James West predicts a difficult adjustment for IT as its goal moves from efficiency to innovation, but feels that such a shift plays into the hands of those who live and breath technology.
Business/IT alignment was one of those expressions which everyone used for a while but has fallen out of fashion, its critics arguing that IT is intrinsically aligned with the ‘business’ because it is a constituent part of the infrastructure and therefore no different to the sales team or the order processing department.
However, IT does differ from every other department in one important regard: money. A sales person will lose their job if they fail to make enough money. An under utilised order processing team expects to lose staff. However IT has always been seen as an intangible cost and any investment written off as an essential supporter of the business.
This attitude has changed in recent years as the value of IT (or lack of value) has become more widely understood – a dynamic accelerated by the recession. By 2015, according to Gartner, IT leaders of the top 2000 global companies will be paid based on the profit that their department generates. The terminology used is important and represents a change from the IT of old.
Until recently, IT has been deemed to be a business cost. Therefore, the emphasis has always been on trying to save money without jeopardising the quality of service – a goal that is very familiar to all service desks. However the sophistication of IT, and the extent to which businesses and consumers rely on it, has rocketed. IT is no longer functional (a word processor, a printer etc), but a weapon for making money. As the Gartner report predicts, context aware computing and integration with social networking will be all important tools and IT must deliver.
The focus and mentality of IT must therefore change. Generating savings by tightening a process is no longer the zenith of the IT professional, is it a basic function; an expectation to fulfil. Instead, IT must get radical and start driving ideas and innovation.
This may sound frightening stuff, representing as it does a huge cultural and mental shift which will take many years to play out. However, there is one important resource that all IT professionals have on their side – technological curiosity. Those of us who liked to tinker with technology were labelled as ‘geeks’, now the term is used more affectionately. But it is this affinity and love for technology that will serve IT well, should the predictions of Gartner prove to be true, as it will allow staff to express themselves and be creative. Not only will it lead to a happier workplace, it will assure that IT takes its rightful place at the top table of business.