17 Feb Technology versus the business! Is the battle over?
We all know technology changes constantly and nothing seems likely to slow the rate of change. But I think our perception of technology is changing too. When I started my career in IT back in the early 1990s, the worlds of business and IT were seen as two distinct entities. In the earlier years I recall many IT leaders telling me how the business didn’t understand IT with accusations flying around that heads of business didn’t appreciate the significance of the role played by technology. Today I think the demarcation between business and technology is less clear. Many heads of business realise that their data is their greatest asset and that their people become more productive as their access to it becomes better. The need for technology to make this possible is no longer likely to be in question.
In fact the challenge facing IT now is the business doing its own thing with technology. Consumerisation of IT is well documented and I recall a meeting I attended in 2013 in which the IT Director of a relatively small business was arguing against a business leader who thought he would see improvements if they outsourced some of their IT services to cloud providers. The key point here being the business leader wanted to take control and authority away from the IT Director for these newly delivered services. Let’s make no mistake, despite the merging of the business world and IT world, the relationships between their respective leaders can still be strained! This is an area where effective communication is the key. In my experience businesses with IT represented on the board tend to be the ones with tight integration where IT services are of a high standard.
Businesses have been dependent on technology for many years so I’m not suggesting this is new. My point is the realisation that technology now lives seamlessly within our personal daily processes. For example, when I first started using a PC in the 90s I used to print documents for review but now I do everything on the screen. The thought of printing a document for review now seems cumbersome and inefficient. In the same way, there is a shift to people taking notes on a tablet in a meeting versus those with a pad and pen. Mobile apps will only increase the amount of things we do where a device and software become key to the completion of processes that used to be manual. Consider for example the signing of a contract. It is no longer necessary to print, sign, scan, PDF and email a contract. It can be signed digitally and this can also be done from a smartphone or tablet within a secure container on the device so no matter how sensitive the content, the data remains secure.
When mobile phones started to arrive in larger numbers they were seen as secondary to our desk or home phones; only to be used when we were somewhere else. Now they are our primary means of communication and physical phones are quickly becoming a thing of the past. I read recently that job applicants who include a landline number on their CVs can be at a disadvantage because it makes them appear old-fashioned and behind the curve. When employers are looking for modern, forward thinking employees these are the signs that can make all the difference. Taking this a stage further, Ricoh is a pioneer of new ways of working which sets out to drive up productivity and improve workspace efficiency. This means our offices are equipped with hot-desks for everyone including our CEO and the board of directors. There are no physical phones in sight and Ricoh’s unified communications technology blends remote document collaboration seamlessly with video conferencing. Barriers that used to limit communication between directors and staff are reduced.
There are other signs of the change in how we treat technology. In schools Information Communications Technology is increasingly taught in each subject rather than being taught separately. In a similar way, I wonder if we will reach the point where people won’t say they work in IT anymore? The signs are already there to support this, for example, the responsibility for data security used to be with the IT Director, CIO or someone reporting to them. Increasingly this falls to the role of the Chief Information Security Officer whose position could well be independent of the CIO or IT department.
I’ve spent the last few years specialising in mobile computing to include wireless network infrastructure, voice over wireless, mobile task-management, mobile device management and more recently mobile document collaboration through Ricoh’s relationship with Good Technology. Going mobile offers many attractive opportunities for businesses if adopted effectively and safely. Why do I still say I work in IT? Perhaps I should say I work in mobile productivity enablement?
So, in closing, I don’t know if the battle between business and IT is over. In some businesses there never was a battle in the first place. Conversely I’m sure that in others relations remain strained like the business I met in 2013. All too often there is a fine-line between effective IT and fire-fighting with the difference often down to the business and IT working together….or not! It also helps if technology companies and service providers are strategic partners and not just suppliers. I find my customer contacts are no longer exclusively the CIO or Head of IT but also Commercial Directors, Operations Directors, Marketing Directors and other heads of business.