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Understanding the IT Paradox

By Simon Michie, Chief Technology Officer

Traditionally IT has been regarded as a function that keeps businesses running. Anyone working in IT might tell you otherwise, but until recently this has been the purpose that IT teams have been associated with. However, with digital transformation rapidly climbing to the top of the agenda for many organisations, spurred on even more by Covid-19, IT teams are also being expected to help drive the business forward through technological innovation.

The struggle to balance support and innovation has created a confused sense of purpose for IT teams. This paradox poses a risk to IT’s ability to both support the business and deliver meaningful digital transformation projects. In recognition of this, we recently commissioned a study of 201 IT decision-makers and 200 business leaders in UK mid-sized companies (200-2,500 employees) to understand whether it’s time for the IT function to renew its core purpose and who, other than the CIO, can bring the technology function back together with the business support and innovation imperatives.

Here are our key takeaways from the research report: The IT Paradox: Balancing support and innovation.

  1. From ‘Information and Technology’ to ‘Innovation and Transformation’

IT decision-makers and business leaders are in close agreement that their organisations see IT as an enabler facilitating innovation and driving the achievement of business goals, signalling that the purpose of IT is now largely to facilitate innovation and transformation.

Nearly half of IT decision-makers believe IT should be responsible for innovation and over half of business leaders see innovation as the main value of IT. However, that’s not to say its historic function is forgotten, with a large percentage of IT decision-makers and business leaders still seeing IT’s primary role as either a help desk and technical support function or to be responsible for maintaining and running business-critical systems.

Clearly IT has a new sense of direction as the driver of innovation across the business, but it hasn’t shaken its traditional function of keeping the business running and IT teams are having to strike a balance between these two roles.

  1. Boardroom influence and authority over budgets

According to our research, the majority of mid-sized companies now have an IT representative on the board and have been given more authority when it comes to approving spend. Boardroom influence and autonomy over departmental budgets for IT leaders are both clear signs that IT is now regarded as key to the direction of the business rather than just a function that keeps technologies and systems ticking over day-to-day. As transformation projects become increasingly important, IT leaders are being called upon to help steer the business strategy from a technology perspective.

  1. Rising expectations as new business challenges emerge

However, as the importance of IT grows and the remit of the role involves, so too is the pressure on IT teams. The vast majority of IT decision-makers say their organisation’s expectations of IT have increased in the last 12 months, with areas such as improving security and compliance, working with more areas of the business and supporting and having knowledge of a broader range of technologies key areas of pressure.As a result, nearly two thirds of IT decision-makers admitted to feeling under increasing pressure to keep their organisation running effectively in the last 12 months (outside of COVID-19) and for the majority this has had a negative personal impact.

It’s clear that IT has a new purpose. Business leaders and IT decision-makers see IT as the driver of innovation but also acknowledge that it must balance this with being the ‘caretaker’ of technology and systems. IT teams should feel empowered by this new recognition, but business leaders need to consider the impact on their IT departments as they attempt to balance both their new and existing purposes.

Want to learn more about the research results and how IT departments across the UK are faring? Download the full report here.

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