CIOs beware: IT teams are changing

As IT roles become more strategic and pivotal to organizational success, how should CIOs adapt? Consider this expert leadership advice
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The pandemic accelerated a trend that CIOs long knew was coming: Technology is the linchpin of a successful organization, and it is the IT team’s responsibility to manage it effectively whether the landscape is in-office, hybrid, or remote. As with any evolution, traditional IT functions such as answering support tickets, patchworking systems, and making ad hoc changes to end-user software are no longer the primary focus of their roles.

In 2021, 94% of IT professionals agreed that their roles and responsibilities have moved away from simply provisioning IT equipment and are now focused on providing solutions that promote employee collaboration and productivity. This research highlights that only 40 percent of an IT professional’s day is spent on “keeping the lights on” – software upgrades, troubleshooting requests, etc. The rest of their day is spent developing larger organizational strategies and employee experience tasks.

IT roles are changing – now what?

The role of IT is shifting to be more strategy-oriented, innovative, and proactive. No longer can days be spent responding to issues – instead, issues must be addressed before they impact employees, and solutions should be developed to ensure they don’t return.

What does this look like? Rather than waiting for an employee to flag an issue within their system – such as recurring issues with connectivity, slow computer start time, etc. – IT can identify potential threats to workflows before they happen. They plug the holes, then they establish a strategy and framework to avoid the problem entirely in the future. In short, IT plays a critical role in successful workplace flow in both a proactive and reactive way.

IT plays a critical role in successful workplace flow in both a proactive and reactive way.

For those looking to start a career in IT, the onus falls on them to make suggestions and changes that look holistically at the organization and how employees interact within it. IT teams are making themselves strategic assets by thinking through how to make things more efficient and cost-effective in the long term.

For example, Gartner research found that IT spending will increase 5.1% in 2023, even amid economic hard times. They predict this spending will focus on software updates, IT services, data center systems, and communications services – but it is not a “one-size-fits-all” prediction. It is IT’s job to identify their organization’s key digital priorities, set the appropriate budget and timelines, and strategize long-term for the investments now that will make the most difference for years to come.

For example, if a massive hardware refresh is scheduled, but budgets will not cover the refresh in full, IT is in a strategic position to identify which devices can get new RAM or other updates to extend their life and save the business money in the short term.

[ Also read 6 soft skills IT leaders should prioritize. ]

How should CIOs respond?

CIOs have a tremendous influence on how their organization functions and how prepared they are for the future. Not only do they set the strategic tone for digital transformation, but they also set the tone for how their teams respond to the ever-changing technology landscape and approach strategic challenges. They are constantly looking at how employees’ work can be improved with technology and planning how they will work in the future to ensure their organizations can keep up.

As a CIO, the best way to adapt to the changing IT landscape is to prioritize your team’s development in the soft skills needed to complement their technical work, such as interpersonal communication, leadership, teamwork across silos, and strategic problem-solving. IT teams have their hands in HR-related, operational, and financial tasks to ensure the entire organization feels their work’s impact. By offering regular training and briefings for their teams, you can ensure that your employees can think holistically about their decisions and tasks.

Most importantly, foster strategic, organization-wide thinking from your team. Consider the entire workflow of the employee you are helping and whether this problem could affect others in the organization. Brainstorm ways to prevent the problem from happening again.

Changing mindsets will serve your team well in their career advancement and enhance the next generation of executive-level IT personnel. The most successful CIOs will foster the drive in their team and give them the training and guidance necessary to be strategic leaders.

Embrace the shift away from reactive IT services to IT’s role as a strategic leader. IT is positioned to become one of the most important drivers of innovation within their organizations. The working world will never be 100 percent in-office again, so it’s time for IT teams to optimize digital working conditions and strategize long-term.

[ Don’t try to recreate what was normal before the pandemic. Learn from leading CIOs in a new report from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services: Maintaining Momentum on Digital Transformation. ]

Jon Cairns is VP of Technical Services at Nexthink. Jon has over 20 years of experience in the technology industry, having held various leadership roles across consulting, presales, sales, and marketing.