The future of IT: decentralization and collaboration

As more organizations move toward a hybrid IT model, collaboration between IT and non-IT employees is paramount. Consider this expert advice
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Last year, MIT researcher Joe Peppard penned a contentious Wall Street Journal op-ed suggesting that organizations eliminate their IT departments. He explains that the IT department started as a relatively autonomous entity, existing primarily to keep corporate systems functioning and networks secure.

Today, Peppard posits, and I agree, that the digital-first landscape calls for a more pervasive, porous IT department – with tentacles throughout the org chart.

That said, I disagree with Peppard’s notion that the centralized IT department is obsolete. The IT department shouldn’t be dismantled; it should evolve into a hybrid model – like cloud deployment models – that fits specific business needs.

Organizations need centralized IT departments, but they also need IT to address specialized business-driven needs that may arise unexpectedly in functional areas. For example, marketing and sales may require using no-code/low-code application development environments to respond rapidly to market opportunities. Picking a number in the corporate IT queue would miss the opportunity completely.

[ Also read 8 bad communication habits to break in IT. ]

According to our recent global survey, the decentralization of IT departments is very much on the rise. Nearly three-quarters of IT decision-makers in North America report that their organization has successfully decentralized its IT structure. However, they also say that their organization faces challenges if it continues to decentralize. Thus, most IT decision-makers believe that Peppard’s push for a decentralized IT department is rather precarious. Instead, the answer lies in creating a hybrid (distributed, part-centralized) IT entity – one that collaborates well with all the other departments.

To install a hybrid IT model effectively, it’s important to have strong collaboration between IT personnel and non-IT employees. Here are four tips to get you started.

1. Technological literacy and collaboration is increasing

Since the start of the pandemic, collaboration between IT personnel and members of other departments has been increasing. Two trends are occurring simultaneously:

  • IT technology proliferates throughout organizations
  • The technological literacy of non-IT employees is increasing

There has also been an increase in the use of no-code and low-code tools in a more decentralized, hybrid work environment. Most non-IT personnel are using their own devices and applications to do work that was historically reserved for IT personnel.

We can expect these trends to continue. Moreover, IT budgets are not shrinking. Despite the looming recession, companies are continuing to spend on IT tools.

2. IT personnel are partners, not gatekeepers

As the role of IT evolves and collaboration increases, IT leaders are increasingly working as partners – rather than technology gatekeepers – with department heads. This collaboration and decentralization of IT across the enterprise gives employees self-sufficiency and autonomy when making technology decisions for their departments. They no longer depend on the IT team for their process automation, tool choices, or technology operations.

However, IT personnel must collaborate with these departments to provide oversight and drive additional value upstream to the business. Furthermore, technical training is needed to ensure that employees are interacting with the technology safely and efficiently.

3. Low-code and no-code app development is here to stay

We’re seeing a rise in the creation and use of low and no-code application development, and increasingly, more non-IT personnel are building tools for corporate business use. This can be attributed, in part, to the well-documented skills shortages in the tech industry. With many enterprises unable to hire application and platform developers, non-IT personnel are picking up the slack and building out tools themselves.

However, this democratization of IT tools isn’t without risk. If IT personnel cannot monitor exactly which applications are being used on the corporate network, the organization potentially leaves itself vulnerable to attacks. IT personnel must remain in the loop, ensuring that low-code and no-code tools are created safely and securely.

As more workers use these low-code and no-code tools, IT personnel must be available for advice and consultation. Our survey found that nearly all (98 percent) IT decision-makers say that at least one department needs more technical skills training. Marketing (52 percent), finance (45 percent), and sales (43 percent) departments are especially in need of this training; ironically, these teams are among the most likely to use low-code and no-code application development tools. This suggests that these teams are misusing or under-utilizing these technologies and need greater support from IT.

4. Educating employees about attack methods is essential 

IT personnel must clarify to all employees which applications are allowed on the corporate network. Employees should always inform IT personnel about their use of non-sanctioned applications and devices. If employees are downloading non-sanctioned apps and using non-sanctioned devices to access the corporate network, the IT department may have trouble preventing malware from accessing the network.

When employees are open and honest about the devices and applications they use, it is much easier for IT personnel to mitigate rogue downloads and keep the network safe.

Also, with social engineering efforts on the rise, IT must teach all other employees about popular attack methods, such as phishing and business email compromise. If IT personnel can make non-IT employees aware of such attacks, the overall business will be less likely to suffer attacks and data breaches. Such continued collaboration will be extremely important in the coming year. Privacy and regulatory compliance are no longer corporate options.

Once an isolated department predominately concerned with network security, internal support, and software procurement, today’s IT personnel increasingly interact with other departments. This is a positive development. Widespread technological literacy and increased collaboration are concurrent trends.

I believe the future is in the hybrid model. Technological literacy through collaboration is vital in this new decentralized, democratized IT landscape.

[ Discover how priorities are changing. Get the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services report: Maintaining momentum on digital transformation. ]

Vijay Sundaram is Chief Strategy Officer at Zoho where he is also responsible for the partner and channel program. He is a prior entrepreneur and company founder, in cloud supply chain software, mobile advertising technology, and renewable energy. He has led products, sales, business development, and finance teams within these organizations.