Over the past few months, IT has been incredibly tactical for many companies. Enabling the shift to remote work and maintaining or adjusting business operations has been a full-time job. As the initial shock has passed, there has been a chance for reflection while also looking forward. What lessons were learned from the crisis? And what actions can help mitigate risk in the future?
One takeaway from the transitions has been that the companies that navigated things well were those that were already prepared beforehand, not necessarily those that built plans the fastest. While no one could have expected a disruption of this magnitude, some companies had been making strides toward a mobile workforce or a cloud-based architecture. Those types of actions may not have addressed immediate problems at the time, but they were built with an eye on the future.
CompTIA’s whitepaper on Using Strategic IT for Competitive Advantage describes the way that IT operations have evolved. IT used to be much more of a tactical support function; now it plays a key role in helping businesses grow and compete. As we continue to rebuild from the shock of the pandemic, here are four pieces to a strategic IT mindset:
Think about the top line vs. the bottom line
For most of the past 50 years, IT has been thought of as a cost center. Companies either tried to keep the same level of tech ability while trimming cost or incrementally build their technology on a flat budget. In a strategic approach, though, the finances are handled differently. Now there are investments being made with the expectation of some kind of return to the business. This means that IT pros need to build the skill of calculating ROI. Rather than saying “We need to spend this money or the system might fail,” they need to say “spending this money will lead to improved metrics.” This takes an understanding of how the investment is connected to the metrics and also understanding which metrics are most important to business units.
Focus on consumption vs. installation
In a tactical world, having operational systems in place is the main thing that matters. The IT team might focus on details of system performance, but for the business as a whole the primary criteria is uptime. In a strategic world, measuring utilization can help identify opportunities for improvement. This is especially true in an environment where computing and storage can be paid for as they get used. From infrastructure to applications, understanding the details of consumption and fine-tuning the architecture can lead to better efficiency, which in turn leads to more potential for innovation.
Treat IT components as necessities vs. luxuriesEvery company will have a different definition for required technology. The makeup of the workforce, the attitudes around technology adoption, and the availability of tech support can all factor into a company’s tech baseline. For every company, though, there are items that were once considered luxuries that are now necessities in a digital economy. For example, a business may have previously taken a strict view on which employees truly needed laptops or smartphones based on their job requirements. Then a global pandemic comes along and turns everyone into a remote worker. Focusing only on today’s needs isn’t the best way to prepare for tomorrow’s changes.
Build solutions together vs. operating in silos
When IT is viewed as a support role, there is a tendency to throw things over the wall. A business unit states what they need, and IT goes off and builds a solution. Strategic environments are far more collaborative. Every department brings their specialized expertise to the table, and there are clear priorities that define trade-offs. As self-service cloud systems became popular, business units experimented with doing their own procurement. But problems with security and integration showed that an enterprise architecture can’t be built piecemeal, and IT teams now play a role in future decisions—provided they have a working knowledge about the business issues involved.
Making the shift to a strategic IT mindset isn’t simple. If it was, more companies would have done it already and unexpected events wouldn’t cause such headaches. However, it may be the crucial part of digital transformation. Strategic IT requires changes throughout the organization. For IT teams—including businesses that provide the IT function for their clients—there is a chance to provide leadership by building skills around new processes and emerging technologies.