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Ever since time began, or at least ever since commercial computing started, the IT profession has suffered from something of a prestige deficit. Indeed, it is fair to say that in most organisations IT does not have anything remotely resembling a good reputation. At best, IT is invisible. At worst, IT is ridiculed and subjected to the threat of outsourcing. What can be done to improve this untenable situation?
I was recently giving a keynote presentation at a conference in the centre of London. I had been briefed that the audience consisted of non-IT professionals working in a particular industry sector. After establishing that there really was no-one working in a traditional IT support role I asked a very simple question: Do you trust your IT departments? The answer was an emphatic no. Only one member of the conference chose to answer positively.
This situation is not uncommon and it should be alarming to anyone working in IT. In fact it should be alarming to anyone in business! It is almost universally agreed that business operations today rely on the IT infrastructure to such a degree that it is almost impossible to work without the computing systems functioning well. With such a degree of dependence how can organisations hope to operate as effectively as possible without trusting one of its core suppliers?
The reasons lie in the history of computing operations. In the past, IT frequently operated almost as a stand-alone entity, more concerned with installing systems and then keeping them up and running in the face of many challenges, both technical and procedural. Today, the majority of IT platforms are far more robust, despite the astounding complexity of much of the infrastructure deployed. However, business continues to demand better levels of IT service at lower cost.
Cost cutting can only go so far before any further budget reductions result in service degradation. Such a point has now been reached in very many organisations. The future role of IT support organisations, in an era of ‘flexible IT’, will be to refocus on the value that IT delivers to business operations and find new opportunities to supply additional business value and benefits.
This means that IT professionals must now learn new skills, more particularly new ‘people skills’. The time has come to market the business benefits and value achieved directly and indirectly through IT. If such marketing does not take place IT will still only be visible when things go wrong. This places an onus on senior IT management to engage in a dialogue with the business customers they support. To begin to garner some trust, it is essential that all aspects of IT operations become more transparent to the rest of the enterprise.
IT transparency must not be regarded by professionals as a threat. It is, in fact, a significant opportunity to help reposition IT at the centre of the business consciousness and begin to establish a level of trust rarely seen before. It is also a chance for IT professionals to enhance their own career opportunities by being seen as vital members of the enterprise.