IT departments today face broad challenges that require them to drive business results that go far beyond traditional functions. According to the annual Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey for 2018, more boards are asking their technical teams to focus on improving business processes than they were a year ago.
This focus on driving overarching improvements is seen across sectors. In the leisure industry, CIOs reported that the top IT priority for 2018 is “enhancing customer experience,” while within the technology sector, IT teams are being tasked with “developing innovative new products and services.”
According to Anna Frazzetto, Chief Digital Technology Officer & SVP at Harvey Nash, these results highlight a key opportunity for IT departments to help organizations improve business metrics that go far beyond tech.
“The key we see is that IT is much more than just a basic function. IT needs to be on the critical path, innovating and contributing to driving the business forward,” Frazzetto says. “Let’s face it: digital strategies don’t exist without IT’s support and drive.”
“A difficult tightrope”
Despite the importance of IT in driving successful digital strategies across an organization, other research shows that 56 percent of enterprises spend more than half of their IT budgets on ongoing maintenance, and a third of companies dedicate the majority of IT staff hours to day-to-day tasks such as maintaining uptime and fixes and patches.
The findings of the Harvey Nash survey indicate that IT leaders “have a difficult tightrope to walk. ” 55 percent of CIOs surveyed rated IT/business alignment within their organizations as “moderate” or worse and 67 percent said they were only “moderately effective” or worse at using an overall digital vision to guide decisions.
“IT, in many cases, is a department that is underutilized in terms of potential,” says Ian Khan, a technology futurist, and author who works with enterprises to help them understand emerging technologies.
Khan asserts that IT teams possess "an incredible amount of knowledge that can help augment an organization’s ability to evaluate risk, understand growth, and work more on making sure that they follow an approach of completing tasks on time and staying on track. The real value of IT is to make them part of innovation and utilize their capacity of thinking on the same level [that enterprises rely on] designers, coders, and creative teams.”
The results of the CIO survey also indicate that “a more centralized IT that supports the business across the board is more successful,” Frazzetto adds. “When you have a collaborative approach with all the components of IT like data, digital, security, technology, and road map strategies, you then have one vision and one possible path for the company to follow.”
But all too often a reactive focus keeps IT teams siloed off from business functions where they could potentially drive great value. “How many times do you see IT being part of innovation, product design, or creative teams within a company?” asks Khan. “Not many. The reason for this, simply, is that IT is not exposed to any of these sides of business, as they are too busy putting fires out and maintaining software and hardware.”
Think beyond the task.
So how can organizations better take advantage of “the incredible amount of knowledge” Khan says is too commonly locked within IT teams?
The first step is to reduce the burden of basic maintenance by shifting to cloud services and other new technologies, as well as offloading some tasks related to security and other traditional IT functions to external vendors. “This can free up IT so they can be more innovative,” says Khan.
When it comes to hiring, Khan adds, it’s crucial that organizations think beyond the task and consider a potential employee’s ability to help drive the business strategically.
“Whether [you are looking at] IT or not, you have to see every individual and group within your organization as a key partner internally to fuel the organization to success,” he says. IT is a crucial place to start, given the potential of technology to help drive overall growth and promote the internal alignment required to drive outside goals and targets.
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