The digital economy is fundamentally altering the course of enterprise business strategy, and IT departments are playing a leading role in this critical transformation. More is being asked of IT because IT has never been more important to the business: from cybersecurity and application optimization to implementing multicloud and high-performance network strategies at global scale.
But according to many IT workers and leaders, there’s a problem that’s gone unaddressed for too long: IT’s work is too often undervalued—stymied by outdated notions about the function’s role in the business.
A recent survey of 500 IT professionals found that only 27 percent strongly agree that their senior management has “clearly communicated a desire to see the IT team be more aligned with the goals of individual business units.” What’s more, 57 percent of IT pros feel they’re only contacted when something goes wrong.
At the same time, a wide majority believe IT should be at the vanguard of digital transformation initiatives and that they could bring even more value to their organizations than they do now, if only they had the resources and authority.
So what’s the one thing IT pros wished their CEO knew about their department and team? In the aforementioned survey, the answers run the gamut from statements of outright frustration and pleas for more headcount to expressions of dedication to the job and the need for greater cybersecurity awareness.
The undercurrent of so many of the responses, however, is encapsulated in one individual’s message: “Know that in this day and age, the business would fail without our IT department keeping up with the latest technology.”
To succeed in the digital economy, “keeping up” is no longer an option. For the important work of IT transformation and business unit alignment to truly take flight, chief executives, including CEOs, CTOs and CIOs, should consider the following three items as important prerequisites.
Shine a spotlight on IT’s capabilities and empower them to lead.
Consider these two statements from IT workers responsible for infrastructure management:
“I wish our CEO knew about our true value to innovation—not just housekeeping.”
“By working together, we can align IT tech with business strategies to achieve goals faster.”
These are messages that should resonate at every level of the organization. That’s why shining a spotlight on IT transcends recognition of hard work and a job well done. Rather, this is a matter of communicating capability in order to identify opportunity.
In other words, to achieve meaningful alignment, all business units and departments must first understand how IT can be partners in their success. Examples of that success can occur in many ways, including: partnering in product development and delivery, empowering innovation and agility via new infrastructure platforms, aiding in business intelligence and data management, and safeguarding critical business assets from internal and external threats.
To transform internal perceptions, chief executives should ensure that each business unit has a senior IT liaison who can drive awareness of the capabilities of IT (especially as they grow with rapid developments in technology) and how those capabilities can unlock new opportunities. Once the IT team has proper visibility throughout the business, mandate that CIOs and CTOs regularly report on the ways IT is impacting the organization beyond its traditional function of “just keeping the lights on.”
Listen closely to IT’s cybersecurity concerns (and take action).
You’ve seen the headlines: The cybersecurity threat landscape is growing more unpredictable by the day. If asked, most IT professionals will be very open with you about the challenges they face. “I wish the CEO understood the importance of security and IT’s role in that,” one survey respondent wrote. “As things are, we are just putting bandages on servers to keep them running.”
This is a concern that extends well beyond patching and maintaining servers. Cybersecurity affects every layer of the enterprise technology stack, including data centers, networks, applications and end-user devices. It’s critical that enterprises don’t stop at “lowest common denominator” solutions. Give IT the resources (or external partners) required to stay ahead of the curve so they can focus on growing the business.
This includes doubling down on a robust, tech-driven business continuity plan that includes cloud-enabled disaster recovery solutions and off-site backups for critical systems.
Ask IT and business unit leaders to identify their most critical applications and estimate the potential hit to revenue if they were to go offline for even a few minutes. In most every case, the investment to make those systems fault tolerant will pale in comparison to the total cost of downtime—not to mention the credibility and trust you can build by decisively addressing your IT organization’s top concern.
Ensure IT has the time and the toolkit to add value.
We all have elements of our jobs that fail to receive the time allocation they deserve. This is especially true of IT professionals. In fact, concerns related to time constraints were the third most frequent type of statement addressed to CEOs in our survey. “I wish my CEO was more aware of the actual time and effort that goes into running IT for our organization,” one respondent wrote. “Many employees put in long work hours, sometimes forgoing their own personal time to help the organization.”
A closer look at these statements reveal that the long hours aren’t so much a complaint; IT pros are overwhelmingly dedicated to doing what it takes to keep their organization running. Rather, it’s about how those long hours come at the expense of value-added projects.
The survey highlighted this opportunity cost, revealing that 8 in 10 IT professionals feel they “could provide more value to their organization if they spent less time on routine tasks like server monitoring and maintenance.”
What would they do if given back 16 hours in their week? Fifty-two percent of the newfound time, on average, would go to value-added activities like new product or application development, enhancing existing applications, and researching emerging technologies. Seventeen percent would be dedicated to interfacing directly with business units or end users. The remainder would go to skill improvements, and of course, reclaiming work-life balance.
On the whole, these activities represent the IT department of the future—technology professionals aligned with and accountable to the goals of the business.
It is imperative chief executives lend their support in making this future a reality. There’s one thing I’ve learned: At the most innovative companies, IT teams aren’t a best-kept secret—they already have a seat at the table.