IT departments to shrink dramatically within five years as cloud takes over

IT professionals will need to rethink their careers as corporate IT departments undergo a radical restructuring over the next five years

Corporate IT departments will shrink by as much as 75% over the next five years as businesses adapt to the cloud and changing economic conditions, a major study by business advisory group CEB has revealed.

IT departments will take on the role of advising the business on technology decisions, rather than commissioning technology themselves, with huge consequences for the skills IT professionals need, the study predicts.

“IT teams will be much smaller, they will be focused on delivering services and their technical capability will be more focused on making IT easier to use,” said Andrew Horne, managing director of the CEB's IT leadership council, in an interview with Computer Weekly.

Opportunities for CIOs to expand their role

The changes ahead will give high-performing CIOs the opportunity to expand their management expertise into other business services, such as human resources (HR), finance, procurement and managing the company supply chain.

“Our data suggests that nearly 50% of CIOs already have other responsibilities, even if they are quite a small part of their remit. They are in charge of head office relocation, or they might own strategy or procurement,” said Horne.

Around 10% of CIOs, particularly in large multinational energy, pharmaceutical and consumer companies, already have a cross-departmental role, and the proportion will grow over time.


Download the CEB's research report, The Future of Corporate IT

Other IT roles will change radically 

Other IT roles will also change radically. Nearly 80% of IT professionals will see multiple changes in their responsibilities, skills needs and objectives, as the IT organisation adapts to changing business needs over the next five years, according to the CEB (formerly the Corporate Executive Board).

Traditional IT roles, such as developers, datacentre administrators and network administrators, are likely to disappear from the corporate IT department altogether, although they will still be needed by IT suppliers.

“If you are an individual in a technical role, you may have a great future, but your role will be with a cloud provider or a software supplier, rather than an IT group,” said Horne.

The business will procure technology, IT will advise

Instead, IT departments will increasingly need people with negotiating skills, contract management skills and financial skills, who can manage external IT suppliers.

They will help other parts of the business buy the IT systems they need, rather than buy and run IT on the business’s behalf.

“IT departments will act almost as a concierge or buyer’s agent for parts of the business – not letting them buy IT themselves entirely, helping them make the right decisions,” he said.

New IT roles needed 

The study predicts new types of IT role emerging to replace traditional technical roles. IT departments will increasingly need “services managers”, for example, who understand how different parts of the business work and can help them procure the right IT systems.

And organisations will need IT professionals who are skilled at making corporate IT systems easier to use. The iPhone generation will be less willing to put up with the badly designed user interfaces found in most workplaces today, the study predicts.

“Usually companies are happy to let employees use badly designed software. We think that will change as employees will no longer put up with it,” said Horne.

Plan for retraining

IT professionals will also need to develop strong influencing and collaboration skills if they are to succeed in this new environment.

The CEB advises CIOs to create and implement a long-term workforce plan, to help them recruit the people with the business and management skills they will need. But they should also invest in retraining their existing IT staff, it says.

“We believe that these skills are teachable – it’s a fallacy that they are innate. Through coaching, providing various frameworks and models, we believe people can develop those skills,” said Horne.

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