Technology is king, so why are so many IT departments playing backseat roles?

Today’s IT departments face an identity crisis. Technology is an integral part of every single business process, and has come to dominate the lives of consumers who are routinely shopping online, downloading information, and browsing the Internet.
Yet ironically, in an era when technology rules, IT departments are losing ground fast:  The forces of cloud computing, social media, and information management are evolving rapidly, and business managers are discovering and adopting new technology before IT departments even have a chance to master it. Gartner Research predicts that by 2015, 35 percent of most companies’ technology-related expenditures will be managed outside the IT department’s budget.
In order to thrive and have an impact in today’s businesses, IT departments must stay relevant. They must become service-oriented organizations. That means deploying user-centric and agile solutions that meet the business needs of the organization and individual departments. That means delivering IT as a Service (ITaaS), and becoming a team of service-oriented experts.

SaaS: An often too-quick fix

The increased availability of Software as a Service applications (SaaS) makes it easy for individual departments to “go rogue” within an organization. Employees sign up for inexpensive outside-the-firewall public-cloud SaaS apps because they are convenient, easy-to-use, and address immediate needs – and because they believe they can meet their business needs better and faster than their IT department.
But users inevitably run into problems and end up going to IT for help. They may need to integrate the public-cloud application with another internal service, and/or import or export data. Then IT staff find themselves in an awkward position. They have to quickly master the application, understand the problem, and solve it. Along the way, they will likely identify risks associated with the use of this product – including critical security issues. Had they been involved right from the start, they could have provided real strategic value instead of simply putting out fires.

The lure of the public cloud

Likewise, developers are under the gun to conceive, prototype, and test applications, and then to get them into production. They often turn to public cloud providers for initial prototyping, testing, and even final deployment. The cloud offers a easy, self-service platform that developers can control and works the same across the development, testing, staging and live deployment phases. This practice relegates the IT department to the sidelines, and can minimize its value to that of maintaining legacy systems and infrastructure.

Breaking the vicious cycle

IT departments that remain passive legacy-system babysitters will be caught in a vicious cycle. Today, it is the CIO’s responsibility to bring awareness in the organization about the hidden dangers of decentralizing IT. There are four major ways to elevate IT’s role within the business, transforming it from being an old-school roadblock to a visionary service-oriented enabler:

  • Be proactive to build internal relationships. The IT department is uniquely fundamental across all areas of an organization, and must capitalize on that. IT staff must show others how well it understands the business, helps users visualize what is possible, and how IT will enable them to achieve their goals.
  • Evangelize how central IT safely, responsibly and responsively serves the organization. If business departments are implementing a SaaS app to solve a problem or if developers are deploying code to a public cloud during prototyping and testing, the IT department should, for instance, demonstrate how the cloud can be unpredictable in accessibility and performance, and be rife with security issues. Make the case that IT always puts the business first, safely and securely.
  • Become SaaS experts. Even if a department is convinced that a public-cloud SaaS app can solve a specific need, it is critical for IT to be involved from the beginning. The requesting department can judge which apps can best solve their problem and provide the most value, but IT can consider the security, governance, and interoperability angles.
  • Provide a self-service platform for the company’s developers. A good enterprise-ready Platform as a Service (PaaS) will convert a static infrastructure into a dynamic powerhouse. An enterprise-ready PaaS will support any application written in any language and framework on any infrastructure that IT has access to. From development through production, the developers can control a self-service platform, which is safe and secure.

The new IT: Win-Win-Win

This new service-oriented central IT model can deliver new  benefits, including lower costs (by eliminating duplicate projects among different departments), more interoperability between differing SaaS applications, improved cohesion among departments, and reduced security risks.
Faster time to market for internal applications dramatically impacts the development side in an organization. An enterprise PaaS provides a common platform environment throughout the cycle and eliminates inconsistencies between development and final deployment. With PaaS, developers can now use the “right tool for the right job,” because any language and framework can be deployed in production.
Bart Copeland is CEO of ActiveState. You can read his blog posts here; follow him on Twitter @Bart_Copeland.
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