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In many companies, the IT department and its business counterparts just do not get along. In companies like these, when you want to do something with data and/or technology, you have to patiently stand in line and wait for your turn. Your request – be it a new website, new infrastructure, or application – is put into a queue to be analyzed, prioritized, assigned and [maybe] fulfilled in some kind of time-frame. This is the way of the IT-ruled business; controlling deadlines, stifling innovation, diverting resources and ultimately determining how business works [or not].
But things are changing; business is finding a way around IT.
Today, users are more savvy and have grown up with software, apps and devices that have put their needs first and have not made them wait to get what they want. New employees entering the workforce are astounded at the snail’s pace of traditional IT when these very same employees can have lunch delivered in ten minutes with one app click. Things… just… move… too… slow… And it frustrates employees to no end. This is not supposed to be the digital reality in which we live, but all too often, it is.
Earlier this year, I published an article that proposed a working definition of “the meaning of digital,” but it still left an open question in my mind:
“What does digital means to companies?”
I believe that digital represents the true convergence of business and technology. Traditionally, when we create an IT strategy, we advocate an approach whereby a company defines its business strategy and operating model and then creates its IT strategy and roadmap in support of the business objectives. This tried and true formula, taught in business schools and practiced in large companies for decades, has failed to deliver value for two reasons: (1) business strategy and IT strategy are no longer siloed and separate, and (2) business strategy and IT strategy should not be a linear exercise performed in serial. Rather, a new form of strategy has emerged that examines the business objectives, the technology opportunities, and constantly challenges both in real-time in a never-ending cycle of value activation. This is the new IT strategy and it’s called “Digital Enterprise Strategy.”
Today’s business leaders have grown up on powerful consumer-facing apps and devices. They are conversant or even fluent in the technologies that make their business run. These leaders will not wait for IT to engineer a solution that may or may not meet their needs; these leaders will do it on their own with or without ITs blessing. The rise of digital signifies the shift from an IT-centric to a people-centric business by giving users the tools to do more with less, on their own terms.
Welcome to The Digital Enterprise.
So where does this leave the IT organization? Is IT relevant? Is Nicholas Carr right? Does IT matter?
I believe IT still plays a critical role and does matter, although effective IT organizations of tomorrow will look a whole lot different than they do today. As companies transform into digital enterprises, IT departments must embrace its new role as a business problem solvers, not separate from, but embedded in, the business. IT professionals must become business experts just as business professionals have become experts in technology. IT professionals must become advocates and evangelists of new innovations that actually matter to the business rather than pushing legacy IT solutions. Resisting change and fighting business user demand is a recipe for disaster for any organization, let alone IT.
In a Digital Enterprise, the central IT function will have a new purpose as third-parties and process automation [such as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), cloud, robotics process automation, and managed services of every kind] ease the administrative burden of powering our companies. The mission of IT will change from operating and running to: governing, architecting, connecting, automating, collaborating and innovating, just to name a few. This is unfamiliar territory for many IT organizations but success on this journey is a matter of life or death as digital represents an existential threat to traditional information technology departments’ way of life.
While some organizations will fight this digital evolution, true business leaders will embrace the convergence of business and technology functions to create a new vision for IT that puts people and their needs first.
All hail the digital enterprise!