Predicting the future of the IT department

Like it or not, IT directors are beginning to lose control of the IT agenda. But is that a good thing?
Written by Colin Barker, Contributor

As each day passes many IT managers feel that in some small way they lose a little bit of control of the IT agenda.

According to recent research from the IT services company Avanade, we are witnessing the end of the traditional IT manager role and the rise of the 'service broker'. This is a reflection of the changing role of IT and fits in with a theme that ZDNet had been exploring for the past several months, something we have called the battle for the soul of IT, and is worthy of further inspection.

According to the Avanade survey 79 percent of the people it surveyed who are at C-level (executives with 'chief' in their job title, such as CEO or CFO) believe that they can make better and faster decisions if they do not involve IT.

In fact, they said that a third (37 percent) of all technology spending in their organisations now happens without any involvement by the IT department. And 90 percent of companies said they now have non-IT business departments that are partially or wholly responsible for technology decisions.

With this potential loss of control on the back of shifting budgets and responsibilities, the traditional IT manager's role is vanishing to be replaced by something called a 'service broker'. According to Avanade, within this role, "IT staff consult with departments across the business to better understand their technology needs and objectives, and source internal or external IT services or partners to meet these demands".

That means a shift in focus for the IT department; they might not do all the work or have all the skills, but will have the knowledge to find that expertise and put it all together for business benefit.

More than one-third (35 percent) of companies' IT departments act primarily as services brokers today, and it seems they like it: Avanade said that among companies whose IT departments are structured this way, 58 percent report they will expand the role of IT services brokers in the next 12 months.

Additionally, 68 percent of companies report their IT department is contributing more to accomplishing business objectives than they did three years ago.

Avoid a "two speed" strategy of fast and slow lanes.

One of the big issues that the research highlighted is the danger that companies will adopt a "two speed" IT strategy. The old legacy systems will continue to distract the agenda for IT staff; some 36 percent of IT staff’s time is currently spent managing and maintaining legacy systems, so IT staff must balance the support of legacy systems with the need to continuously innovate in order to stay ahead of the competition. 

Still, if you see something that is perhaps a little demeaning in the title 'service broker' then don't worry about it: nobody uses the term, according to Avanade's CTO, Mark Corley. "I don't know of anyone who actually calls himself, or herself, a service broker, but the fact is that that is exactly what IT managers are becoming."

As Corley sees it, where IT managers' lives were once very easily defined — they ran IT — they are now anything but. "Now there are a range of different categories all of which an IT manager will be responsible for managing to a greater or lesser extent and that has to be established."

And yet, the IT manager's role is unique, according to Corley. "The IT manager's job is changing faster than any other role within organisations," he said. "This is because companies are on the one hand becoming increasingly dependent on IT and on the other are seeing more and more opportunities that IT can offer."

What this means, according to Corley, is that these are challenging and exciting times to be in IT and IT managers just need to understand the challenges they face, what they need to face them and the willpower to do it. A summary of the research, carried out with just over 1,000 business and IT execs, can be found here.

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