For as long as organizations have relied on computer technology, IT departments have been the backbone of the business digital infrastructure. From corporate giants with thousands of interconnected digital systems, to smaller businesses operating across a handful of desktop and mobile devices, IT plays an essential role in driving technological innovation and upkeep. However, for all of its widespread applicability, these same IT departments have traditionally been viewed as separate from overall business strategy.

IT was given the responsibility of handling essential business technologies. Email accounts, websites, digital tools, applications, and so on all fell under the umbrella term of “information technology,” and all were placed in the care of IT departments. However, as essential as these various responsibilities are, information technology hasn’t generally been considered profitable, at least not directly. Instead, these tools and systems have often been thought of as cost centers — the cost of doing business in a digital world.

However, new advances are changing all of that.

Today’s digital business tools are capable of so much more than just crunching numbers and managing appointments. In every team, department, and business, employees rely on IT to help them stay up to date and connected with their customers and their co-workers. And as more and more organizations are shifting their focus to a more customer-centric business model, IT is becoming inseparably connected to business strategy — not only as a resource but as a source of steady profit.

This change is not going unnoticed. According to the data published in the “State of IT” report by Salesforce Research, 75% of technology leaders say IT is currently in the midst of the biggest historical shift of its role.

This is because the role of IT departments within business has expanded well beyond those responsibilities they’ve traditionally been associated with. Today’s IT departments are more than necessary expenses. They’re a significant force for change, providing real competitive advantages and becoming true profit centers — just as responsible for generating revenue as any sales department.

This is forcing businesses to reevaluate how they use their IT departments, as well as the roles of those who manage them.

New technologies are doing more for IT than simply allowing it to expand into other departments. With the introduction of cloud computing, many of the services traditionally offered by IT departments are becoming irrelevant. Many third-party cloud providers now offer powerful data-management tools, housed and maintained entirely off premises, eliminating the need for in-house hardware or software installation and maintenance. Additionally, any training associated with these new cloud-based options is usually handled remotely or via built-in training and support options.

With this in mind, the responsibilities of CIOs and CTOs in business must also evolve.

IT leaders are now expected to do more than select and deploy applications. Today’s users are capable of performing these tasks themselves. The BYOB (bring your own blocks/bring your own bundle) revolution means that in many cases, CIOs don’t even have access to all of the devices being used across an organization. In such instances, when employees decide that they’d like to try out a new software solution, all it takes is a quick visit to an app store, without any need to go through IT. This applies to entire departments as well, which often have the budget to employ wide-reaching SaaS solutions, and to do so without any assistance from the CIO.

This new form of competition — IT competition from within the company itself — is creating an environment in which CIOs and CTOs are having to bring more to the table than the ability to choose potential tech options; they’re having to create a new set of services, become more directly involved in a wider range of business decisions, and transition into true business leaders, rather than just IT experts.

Between the changing roles of IT leaders and the increased IT integration across all departments, IT as a concept is becoming much more difficult to define. Modern IT is expected to bring in real, competitive advantages. In essence, it’s developing into a value-based service brokerage. In fact, over the next 12–18 months, 71% of IT departments are shifting efforts from being a technology-providing cost center to a value-based service brokerage.

The potential advantages offered by this new era of IT are nearly limitless. Research indicates that 74% of IT leaders say the business teams they partner with believe IT is the biggest driver of business success. As a result, 77% of IT leaders believe that IT now functions as an extension of existing business units, rather than as a separate entity.

Of course, this presents a number of potential complications. In addition to the issues associated with updating legacy computer systems and training IT professionals to meet their new responsibilities as value-based service providers, there’s also the consideration of how to ensure that IT business KPIs are being met.

According to the “State of IT” findings, IT teams deliver on only 56% of customer-facing business initiatives, on average. This should be cause for concern for any business. With the role of IT in business now including customer service and support responsibilities, IT needs to be capable of correctly identifying and prioritizing those business projects that are the most vital to the overall success of the organization. Unfortunately, most IT departments simply aren’t equipped to be able to do this on their own, which is why 67% of IT teams identify improving their collaboration with other lines of business as being high priority.

As the need for IT collaboration across all teams and departments becomes ever more important, CIOs, CTOs, and other IT leaders who excel at aligning strategic priorities across business units will be giving their companies a significant competitive advantage. Salesforce reports that high performers are approximately 4x more likely than underperformers to show superior ability in this regard. High-performing IT teams are also nearly 4x more likely than underperformers to rate the strength of their interdepartmental partnerships as excellent.

Additionally, given the increasing focus on customer satisfaction, it’s only natural that IT teams work toward creating seamless, consistent access to real-time customer data for every department. As clients interact with businesses, they expect to be able to do so with a single, unified entity, rather than a loosely affiliated collection of teams.

Maintaining coherent, up-to-date client information across all departments gives customers and companies an advantage in communication, to the point where 61% of IT leaders say providing a single view of the customer is a high priority over the next 12–18 months (high performers are 3.2x more likely than underperformers to rate it as critical). However, despite this enthusiasm, only 29% of IT leaders say that they’ve integrated at least 75% of their data sources.

The new millennium is ushering in an era of change for IT. Gone are the days when IT departments were little more than necessary business expenses. Today’s IT teams are in direct contact with valuable customers, and are integrated throughout every aspect of the business organization. As such, IT teams need to be capable of handling the new responsibilities that come with this new role.

The changing role of IT in business has the potential to revolutionize how companies interact with their customers, but most businesses still have a long way to go. To learn more about the current state of tech in business, download the “State of IT.”

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