To remain relevant, IT managers need to wake up and admit they work in business, not IT, Gartner's leading analysts said in the keynote address at the Gartner Symposium in Sydney.
"None of you are in IT; all of you are in business," said Andy Kyte, vice president and Gartner fellow.
IT has become invisible to end users and should rather be called "OT" or "operational technology", according to Kyte. At the same time, the way businesses procure technology is changing, for example software as a service is allowing technology to seep into the business beyond the IT department's control.
"So where does that leave IT professionals?" Kyte asked. "We need to ask what we do, what to achieve, what is expected of us, and how we are perceived by our peers in business," he said.
IT managers who fail to ask these questions risk becoming irrelevant to the business. In fact, the vertical market an IT manager works in — government, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, retail — is more important than the person's department, said Kyte.
Peter Sondergaard, head of research at Gartner: "IT budgets will increase in 2008, as will uncertainty and energy prices."
2008 spells boom times for the IT industry, but the economy is careening headlong into stormy weather. Gartner's research indicates the total market for IT products and services will reach $3tn (£1.5tn) in 2008, while IT budgets are expected to increase by eight percent on spends in 2007. Economic uncertainty will impact growth predictions though, which IT managers should factor into their budgets, said Sondergaard.
Rising wage bills brought by a tight labour market and higher energy prices will decrease the productivity of all projects undertaken in the coming year, Sondergaard said.
Martin Gutberlet, research vice president at Gartner: "Communications have set us free — free to work wherever we want."
Mobile phones, Skype, instant messaging, the BlackBerry, email, voicemail, the work phone and home phone are part of every worker's toolkit, but it is becoming unbearable for many people.
"Human response has become the bottleneck," said Gutberlet.
To the delight of the audience, Gutberlet, in mock rage, hurled his mobile phone at a wall after it rang, interrupting his keynote.
"We're always online, which has increased stress levels, but we can't turn back the clock. We must reduce the communications overload and support control. We can now use systems to allow control over when, by whom and how to be contacted," Gutberlet said, pointing to the emergence of unified communications technologies.
Milind Govekar, regional vice president at Gartner: "Applications have a life cycle, but they never die."
A business is a luxury cruise liner and the IT department is the boiler room, said Govekar. Meanwhile, IT managers are walking a tightrope, charged with keeping the lights on and setting the stage for innovation.
IT managers should prioritise the time spent on each application, since not all apps are made equally, and align these priorities with business objectives.
Brian Prentice, research director at Gartner: "When nirvana is an empty inbox, things are pretty tragic."
Communication is full of noise, and while workers clear the inboxes to satisfy personal objectives, by doing so they might be deleting opportunities for the business, said Prentice.
Jeff Mann, research vice president at Gartner: "We are email farmers. We spend our days weeding out email thinking that we are adding value to the organisation."
IT has excelled at soaking up money on investments in infrastructure, but what has it done to alleviate age-old demands of email overload?
Being more efficient is not the solution and business is asking IT to allow it to be innovative, however a culture of blocking technology from entering the organisation may be stifling opportunities to innovate.
While organisations are drowning in communication, children born since the rise of the web — "net natives" — are using collaboration tools to great effect in ways that "digital immigrants" are yet to imagine.
Blocking access to sites such as Bebo or MySpace only lowers the cost for business to monitor staff behaviour, but the habit may block opportunities to innovate with regards to communications.
Jay Heiser, research vice president at Gartner: "No risk, no profit — remember that security does not equal zero risk, but managing risk to a level the business considers acceptable."
For too long, IT has been the scapegoat for an issue which is actually the responsibility of business — security.
"Getting business leaders to seize the hot potato requires a fundamental change between IT and business," said Heiser.
IT can play a role, however, in exploring opportunities to mine existing repositories of data that the business collects in day-to-day business.
"Data unused is a wasted asset. Only when data is put into motion can it provide utility to the organisation. It's time to think how much information we can open up. Sure, some information types are regulated, but you can't use that as an excuse to lock down all of it," Heiser said.
To do this, however, requires business and IT to shed the zero-risk approach to information security, which dovetails into Heiser's argument that IT needs to take a more entrepreneurial approach to information.
"If there is no risk, there is no reward. This means that you must counter the risks, but understand how the business makes money," Heiser said.