Thomas Coles, managing director of MSM Software writes for CBR on the importance of businesses keeping pace with the changing IT environment.
IT is fundamentally changing. A recent study carried out with 100 IT managers from large UK-based organisations showed that 95 per cent believe the IT role has transformed over the past twelve months, most notably into a more strategic role .
Because of this, skill sets are shifting and IT staff now spend less time working with and supporting in-house systems. What this means is that the role of IT is evolving. It is breaking out of its 'silo' and beginning to drive business transformation; supporting organisations' tactical initiatives and strategic objectives.
However, with IT focused on strategy, the study showed that 40 per cent of IT managers no longer have sufficient resources available to support business-critical systems, or to undertake the host of software projects that business requirements necessitate; which can be both resource intense and complex.
With IT taking centre stage and the demands on the department increasing, this strain has left IT teams at breaking point.
Businesses are facing a faster pace of change than they ever have done before, due in no small part to the ever-shifting technology landscape. This is placing pressure on the IT department to keep abreast of developments.
Driving this pressure is the increased expectation from IT. In this electronic age, customers have higher demands on technology; for example, if a customer places on order online, then follow up with a phone call to the contact centre a day later, they will expect the team to be aware of the purchase.
To keep pace with the changing technology environment, IT must be able to support the business 24/7 and have the systems in place to interface with customers in a plethora of different ways.
The heightened demand on technology has placed additional strain on IT to live up to expectation. Furthermore, the significant shift within in-house IT departments in the last year has created additional pressure that has left IT teams struggling to cope.
This shift is in part a recessionary influence, as limited funds have resulted in necessary cut-backs, prominently to those working in day-to-day IT roles, and this has led to a direct impact on internal resource.
These cut backs are leaving organisations at risk and I believe the lack of IT resource will soon result in a failure to ensure the IT function can maintain and drive forward technology innovation. This may adversely impact upon business growth and increase the risk of software or technology failure, which can lead to loss of revenue, profit and customers - enough to concern any boardroom.
With IT taking on a more strategic role it is being denied the tools, in terms of resource, to operate effectively. I believe businesses must now carefully consider their IT needs and what resources are required to remain competitive.
Establishing resourcing gaps is one thing, filling them is a different task altogether. Technical expertise can be hard to come by and furthermore, many organisations struggle with the high training costs and other overhead expenses of recruiting specialist IT professionals. This ultimately leads to IT departments facing constant resource problems - placing an unhealthy pressure on existing teams to deliver day-to-day operations.
In my opinion, the changing nature of IT calls for a fresh strategic approach to resourcing. Some firms have considered outsourcing, which not only enables a company's in-house team to focus on their core activities, but also brings dedicated, and in some cases more experienced, hands on board to act as an extension of the team.
Outsourcing allows a business to plug essential skills gaps to ensure its competitive future; enabling day-to-day activities to be supported whilst IT teams focus on delivering strategic objectives.
An alternative resourcing method is 'body shopping', where a business loans the technical expertise of an organisation's employee on a short or longer-term basis. This can enable a business to meet staffing requirements, ease the pressure of skills shortages, but also keep costs to a minimum. This type of flexible resourcing differs from outsourcing, which presents one of the keys ways of introducing change into business culture through outside innovation.
Fit for nothing?
As the role of IT evolves, its long-term success will not only be dependent on resourcing; the technology utilised also needs to be fit for purpose in the context of the business. Worryingly, this doesn't seem to be the case for many businesses. A study revealed that collectively, 98 per cent of IT managers are not convinced that IT systems are matched to their business needs or fit for purpose.
If an IT system is not matched to a business's needs it will become less efficient; wasting time and potentially incurring unnecessary costs. It will also restrict the growth of the company as IT can not support this development. It also places the business at risk of technology failure. This can introduce unexpected panic, confusion and turmoil into the company, which can have huge repercussions in terms of lost sales, revenues, custom and reputation.
Businesses must develop a deeper understanding of their existing systems to stave off these potential issues. It is also fundamental that businesses undertake technical audits, such as software health checks, to assess the current status of business critical systems, the efficiency of existing technology, what is working within the organisation, and the areas for improvement.
By carrying out a technical audit a business can document how the system is working, how it's likely to perform in the future, and can establish whether it is fit for purpose and meets the evolving needs of the business.
This information is crucial to provide assurance to an organisation that the systems in place are robust and adaptable enough to support the developing role of IT and achieve long-term technology innovation.
Investing in the future of IT
The recessionary environment has had an impact on many organisations' approach to investment in technology, and in my opinion it's another reason why an overwhelming majority of IT managers cast doubts over the long-term suitability of their IT systems.
Research shows that in the last two years, investment in new, innovative business-critical systems has fallen significantly, with 45 per cent of businesses choosing not to invest in IT. Alongside this, over a third of businesses (33 per cent), have put aside projects, waiting for economic times to improve .
I believe a lack of investment in IT is a fundamental reason why IT managers do not believe their systems are fit for purpose or can support the changing requirements of the business. Holding back on investment is a dangerous strategy for organisations to pursue, as retaining older equipment or software leaves a business vulnerable to competitors making fresh investment - reaping productivity rewards, ensuring satisfied customers and making low investment organisations look out-dated in the process.
Firms which are reluctant to invest in IT are taking the wrong approach. Without new investment in projects, technologies and the resource to support these developments, no new wave of productivity improvements is possible. It's also a strategy which contrasts sharply with the changing strategic nature of IT and its growing importance upon, and dependence from the wider organisation.
As a result, businesses must reassess their approach to IT investment, or this could lead to detrimental long-term affects on their future growth.
Every department must have the 'IT' factor
The role of IT is changing; the IT department is beginning to fundamentally power activities at all levels of how a business operates in today's competitive environment. Whether it's end user adopted or company mandated, technology is taking a lead role in everything a business does, and every decision it makes.
As IT develops, businesses must consider how to maximise technology in the best way possible. For example, technology is taking on a greater role for delivering the customer's experience, so businesses must consider how IT can deliver this in the most effective way possible.
As IT becomes more strategic, organisations must support the team with adequate resource, robust IT systems which are fit for purpose and a commitment to on-going investment.
This is the only way firms can enable IT to meet the long-term objectives of the business, whilst ensuring that the department is not spreading itself too thin - leaving the wider organisation vulnerable in the process.