This is a guest blog from Gareth Cartman, director of digital marketing at Clever Little Design.
We've arrived at a point where most businesses - even the most sensitive - have accepted the role of cloud technology, and have even embraced it. The advantages are trotted out regularly - pay-as-you-go, flexible, secure, scalable and crucially - it's cheaper.
Why is it cheaper? Because you don't need an IT department to upgrade & maintain the system for you - the cloud solution providers do it for you.
The emphasis has moved away from the technology simply because there's no need to manage the technology. And that is leaving IT departments in something of a quandary.
Adapt or die, basically...
And for many, that means "die"
Thoran Rodrigues calls it "death by obsolescence", and it's coming through a variety of channels:
Increased user knowledge: we know a lot more about how to manage our devices these days. Indeed, most of us can probably navigate our way around Windows, and the advent of BYOD adds in a whole other element.
No need for infrastructure: cloud eliminates the need for servers, and therefore the need for people to maintain those servers and networks.
Better technology: compatibility is no longer an issue for many organisations - cross-browser compatibility is more or less standard, and while larger businesses are still on Internet Explorer (with its thousands of patches and workarounds), most of us have moved on to something more reliable.
It's going to take a radical rethink of the way IT departments work, and that should start by thinking about the way IT professionals provide value to businesses. These last few years of economic downturn have put a sharp focus on ROI. Every asset is sweated, every penny needs to provide a return.
What of IT, in that case?
Widening our knowledge
Knowledge of IT is one thing - knowledge of how IT is crucial to business performance is quite another.
To start this, it's time to broaden out our knowledge of business processes and start to get involved at a deeper level. What is, for instance, the difference between CRM and ERP? Even if they're both provided in the cloud, there are decisions to be made at every level of the business and the choice of one over the other will have significant IT impacts. Equally, the selection of one provider over another will come with other impacts, and there is a sizeable consultancy angle here.
Finding our opportunities
Indeed, this argument between CRM and ERP is an interesting one. While this debate may be playing out in other departments, the very fact that this technology is changing at such a rapid rate gives IT an opportunity to deliver significant value to the business.
Knowing more about these technologies, and which ones integrate with existing systems, is going to be essential. Not everyone within an organisation is going to understand this to any significant degree, and there's a need for this level of expertise.
Furthermore, ensuring that providers respect Service Level Agreements, and that they are indeed providing the software upgrades to the level the business requires is going to be another key business requirement. Who is going to look after that? It has to be internal. It has to be IT.
Demonstrating our value
I'd go a step further from these basic business requirements and ask IT departments to look at areas where it can provide real value. For instance, how long does it take the average user to boot up a laptop in the morning? I worked in one organisation where we unofficially measured this and discovered that people spent an average of 12 minutes booting their laptops up.
In which time, they made a coffee, went for a chat with someone, and came back usually 15 minutes later.
That's 15 minutes per person, per day - wasted due to defunct IT equipment. Add on top of that the average of 15 minutes wasted due to crashes every day (on average, one per person) - then that's 30 minutes every day per person. Add that up across 200 people, and you've got... well, you can measure that. And you can measure it in pounds and pence.
What's the productivity impact of getting that time back?
That's one simple example of how IT departments can visibly measure their impact in terms that the board can understand.
In a clouded world, IT's role is changing demonstrably - by upping our game and getting in on the pounds and pence impact of quality IT provision, we can shape that new role and make ourselves indispensable again. The alternative is that we end up like most of the technology we've been responsible for - obsolete.