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5 (more) new realities IT must learn to accept

EducationEvery new tech trend comes with varying levels of acceptance among IT departments. When the web first rolled around, some recognized its value and jumped on board. Others sat back and waited. I’ve noticed similar responses to the recent major trends, like mobile and cloud computing.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you which trends to adopt and which to ignore. After all, every company has different needs.

However, I’d like to take a step beyond the recent trends, and focus instead on the new “realities” brought about by these trends. What’s the difference between a trend and a reality? While you can choose whether or not to adopt a trend, realities aren’t up for debate. They’re happening, whether you like it or not. You can’t sit back and see what others are doing. You must adapt.

So, what are these new realities? While this isn’t an exhaustive list, here are 5 realities to which IT departments must adapt:

1. Employees will choose experience over compliance

In an article from last week, I shared some interesting statistics about the decline of the human attention span. As we become surrounded with more and more stimuli, our attention spans have dropped by 4 seconds over the last 13 years.

While attention spans have dropped, intuitive mobile apps and cloud-based services have risen. Users have options–and lots of them. If an app is too confusing, or not immediately obvious, they’ll drop it for one that is.

For IT departments, these statistics have serious implications. As attention spans fall and the number of quality mobile apps and third-party cloud services rise, users are less likely to stick with IT-approved solutions that they find confusing–even if they are “required.”

“Establishing compliance rules for device & data usage is key — however, your employees are going to choose the solution that works most effortlessly for them,” says Tim Webb, Director of Innovation and Sales Strategy, Genuitec. “The advent of mobile everywhere, and BYOD has ensured that we become lazy creatures. When there is an app that makes something simple, we flock. IT departments must embrace this and provide excellent experiences, and understand that the walled garden is no longer that green.”

2. Company data has moved beyond the firewall

Many companies have shied away from the cloud in the name of security. They don’t like the idea of their data residing outside of their own firewall.

The problem is, it already does. Company data is already living beyond the firewall–on employee devices, in third-party cloud services, and in cloud storage options. The reality is, your data is slowly moving outside of the company walls, and is become harder and harder to control.

“The benefits of technologies like Dropbox and Google Drive provide to employees are huge — no longer can users collaborate effectively with external customers / partners if they are locked down to only use corporate sanctioned services,” says Webb. “Embracing and providing policies around data usage are key to maintaining effective employees. Whether it be employees expecting to easily use Gmail to check their mail and accidentally keeping an external history of all email, or using technical exchanges on Stack Overflow accidentally sharing stack traces, there are huge productivity benefits to enabling employees to leverage the cloud, often with them forgetting about all those well set plans you established.”

The big question: How can you secure data if users sneak it outside of the firewall without your knowledge? I believe this first comes down to understanding why users feel the need to bypass IT in the first place. Figure out what they’re trying accomplish, and why they can’t accomplish that task using approved IT methods. Then you’ll have a better understanding of how to meet that need in a secure manner.

3. IT’s role has shifted to “technology enabler”

In the past, IT departments controlled technology. Business users requested solutions from IT, who then either created or obtained the new solutions. These days, as technology becomes simpler and more accessible to everyone, IT’s role is shifting. No longer the technology gatekeeper, IT must shift into the role of technology enabler–helping the business make the most of the readily available technology.

“A fundamental shift is for IT to understand that it is NOT about building IT capabilities anymore, but to help and advise and realize how IT capabilities can help and transform the business they are supporting to generate increased and new customer value,” says Mark Mueller-Eberstein, a best-selling author, Professor at Rutgers University Center for Management Development, and CEO & Founder of Adgetec Corporation. “Realizing the value of technologies in a very timely manner is already and will be even more a business success factor. If the IT department doesn’t fill the role, more and more IT decisions will be made by (IT educated or experienced) business function owners and not the traditional IT leadership.”

4. To be successful, IT must market itself

One problem with working in IT is that your work often goes unnoticed–until something breaks. What if your IT department built the perfect solution, improved the company’s bottom line, and delivered every project under budget and on time? If you don’t communicate these facts to the business side, they might not even notice.

“Based on input from Wisegate members, who are movers and shakers in IT, we see the need for skills that are outside the technical,” says Sara Gates, Founder and CEO of Wisegate. “More than ever, successful IT managers and execs (because of the change we are seeing in how businesses use technology) have to be salespeople, marketers, communicators, influencers. And that means pitching, messaging, giving presentations and knowing how to work through influence. No technical degree in the world is going to prepare someone for that.”

This is especially important in today’s world of readily available technology. While IT departments may feel uncomfortable promoting their accomplishments, understand that you’re now competing with outside products and services–who promote their benefits constantly. If the business doesn’t recognize your efforts, they’re more likely to bypass the IT department for another service.

5. The need for quantification is rising

As we generate more and more data, we’re living in a world where technology can now quantify many aspects of your life. “Smart” accessories can tell you how many calories you’ve burned, how far you’ve walked, how well you sleep, and so on. As more and more objects become web-enabled, we’ll see this trend explode. Pretty soon, we’ll measure nearly everything.

For IT departments who already struggle to measure the value they deliver, this presents a problem. Consumers are starting to expect the same level of measurement they receive from other services.

“Service providers like Facebook, Twitter, Simple Bank and other consumer focusing services have started sharing a look back view of customers data,” says Chris Dancy, Data Exhaust Cartographer, @servicesphere. “What I call ‘Perspective as a service,’ IT Departments of the future will have to allow customers to view their interactions in a way that is flattering to the customer. We can no longer have portals that just reflect a history of problems and request. Consumers want to quantify their relationship. The age of the quantified enterprise IT department is here.”

The problem is, traditional IT departments don’t provide much measurement outside of open/closed ticket requests. Users can’t go back and quantify the value received from the IT department, because it typically isn’t measured. As users become accustomed to measuring everything about their lives, they’ll come to expect the same level of quantification from their IT department. If it doesn’t exist, they’ll turn to services that provide the information they seek.

So, what do you think? Would you add any “realities” to that list? If so, I’d love to hear in the comments.