The Shifting Role of IT in the Digital Workplace (Series Post 2)

In my previous blog I introduced our “blueprint” for the New Digital Workplace and spoke of the Demands and Drivers that result from the “digital” trend that is pervasive across all our industries.

As “Digital” starts to present new opportunities to businesses, we must re-examine the role of the IT department, in order for it to fulfil its potential as an enabler for  change.

Shifting Role of IT

The IT department is often maligned with false perceptions and stereotypes.  It might be fair to say that many do not understand the intricacies and challenges of providing a comprehensive technology platform in the digital era.  Others would argue that they don’t need to understand! Technology should just work and experiences should be fluid and effective.  End of.

But the IT function is changing rapidly.  Technology advances has made IT integral to the modern business, so change and adaptation is critical!  In this post I’d like to try to offer a few examples of how the IT department is adapting in this new context.

The classic, and often perceived, role of the IT department is as a “Gatekeeper”, dictating and controlling decisions on platforms, solutions and devices which are thrust onto users and the business.  The IT department has sought to demonstrate engineering disciplines – creating complex, highly coupled and integrated technologies that are built to be stable, performant and secure.  And as long as these objectives were met, the business was often (historically!) content and tension was minimised.  Perhaps the IT function was the follower of change not the leader? Typically activities would be driven around refresh cycles – providing predictability and an established patterns and principles by which change would happen.

But the world is changing, and the change is significant.  Technology has been a key driver of this.  Cloud technologies, the growth of mobility and ubiquitous connectivity generate new opportunities for how we can engage with both our customers, partners and our users.  There has also been a shift towards alternative methodologies for driving activities and change, with terms like “Agile” and “DevOps” becoming core language.

The opportunity that this technology advancement has offered us has created a need to think, act and respond differently to ensure that adoption is swift in order to compete and differentiate our businesses.  And the IT department is at the heart of this in understanding and identifying how technology can be exploited to unlock these opportunities.

Within this context the IT department is changing from the Gatekeeper role, towards a Broker – an active facilitator of change.  We see this in many contexts, some of the most striking are in establishing frameworks and approaches for adoption of cloud technologies (invariably from a range of different providers that all need to be managed and integrated), through to the fundamental change caused by “as a Service” more generally.  Windows 10 and its continual and frequent updates (“Evergreen” as we term it) is perhaps the most current and certainly most disruptive example in the Workplace IT arena.

As a broker of services, the IT department needs to be able to react much more quickly to change; to be agile, dynamic, and even “entrepreneurial” in its behaviour.  Project timelines will reduce significantly, become much more iterative in nature, and the IT portfolio will comprise tens of projects and initiatives running on similar timescales, competing for resources, impacting users, and challenging the conventional wisdom that underpinned the classic IT playbook.

This fundamentally changes the relationship of the IT department with the stakeholders in the business.  If it isn’t already, IT will need to become more integrated into the business and understand the business challenges more so that it can lead the response with innovative solutions.  Of course, many organisations are operating in this way, it would be wrong to suggest that this is a universal problem.  However for many organisations this shift will be much more profound, and the change will feel much more like a revolution than an evolution.

In the next instalment, of this blog series we will look more closely at one of the key stakeholder groups, Users: their perspectives, challenges and demands of the New Digital Workplace.

About Paul Bray

Paul is Computacenter’s Chief Technologist for Computacenter in the UK & Ireland @PSBray

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