The role of IT is now about business, not technology

An illuminating finding from research published by IBRS in its State of Enterprise Software Report 2019 is the revelation that line of business leaders are increasingly taking more responsibility for purchasing decisions around business applications — ahead of the IT department.

And that, in turn, also changes both the nature of their relationship with IT leaders in their organisation, and the future role of IT. So what's now expected of IT leaders?

Here are our top three observations:

Observation 1: Peers will place a premium on strategic advice

Line of business leaders want to have more control over the choice of business systems they use to meet their team goals.

But they also want to ensure the choices they make are future proof and will deliver efficiencies. For that reason, rather than excluding IT, they recognise how important it is that the systems they choose align with the way the rest of the company works.

These business leaders recognise IT for what it has become — the business enabler, helping them fulfil their mission in the organisation. This assistance can be provided across a range of areas — from policy and governance through to executive alignment and value delivery.

Nicolas Aidoud, a long-time IT industry executive whose past roles include stints as a managing director both in Australia and overseas, says the CIO was once seen as an obstacle by businesses that wanted to do more, try different things or move faster. Now, however, with cloud and other digital technologies, CIOs are expected to help develop business models.

“Business [leaders] are starting to work more collaboratively with the CIO — sometimes encouraged by the CEO or influential vendors,” Aidoud says.

One area of expertise in particular where IT leaders should expect their peers to seek their advice is in the field of change management. The recent IBRS study into enterprise systems revealed that change management maturity continues to hinder implementation of enterprise solutions. Even those organisations that get change management right still struggle with getting all capabilities to be used by staff, stifling business innovation.

What’s more, IT, with its overarching view of the full enterprise, will also likely be called upon to describe — and help alleviate — the challenges of integration, an issue non-IT executives are becoming increasingly familiar with as they take more responsibility for purchasing business technology.

Observation 2: IT leaders will have nothing to do with tech

Today, the pent-up demand for business systems has moved aggressively into implementation mode, making it a busy period for IT departments.

Sectors like Utilities, Infrastructure and Financial Services have been investing in new enterprise software in 2019, according to research by IBRS, and will be looking to extract the benefits of those investments. Meanwhile Aged Care and the three tiers of Government will be looking for the same outcomes from the upgrade cycles they see themselves investing in this year.

With line of business leaders placing more importance on IT’s strategic oversight, their role in these system implementations will become less about the tech.

The focus will shift from minimising technical risk to advising business stakeholders as to how to solve their specific business needs, according to the researchers. But they will also be tasked with helping the organisation avoid redundant investments and fragmentation of processes between cloud services, or the creation of isolated information silos.

According to Alisdair Blackman, a long-term digital transformation specialist as the principal consultant at Digital Rehab, “the best role IT can play is to facilitate, guide and be part of the solution in solving business problems”.

Tensions that traditionally existed between IT and line of business leaders are less likely to emerge in the future, where business units respect and understand the value of IT involvement in business-sponsored and business-initiated projects and change agendas.

Those organisations that embrace collaboration and a culture of agility will be best placed to succeed, says Blackman.

Observation 3: You’ll need to upskill, or opt out

Line of business leaders are increasingly expecting IT to leverage entirely new skillsets that many IT professionals don’t currently have.

So organisations need to invest in the relevant retraining to ensure their IT departments remain a value-adding function.

Bridget Gray is the Managing Director of Harvey Nash, one of the country’s top executive recruitment firms for CIOs and other technology leaders. She believes that as IT becomes more of a strategic advisor it will be beholden upon them to evolve.

“As much as business leaders are becoming more technically literate, IT professionals need to utilise their influencing and business skills to steer the right outcomes for the business. This is a requirement for them to be open and encourage dialogue and input from across the business, while balancing what solution is most relevant, realistic and suitable to address the business needs.”

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Publish date

15 Jan 2021

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