Industry Stories — 19 September 2016

From IT Sentry to Technology Superhero

Almost every good superhero tale starts with some kind of transformation. Peter Parker is bitten by a GM spider and soon finds himself blessed with the super strength and climbing abilities of a Spiderman; Carol Danvers becomes Captain Marvel after being exposed to an alien explosion. Though hopefully not as dramatic, the time has come for the transformation of another unassuming character – the IT director.

Silicon Valley innovators like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Tim Cook are driving a revolution in consumer and enterprise technology that is having a huge impact on user behaviour and the opportunities for organisations. Users, enlightened by the supreme usability of consumer technology, have fundamentally raised their expectations of what they can and should have at work.

To date, IT leaders have had to be the gatekeepers, keeping the company doors firmly closed against the unauthorised use of consumer technologies that frequently offer a better experience than company-approved software. But, with the maturation of a new wave of enterprise technology companies, IT leaders are now able to undergo their own transformation – from IT sentries to technology superheroes. This means the ability to say ‘yes’ a lot more than before, but in a way that doesn’t compromise organisational security.

Saying ‘yes’ is one thing, but today’s IT superhero needs more than just a positive disposition. Based on the conversations we’ve been having with IT decision makers every day for the last eight years, here are five of the superpowers that we think define today’s empowered IT lead:

  1. Super hearing –  According to IDC, today’s businesses are beset by shelfware, with 93% stating that it is a problem in their organisations. Frequently, well-meaning plans to improve organisations through technology are foiled by investing in clunky or unwanted tools. Often this is due to seeing the technology as the solution, rather than first working to understand users, their needs and workflows. IT heroes need to listen to the users and shape IT strategies that truly meet their needs: providing the tools that will help them be more effective and eliminate wasted time.
  2. X-ray visionBrian Brackenborough, CISO at Channel 4, argues that consumer technology has outpaced corporate alternatives for some time. As a result, the users have taken charge, ushering in the age of “new IT” with a wave of off-piste IT usage. The traditional approach is to lockdown and crack-down on unapproved tools to secure borders and prevent data loss. However, changing the setting from ‘lockdown’ to ‘nurture’ makes it easier to secure usage as users don’t feel the need to hide their productivity tools, which ultimately boosts adoption and general satisfaction. Today’s super technologists want to see what is happening behind the scenes, so they can understand what is gaining traction and invest appropriately.
  3. Spider sense – IT leaders are finding that blanket bans on new IT will often lead to more security problems than they solve. Like it or not, users will always find new ways to subvert best-laid plans, usually by going outside the walls of the corporate IT fortress. To stop employees seeking loopholes you, the IT superhero, needs to be able to look at security from a user perspective, sense the likely impact of changes, and create an enlightened strategy that works for all.
  4. Extreme flexibility – With the advent of cloud, IT leaders are becoming more agile and spending less time ‘keeping the lights on’ (Gartner expects this to account for less than 40% of CIO’s time), freeing them up to take a more strategic role, to the benefit of the business. It is impossible to overstate the importance of technology in shaping most organisations’ futures, and the IT head can and should be at the centre of this change. Heroic IT used to be about bringing a dying server back to life at the 11th hour; today’s IT hero can both enable and drive strategic success, by brokering the latest powerful technologies.
  5. Super strength – With the growing strategic role of the IT leader, those who position themselves well will become an increasingly powerful figure in their organisations. In the past, the main reason to check-in with IT was when something wasn’t working; now Gartner expects CIOs to spend more than a quarter of their time working with other C-suite executives. The IT leader has an opportunity to become the true go-to advisor to help all functions succeed. The technology hero can work seamlessly across businesses, advising leaders and supporting the organisation on their increasingly broad shoulders.

There was a time when the IT department was seen as something to be left to its own devices, but those days are long gone. As the battle against shelfware, IT threats, and wasted investment intensifies, leaders must conquer their fear of the unknown and start to forge a new role in their organisations. A much more positive and exciting era for business technology is right around the corner and it will be driven by a new wave of true enterprise IT superheroes.

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