IT: Business as Usual, or The Next Epic Change?

Change is constant in IT. But every so often, a wave of change rolls in that fundamentally reorients the profession. Are we on the crest of such a wave today?

Changes of this magnitude tend to come along roughly once each generation:

  • 1953: transistors began replacing vacuum tubes in computers, ushering in the semiconductor age.
  • 1973: Bob Metcalfe invented Ethernet, which enabled computers to be connected in local area networks (LANs).
  • 1993: the Mosaic web browser was released, the “first commercial software that allowed graphical access to content on the internet.” That was also the year that CERN made the World Wide Web available to the world free of charge. Though the Web was technically three years old at this point, Mosaic and CERN opened it up to non-technical users.
  • 2013…the “consumerization” of technology?

Are the changes unfolding in IT today simply evolutionary developments, or are we in the midst of a dawn-of-a-new-era-type environment? There are indications from a number of vantage points that the latter may be the case. Consider the signals pertaining to:

Is the next revolution in IT at hand?Technology: mobile online access has overtaken the desktop. According to eMarketer, “for the first time this year, time spent on non-voice mobile activities will surpass time spent online on desktop and laptop computers.”

Application development: both commercial and internal business app developers are increasing building new software in the cloud. While most of the potential still lies ahead, TechTarget has stated that “Ultimately, the cloud will be an instrument in the transformation of consumer behavior and worker productivity, and the seeds for both these revolutions will be sown in 2013.”

Demographics: as the first generation to have grown up with digital and online technologies, millennials are now entering the workforce in large numbers and with a different set of expectations than their professional predecessors. Millennials, a.k.a. Gen Y, expect applications to be easy to use, social, and mobile. But perhaps the biggest change is that this is the first generation of employees to arrive at work with better technology that what their employers have to offer, a huge driver behind the BYOD trend.

IT: the most compelling indication of a tectonic shift in technology, however, comes from IT leaders themselves. At the recent Fusion 13 Conference, a group of 21 senior technology leaders agreed that current IT operating models are broken, and issued a Service Management Call to Action proclaiming that “The Service Management community MUST change. A fundamental transformation is needed.”

Powerful evidence. How should IT groups proceed given these conditions? If the current shifts are indeed a new inflection point rather than just evolutionary developments, then a fundamental reorientation of IT practices, as yet to be defined, will need to emerge. But regardless, here are a few practical steps that can be taken today to adapt to the waves of change washing over IT and business:

  • Redesign processes from the end user perspective. Rather than creating processes that are most convenient for service-delivery groups, start with the goal of a “delighted customer” then work backwards, automating processes along the way, wherever possible, to optimize efficiency and accuracy.
  • Implement new service models such as enterprise request management (ERM) for service requests and schedule-based rather than queue-based service delivery. Both approaches improve the service experience for an increasing mobile workforce.
  • Adapt to revolutionary times with gradual change. Despite the current scope and pace of changing user expectations, big-bang “rip and replace” responses are not helpful; not only is this enormously costly, it also inevitably involves unforeseen delays and business disruption. Instead, utilize agile service request management and “lightweight” business process automation (BPA) to gradually design, test, tweak, deploy, measure and optimize new processes, starting with those that are most common or painful and gradually increasing the portfolio of services covered.
  • Recognize the need for business change, not just IT change. Increasing “consumerization” type expectations impact departments and functions across organizations, not just IT groups. IT is in an ideal position, however, to help other functional groups adapt to these changing expectations, for example by extending the concept of IT service catalogs across the enterprise, to HR, facilities, finance, and other shared services groups. The tools used should empower business process managers in any part of the organization to design and optimize their own processes, with minimal assistance from IT.

What’s clear is that IT groups need to shed their old image of being “defensive, late, overpriced, uninformed and unhelpful.” IT must adapt to the changes noted above, and others, continuing to provide the business with “guide rails” in areas like cloud computing and BYOD (for security and cost reasons) without imposing a straightjacket of control.

Evolution or revolution—where do you think the industry stands today?