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Why IT departments must reinvent themselves: Part 1

IT departments are on the verge of being irrelevant to businesses. Increasingly, there is a need to reinvent themselves and align better with the business. The industry is at crossroads, where they need to choose between being merely seen as a cost center in the organization, and instead, take the lead to be an important and influential partner in the business.

At ThoughtWorks, we have been thinking a lot about the direction that the IT team needs to take. In the last 4-5 years, we have been continuously challenging ourselves and evolving along with our changing business.  

In this blog, I elaborate on the thought process behind this change in direction and focus and hope that it will get you thinking about the opportunities that exist for your IT departments.

IT departments need to reinvent and re-purpose themselves

Let’s think of some factors that impact the direction of IT teams so much and so often:
  • The nature of the business is changing, at a rapid pace - With the technologies in the space of Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence and  Machine Learning taking center stage, companies need to look beyond traditional ways of doing business. Technology adoption for business is no longer an afterthought, but a driving force. As an operations partner of the business, IT departments need to keep an eye on the changing nature of the business and be proactive to change and evolve along with the business.
  • IT departments have an opportunity to drive future of business - By being a partner, IT departments have an opportunity to disrupt business processes through technology led innovation. They can work with the business to identify customer needs, market trends and help in developing the right capabilities through experimentation and application of technology to their internal solutions. With technology innovation disrupting more and more businesses, IT teams can play an important part to shape the future of the organization.
  • The same work doesn’t give same value year on year - Doing the same work year on year, with the same people and teams offers diminishing returns for companies. As operating costs and people costs increase each year, companies cannot afford to spend more money for the same outcome. There is an increasing need to use technology in business and IT operations to reduce costs and bring in more efficiencies.
Having said that, we should also keep in mind the current situation of IT departments and business.
  • Finances will keep getting tighter – Just as customers ask companies to deliver more year on year with same costs, the same expectation is on IT teams as well - to deliver more without a proportionate increase in costs. IT departments need to be clever in cost optimization as their budgets do not keep up the pace with the growth and complexity of the business.
  • Value first – While people are the most important asset of organizations, the outcome is always measured in terms of the value they bring to the organization and their users. The same goes with costs and investments too, as they are always evaluated in terms of the value they generate.
Considering these situations, it becomes important for internal IT departments to continuously move up the business value chain.

Workspaces at ThoughtWorks

Let me tell you what happened with my team at ThoughtWorks (earlier known as the Offices and Devices team). We realized that the regional business paradigm is shifting and we needed to gear ourselves to support the future of business. The expectations from the immediate stakeholders were changing and the traditional way of working as support teams in isolation was no longer good enough. We needed to foster the true spirit of leadership, partnership and collaboration within and beyond our teams.

To get there, during the last few years we have:
  • Reworked our vision to focus on the ‘future of work’ and ‘strong regional IT partnership’
  • Rebranded ourselves as ‘The Workspaces’ team that allows us to go beyond previously established scope of work
  • Created smaller region-focused product teams by breaking down one big global team
  • On-boarded experienced and business-focused product owners to lead the teams into regions
  • Evolved the structure of the team to ensure that decisions are made at region level
  • Established a framework for team capability development that aligns with the vision of our team and the regional business
  • Put in place a stronger governance mechanism with the regional businesses
While there is still some way to go, these steps have helped us start moving from being a ‘business support’ team to being true business partners.   

What is the future?

The next challenge is for us to think on “How to move up from being business relevant to become business influencers?

While business support work such as help desk and customer support, laptop and office support, client project and infrastructure support is important, we can’t move ahead without changing our approach holistically and making the IT department integral to the business. The transition has not been an easy one, but this change in approach has helped us make giant strides in redefining the future of this department.

In Part 2 of this blog, I will share my thoughts and ideas on how we can transform from here to become real business influencers.