As a networking company, rarely do we have a conversation with customers that starts with the network and does not end with the strategic business priorities, leadership and skill sets required to manage that network / IT over time.
Today, there is so much more interdependence among IT systems than there used to be. Our customers’ jobs are no longer so narrowly focused solely on the network, hardware and infrastructure domains. We are working in a world where we, as a network vendor, deeply consider applications, virtual machines, cloud services and even IT skill sets when we build and sell our products.
Likewise, there is new engagement between IT and business. The Economist Intelligence Unit survey reveals data that underscore our experience with customers. Key findings show IT has moved out of the data centers and wiring closets to work with business to make existing processes more efficient.
However, the reality is that many companies are forced to do more with less, and IT has been pressed to drive these efficiencies by making incremental improvements – data center consolidation, server elimination, disk management, offshoring, etc.
In most cases, tasks to make an organization more efficient have filled the dance card of entire IT departments. This focus on operational efficiency has slowed IT’s evolution to a more strategic business partner.
In the networking space, we see the challenges identified in this research most pronounced. Network managers often find themselves competing with more tangible, easily understood business applications for strategic budgets and senior-level attention. Networks have a hard time rising to the top of the list of strategic priorities. This is ironic, as the networks have become enablers (or sometimes inhibitors) for those new applications and business models that are more easily understood.
However, there is hope. The findings from our joint research with the Economist Intelligence Unit show IT is headed into a more strategic role over the next three years. Including partnering with business to develop new products and services as well as identify new market opportunities.
So how do we bridge the gap from where we are today, to the strategic role of IT?
In order to drive and support the exponential growth we’ve talked about – from millions to billions of customers, data points, dollars or transactions – it requires exponential change. It requires a complete rethink of our interdependent IT systems – from the nuts and bolts of networking gear to the roles and skills it takes to manage it. Incremental improvements won’t get us there.
This may mean an upgrade to the IT leadership team or changes in reporting structures. Today it is just as important that the individuals leading IT are skilled business practitioners as well as expert technicians.
We must embrace disruptive technologies such as cloud, mobile and big data that are propelling business growth to create an opportunity for IT to step out of a support function into a more strategic role. Next, we have to technologically enable the business model. By creating new products and services and identifying new market opportunities, IT can truly transform businesses.
Our survey found that many leading companies are already using IT in such a capacity and have overcome many of the barriers identified in the report in order to elevate the role that IT plays in their business. They point to collaboration using networks as a top trend that will make their company more competitive. I have worked and met with many of these organizations and see this transformation taking shape.
Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) here in the United States is one such example. PG&E put together a framework that co-rated the relationship between its business and IT partnership on a scale of one to five. Then they set a collaborative goal of moving up one level in the following year. The result? A better understanding of priorities, responsibilities and how the organization can get the most business value out of their technology and IT department.
Google is another great example. Google conducts annual planning with business and IT stakeholders as a single process. This includes aligning priorities AND the IT budget in support of each business function.
These are just a few examples of companies that are leaning into change and technologically enabling the business model. We hope this report sparks conversations among the IT professionals whose systems are ever more intertwined, and clarifies the shifting role IT plays in business. We look forward to continuing the dialogue here.