IT budgets are holding stable, and perhaps even decreasing, but they still rank in the top two or three most expensive departments within an organization.

Fifteen years ago, IT was the champion of innovation, but now some consider IT just a cost center. That does not need to be the new or final destination for IT.

As digital innovation becomes the new source of competitive advantage (rather than just price) IT has an opportunity to transform into a center for innovation rather than just a necessary expense to keep the lights on.

How we got here

If you define IT as that department which buys servers and keeps them running, then all it is to the business is a money sink.

But this is not the essence of IT.

The essence of IT is to support the digital needs and demands of the organization now and into the future. And the needs and demands of today are not just more servers.

In the face of growing digital competition, businesses need to be able to experiment with new digital products, make many small tweaks to existing products, to understand the digital behaviour of their clients, to rapidly get feedback about how their users are interacting with their digital interfaces.

So step one is to get IT out of procurement of everything with a plug, and start focusing on transitioning to an IT strategy focused on innovation.

Building a strategy

Writing procedures, buying servers, and so on, are all ways to respond to a problem. What IT needs to do is find and exploit opportunities to improve the organization and contribute to business goals, not just respond to problems. This starts with a strategy. It could be called digital transformation, or simple IT strategy. The key tenets are:

1. Stewardship: Finding ways IT can help accelerate initiatives like DevOps throughout the organization, and evangelize the value of modern tools and processes across all stakeholders.

2. Cloud and SaaS adoption: Finding ways to migrate or build hybrid environments with the cloud is going to get ahead of the inevitable. It’s a huge problem that IT is best positioned to solve. You do not want your organization to turn to tool vendors to dictate your transformation. With the help of outside domain expertise, you should be controlling the shift.

3. Automation and tools: IT should be vetting and finding the tools that developers and users in the organization are going to be leveraging. You do not want to be in the position where someone else in the organization comes to you asking for something that is going to provide tremendous value. IT should be aware of modern automation practices and the tools to execute on them. They should already know how to vet them against security and compliance and do their best to make the tools available as a library of resources for the organization. IT should want to assimilate these tools, not prevent their use.

IT should be suggesting and driving change. By bringing stewardship, cloud, automation, and tools together to help your business compete better, and maintain a strong position with end users and new customers, the IT organization immediately becomes an asset for growth.

Where to start

Getting from cost to innovation is actually not that difficult. It’s accelerated by a huge market of opportunities. A fast-moving technology market offers a ton of processes and tools to choose from. Here are some great places to start:

1. Solve a problem tomorrow: Solve a business or development problem tomorrow by identifying processes, tools, or removing an internal bottleneck that makes something easier to accomplish and/or increases quality. If you are in IT you are analytical and a tinkerer at heart. Use that to deliver value and get ahead. It might make your job more interesting.

2. Deliver wins: IT is accustomed to talking about how things were resolved, but not areas where there have been improvements. IT teams should practice communicating wins, their involvement, and how improvements in technology have helped the organization.

3. Ask questions/show interest: IT is also guilty of only caring about things that are explicitly assigned to them. Ideally, IT is facilitating success and communicating with stakeholders to find out what frustrates them. They can discuss what processes are broken, and where they think technology can help. This is a treasure trove where IT can quickly turn around ideas to improve.

4. Hire innovators: Your team and culture have a lot to do with how your department is perceived. So hire innovators. Hire talent that is used to thinking ahead, and looking for ways to perform better.

If you do not have latitude for any of the above, speak with your team about that as a challenge. And if the organization refuses, it might not be the place to grow your IT career. If your organization is committed to keeping IT as a cost center, there is not much you can do. Sometimes an outside voice will break the cycle. Many organizations just need their eyes opened and will respond to internal evangelism.

IT as a procedure and procurement department is merely a cost center. But much more broadly, IT is how the organization embraces and moves ahead with technology. There is no reason why IT organizations should be considered a cost center when it has an opportunity to be part of innovation and success.



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Benjamin Wootton

Co-Founder and CTO

Benjamin Wootton is the Co-Founder and CTO of Contino. He has worked with tens of enterprise organisations on DevOps transformation and is a hands-on DevOps engineer with expertise in cloud and containers.

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