There’s a new sheriff in town for IT teams: the customer. The State of IT report reveals IT leaders are navigating historic change driven by new customer expectations. These are the trends IT professionals should be aware of.

The global study, conducted by Salesforce Research, shows that 81% of tech leaders believe IT is entering a new era driven by customer expectations. And those customer expectations — for personal, immediate and proactive experiences — are high. In fact, 70% of consumers say technology has made it easier than ever to take their business elsewhere. Given this climate, it’s clear to see why 75% of tech leaders say IT is in the midst of the biggest historical shift of its role.

Released this month, the 2017 State of IT research report reveals what’s top-of-mind for IT leaders, based on a survey of more than 2200 technology bosses worldwide. This research offers a window into IT teams’ top challenges, strategic objectives, success metrics and more. It also takes an in-depth look at factors influencing IT industry trends.

While last year’s report revealed that a digital shake-up was imminent, this year IT is at a crossroads of change. Companies are increasingly adopting customer-centric models, at the demand of customers. Business units such as sales, customer service and marketing – tasked with creating new experiences that meet elevated customer expectations – are changing their views to see IT as a strategic business partner. IT now has the opportunity to not only improve customer-facing technology, but to transform it.

Here are four key findings from the 2017 State of IT report.

1. IT is no longer a cost centre, it’s a value-based business partner


Most IT leaders agree that the industry is experiencing the biggest historical shift of its role. Over the next 12-18 months, 71% of IT organisations will shift from being a technology-providing cost centre to a value-based service brokerage.

Today, IT is the central nervous system enabling business transformation, partnering with departments to orchestrate experiences with connected data and new capabilities.

2. Innovation is a critical priority for IT’s top-performing teams


The battle between finding time for innovation and ‘keeping the lights on’ is nothing new for IT leaders, yet business’s appetite for innovation grows stronger by the minute.

Top IT departments are 3.5x more likely than underperforming teams to say industry-disrupting innovation is a critical priority. At the same time, tech leaders are faced with critical skill gaps among staff in nearly every area of IT.

3. The speed of development cycles is both a challenge and priority


Speed is an ever-present subject for IT teams – 67% of IT leaders say improving the speed of development cycles is a high priority. And while speed is an important success metric, it’s also a top challenge.

To improve, IT leaders are exploring options such as low-code solutions and citizen development. Some concerns – namely, security and insufficient governance or training – still hold IT teams back from putting users into the driver’s seat.

4. The use of artificial intelligence (AI) is about to boom


Customers and employees alike have high expectations for the impact of AI – 75% of business buyers expect that by 2020 companies will anticipate customers’ needs and make relevant suggestions before they contact them.

Among employees, 65% agree that by 2020 AI automation and/or the assistance in work-related activities will have a major or moderate impact on daily work life at their organisation.

IT teams expect AI use to jump 30% over the next 12-18 months. While many tech teams are actively defining AI plans, fewer than 25% have comprehensively mapped their paths forward. As the AI wave gains momentum, IT teams have work to do to solidify their plans for implementation.

Similar industry studies, such as the State of Sales report, show that other business units are planning for more aggressive AI growth. For example, over the next three years sales teams expect 139% growth in the use of AI to automatically recommend products to customers based on their preferences.

To learn more about the changing role of IT in a customer-driven era and access exclusive research on how top IT teams stay ahead of the curve download the full State of IT report.