Task-based IT is familiar and minimally functional—but hardly forward-looking. Task-based IT gets the basic job done but utterly fails to deliver business value.
To make the most of new technologies, companies must transition to a strategic approach that leverages IT resources to do more than simply keep laptops functioning well and servers running. True IT professionals have skills and technologies available capable of doing much more than maintaining IT systems; they have become a significant business partner through collecting, correlating, and curating key data sources, used by future-thinking business owners to drive their competitive advantage and future success.
Looking back ten years ago, many businesses viewed their IT department as being focused on break-fix: when technology failed, users submitted tickets, and IT fixed the problems. Just keeping the computers running was the benchmark for success. As a result, technology departments were largely viewed as sunk costs—necessary expenses that kept businesses on track but were minimized wherever possible.
However, the advent of solutions such as cloud computing and big data analytics has changed the role of IT. Technology now underpins the ability of companies to effectively connect with customers online, design targeted marketing efforts, and combine disparate data sources to drive business strategies. This new paradigm breaks the old task-based IT mold and opens up the possibility for IT departments to deliver real business value.
Can your IT department step up to this new reality?
For many companies, their IT team is comprised of generalists who are jacks-of-all technology trades. In some cases, IT professionals have taken on multiple roles as business operations have expanded. In others, they’re tech-savvy staff members who have enough knowledge of common processes to keep IT environments up and running. This forms the core of the generalist approach: as long as technology continues to work, why spend time and money on deeper IT expertise and skills? In this old paradigm, why would you spend more for the same low value? Or so the outdated thinking goes.
The increasingly self-serve nature of user-facing technology also contributes to the growth of a generalist approach. With solutions designed for easy integration and adoption right out of the box, and with many business leaders now familiar with the user-friendly frameworks of personal mobile devices, it’s easy to justify the lack of specialization as a cost-saving measure. But don’t be fooled; easy user-facing technology belies the complexity and nuanced requirements of the core technology components.
In practice, however, the generalist approach introduces potential pitfalls, including:
- Increased Risk
Businesses often assume that large enterprises are the primary targets of cyber attacks, however 43% of digital attacks now target smaller companies, including ransomware threats. Relying on IT generalists increases risk: according to Forbes, 32% of small businesses only use free security tools to protect their networks, and 23% have no endpoint security to speak of. Why? Because the creation, management, and maintenance of robust and reliable cybersecurity plans require knowledgeable IT professionals who also understand that cybersecurity is a people issue, not just a technology issue. These IT professionals need the people and technical skills necessary to understand the complex nature of people’s practices and expanding security threats to develop solutions capable of keeping pace.
- Limited Flexibility
Consider the human resources department at a midsize company. Often, HR teams include payroll experts, benefits managers, and employee recruiters. While they all fall under the same general umbrella, each role requires specialized skills. The same applies to IT—and as technology use evolves, the number of potential roles is growing exponentially. As noted by a recent CIOpiece, for example, not only are smaller businesses making the move to hybrid clouds, they’re also adopting new technologies such as artificial intelligence to better handle data volumes and gain actionable data insights. However, making the best use of these technologies requires flexibility to both adopt them at scale and adapt operations as needed, which in turn demands more than cursory knowledge of critical functions and frameworks. Remember, owning the technology isn’t the same as leveraging the technology. Leveraging takes skill.
Changing the Game
In summary, generalists are task-focused. With minimal training and a focus on simply keeping tools and technologies running, they’re left with little choice but to jump from task to task to task. They are typically not trained in the higher aspects of business (culture, finance, operations, marketing, compliance, process, etc.). As the role and nature of the IT department matures to produce more business value, the IT generalist role is diminished and outdated.
A well-constructed IT organization staffed with professionals with specialized skills, meanwhile, allows companies to transition from a task-based to strategic approach to technology. Equipped with in-depth knowledge, technology professionals can help businesses focus on the business outcome offered by technology rather than its operation. Consider data storage. While a generalist might have their hands full making sure storage solutions don’t fail at inopportune moments, an IT solutions engineer will have the skills necessary to streamline storage operations (such as data management, data retention, archiving, disaster recovery, etc.) and deliver strategic business value through the application of data analytics tools to produce forward-looking metrics, trends, and uncover opportunities.
At a larger scale, professionals can help change the way businesses view IT resources. Historically seen as indeterminate “things” that were necessary for day-to-day operations but added no real value, the integrated and interwoven nature of new technologies now makes them an integral part of all business operations. Experts possess the ability to manage complex operations, appropriate process automation, and streamline process output to help drive ROI across organizations.
Setting Your Business Up for Success
For businesses leaders, having access to a breadth of IT professionals with diverse skills helps shift IT from a cost center to a strategic service. Much like finance, marketing, or HR, IT leaders become a source of actionable data that can be used to drive better decision-making.
If you’re ready to set your business up for success, let’s talk.