A seat at the top table: three steps to giving IT a more strategic role

Despite technology playing a big part in keeping organisations moving during the pandemic, and the rapid pace of digital transformation, too many companies still don’t see IT as a strategic asset. At present, only 22% of EMEA enterprises give IT a seat on the board, while 72% treat IT as a utility, rather than a business enabler. This has direct consequences for enterprises. For instance, 55% are failing to take advantage of new technologies, because they simply aren’t listening to their IT experts. Even now, the majority of IT teams and wider businesses are divided over whether ways of working or doing business have transformed in the wake of the pandemic.

This disconnect between IT and the business isn’t a new problem – it was highlighted almost three decades ago in Henderson and Venkatraman’s Strategic Alignment Model. However, it’s crucial that this changes and IT’s importance is recognised, as businesses continue to transform in the wake of the pandemic. IT has a crucial role to play in shaping key business decisions. The situation won’t transform overnight for those teams that are treated as a utility, but by taking a proactive approach in three key areas, change will be possible.

Perfect the basics

First, IT has to execute its “utility” role perfectly. This isn’t about simply “keeping the lights on”. A crucial element is IT’s ability to demonstrate its value to end users. After all, a steady stream of positive or negative feedback is a straightforward gauge of IT’s effectiveness.

In order to best serve end users, IT teams should adopt some of a sales team’s mindset, creating personas for the different colleagues it serves. IT can then identify how technology might be frustrating these personas, and how it could better support them. For example, as organisations have embraced flexible and remote working, employees working outside of core business hours might be left unable to contact support teams about technical issues, leaving them unable to compete tasks. If IT recognises this issue, it can take steps to resolve it. For instance, by implementing an automated self-service IT support tool, so that employees can search for and resolve issues themselves in a timely manner; or by adopting a 24/7 IT support service.

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Pushing the boundaries

Second, working closely with wider business units and understanding the challenges they face will allow IT to show how adopting new tools and technologies can improve existing processes.

Analytics and automation are great examples: new use cases that can improve business processes are emerging all the time. For example, IT could show how adopting Microsoft Power BI will help the organisation better combine and understand data in order to make more informed decisions; or how investing in Microsoft Power Automate will eliminate manual business processes and help employees across the business spend more time concentrating on their core jobs. Regardless of specific opportunities, the key will be for IT to lay out the business case, with crystal clear costs and benefits – showing that it isn’t just implementing projects, but demonstrating the value it could bring.

Getting strategic

Finally, IT can use its understanding of the organisation’s strategies and goals to put forward projects that either transform existing processes completely, or offer entirely new ways to support wider business strategy.

For instance, if the business wants to become more sustainable, then using technology to reduce business travel is an obvious approach. IT can take the organisation beyond simple remote working. For example, by implementing mixed reality goggles to provide specialist training and advice remotely – whether maintenance teams advising on repairing machinery, or surgeons consulting during a complicated operation. Similarly, an organisation responsible for maintaining transport networks could aim to reduce the expense of manually inspecting miles of roads or rail. Swapping human maintenance crews for drones and using edge processing and machine learning to identify potential faults would reduce expense, improve safety, and speed up repairs and maintenance by quickly identifying issues and sending crews where they are needed.

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Climbing to the top table

IT teams that can execute their “utility” role, improve existing processes, and transform the business in line with strategy, will have shown they deserve a place at the top table. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, but there are constants: demonstrating IT’s value to end-users, laying out clear business cases, and engaging with the wider business strategy. If IT can use this process to become a strategic asset, it will be in prime position to drive business transformation and deliver organisational success over the long term.

Written by Tom Hulscher, senior solution specialist at Insight

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