In a world where technology is the foundational element of business, information technology (IT) departments should be a critical enabler of business strategy.
Nearly every product and service can be distilled down to a desired outcome or experience. A customer does not want the bank loan, they want the house; they do not want the television, but the entertainment. Analyzing the customer holds immense promise—information on what influences decisions, how services are purchased, and how products are consumed can shut down the internal echo chamber.
(Brian Solis, Digital analyst, speaker, and author)
Information technology can, and should, help drive the change. Whether through managed data, advanced analytics, or artificial intelligence, the IT department is in a unique position to better know the end user, and match products to their requirements. Continuously delivering better experiences, in the time and manner that users want, will drive not only profitability but also customer engagement, loyalty, and advocacy.
Casting off constraints
Why does the IT department work the way it does? Is there a better way?
Few companies can, or should, differentiate on their IT prowess. It does not represent a competitive advantage for most companies. Maintaining on-premises datacenters and software packages is expensive and fraught with vulnerabilities. There are many recent examples where unpatched software and lax security have resulted in massive data breaches, global service disruptions, and billions lost to cybercrime.
The answer may be to relinquish some control in a balanced way. The flexibility offered by cloud-based architecture, the availability of talent for open-source platforms, and the expanded offerings in an open ecosystem create a more robust platform. This should not be viewed as losing control, but as gaining the agility to explore the opportunities of other business lines, while managing risk.
An excellent example of platforms that embrace an open ecosystem are social networks, which enable experiences from online dating to ordering pizza to financial transactions where, when, and how the user wants. Imagine the improvement in employee engagement when instead of submitting requests into an opaque ticketing system, IT services can be accessed around the clock, from many channels.
In the uncertain marketplace, what is the role of IT?
Business planning relies on assessing risk and the implicit and explicit modeling of potential outcomes. But, modeling the unknown presents a unique problem. Products and services that were unimagined a decade ago are dominating old markets and spawning entirely new industries. The remedy for this widespread uncertainty is agility.
Being able to react to competitors, to take advantage of fleeting opportunities, or to adapt to market changes and get ahead of trends will decide the trajectory for the modern business. In a globalized marketplace where barriers to entry continue to fall, an agile organization is the path to a sustainable organization.
But creating the agile IT department and the agile business is no simple feat. Agility requires not only the replacement of dependency-ridden legacy systems but also a change in culture and mindset: the IT department is not a necessary evil and a cost-center—it is a business enabler and a driver of profit.
“Agile at Scale,” Darrell K. Rigby, Jeff Sutherland, and Andy Noble, Harvard Business Review 2018
“Redefining the IT Department in the Wake of Digital Transformation,” Meg Bear, IT Ops Times 2019
“Digital Transformation, IT, and the Rest of the Company,” Lawrence E Hecht, The New Stack 2019