That the corporate IT function will in future become more decentralised, and more embedded in the business, is “inevitable”, according to Forrester Research vice president Alex Cullen. “Today, when the business has a requirement, they have to go to IT departments to get it done,” he says. “That’s going to go away.”
This will have positive outcomes, Cullen says, such as improved responsiveness to business needs, but there are risks too. Critically, the IT department’s current ability to enforce policy, data quality and technical standards may well be lost.
When a centralised IT department no longer has the authority to insist that the organisation’s long-term interests are upheld in technology projects, it is essential that business leaders themselves understand and value those interests.
That means part of IT’s role will be to educate, rather than instruct, business leaders, says Cullen. For that very reason, Cullen advised in a recent report that CIOs train their IT staff in educating skills, and even to hire people with educational, rather than IT, training.
“What IT leaders are going to be looking for over the next five years is people who can communicate clearly,” he says, “and in a way that allows people to understand how IT relates to their problems. And those people may well be teachers.”
This might seem like a radical redirection of the IT employment policy, but it is not without precedent, Cullen says. “Twenty years ago, large IT users such as banks and insurance companies hired people with no computer background, including a lot of school teachers,” he explains.