Business is going digital but IT departments have yet to grasp the way they have to change

“Digital” is undoubtedly the buzzword of the day in conversations between IT leaders and their executive counterparts in the organisation. But it’s only recently that the full implications of “going digital” are becoming clear in the IT department.

We hear plenty about how digital is changing business – increasing customer engagement, opening up new channels, breaking down old silos and so on. We hear even more about digital in the public sectorgovernment as a platform, reform of service delivery, agile policy design and so forth.

But we’ve heard a lot less about what digital means for IT departments, the skills they need and the way IT develops, delivers and supports technology. It’s increasingly clear that the changes are more fundamental than many had thought. We’ve heard a lot of talk about what Gartner calls “bimodal IT” – effectively, having one IT team responsible for the traditional IT operational disciplines for keeping the lights on; and another to look after the agile, fast-moving, digital stuff.

But at best, this two-speed IT is only a transitional phase. It’s certainly not something you hear talked about at the most advanced digital businesses. Hailo, the taxi app, is an example – developing its software using highly componentised microservices, using public cloud and DevOps techniques to deliver the sort of flexibility and speed of change that conventional IT departments would barely recognise.

In the US, companies like Walmart, Paypal and Yahoo are using OpenStack – an open source tool created mostly for private clouds but being used by such firms as a highly flexible environment for managing IT operations. The way they develop software, test, release and run it is very different to the traditional corporate datacentre.

In the same way that digital promises to break down barriers between businesses and customers, and between citizens and government, it also breaks down barriers between IT and the business. Digital doesn’t just put IT teams at the heart of business, in many situations it means IT teams are the business. The ability to rapidly develop and release new software is what will determine successful businesses in the digital era. It will be the difference between success and failure.

IT leaders and their teams need to prepare for the digital IT department – it’s already starting to happen in your competitors.