user in a business still needs the IT department to solve the technical problems they don't understand. In fact, that lack of understanding has been responsible for strained relations between IT administrators and other employees. The fact is, when users want help, they want it straight away. They often don't understand that IT departments face many of the same budget constraints that they do, making it impossible to provide a new piece of technology on demand. And they don't realize that every item introduced into the system and onto the network must be tested rigorously to avoid upsetting the existing balance.

IT Complexities

Uncertainy Streetsign

That need hasn't gone away, even though the technological environment has changed. In many cases, we are moving away from the management of networking and storage, outsourcing these functions to cloud service providers. And increased use of virtualization and cloud based web apps means that there's less software management for us to do on the ground. But while we may not be fixing desktop computers, there's an increased need to support mobile devices. Some companies have bring your own device (BYOD) policies, which create an enormous testing workload for IT administrators. And even if companies go the COPE (corporately owned, personally responsible) route, there's still a lot to do in integrating the plethora of mobile devices into existing systems. So from this point of view the tech side of IT isn't going anywhere. In fact, the role of the IT provider is likely to become more complex rather than less so, as Thoran Rodrigues says on Tech Republic

New Roles for IT Administrators

But Chambers still has a point because these same technologies mean that IT permeates every part of the business, not as a service provider, but as an integral part of achieving business goals. It's hard to do that properly from a basement. In an era of big data and where customer relationship management is more important than ever, IT administrators have a role to play in enabling business or, as Chamber says, solving business problems.

A recent Gartner survey suggested that IT administrators of the future will see their role shift. It will no longer be a case of managing servers and networks, but of gathering business intelligence, analyzing big data, managing information, automating business processes, developing apps and enabling technological innovations. All of these tasks fall naturally to IT but all of them have an impact on how companies will do business. And IT administrators will also have to get involved in policy development covering BYOD and COPE, social media and general data and network security, as well as working with external vendors supplying IT services.

Beyond The Silo

What this means is that there will no longer be an IT silo. In fact, in the future business leaders may think the whole idea of a separate IT department ludicrous. In the meantime, there is a need for IT leaders that can move across business areas. Chambers isn't the only one to see this as a necessity. A recent report from the ACT-IAC Institute for Innovation looked at the role of IT and business in delivering an organization's goals and mission. While it was aimed at the government sector, there are good lessons for business there too. In particular, it said the new CIO would be a change agent, innovator and operations leader. Sounds exciting, doesn't it?

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