Just as the advent of computer technology in the mid-20th century ushered in the digital age, making it possible for businesses to handle larger amounts of data than was previously possible, recent years have seen another digital revolution unfold.

Thanks in part to advances in communication technology, businesses are becoming more connected than ever to their customers. At the same time, their capacity to effectively collect and manage data is increasing exponentially. Taken together, these factors are creating an environment where IT not only stands to play an increasingly crucial role in every aspect of business, but where IT departments themselves are having to adapt to embrace changing roles.

The “State of IT” report from Salesforce Research details how advances in technology are resulting in new trends in business. Organizations that are interested in gaining a competitive advantage are realigning their priorities to better utilize new technology, and to position their IT departments to better serve the company goals directly, rather than as outdated cost centers. However, for this to happen, CIOs are having to shift their focus from the traditional IT responsibility of “keeping the lights on” to something much more forward thinking.

One of the most impactful IT trends reshaping the business world is the transition of IT from necessary business expense to value-based service brokerage. And while selecting apps, deploying tools, and maintaining digital infrastructure have always had an impact on the bottom line, IT leaders need to become more innovative to really drive value.

Clients demand tech-savviness and modernity, with 57% of consumers saying it’s absolutely critical or very important for the companies they purchase from to be innovative. Sixty-five percent of IT leaders say innovation for competitive differentiation is a critical or high priority, and 56% of IT leaders say the same about innovation for industry disruption. That said, unlike computers, innovation isn’t something that can simply be turned on and off.

Innovating for business is currently the number-one challenge preventing IT teams from meeting their strategic objectives. To address these challenges, more and more IT leaders are repositioning human capital away from maintenance and upkeep tasks, and applying them toward tasks associated with innovation.

Although new technology is making improved IT innovation a reality, older legacy systems are in many cases holding it back. Fifty-two percent of IT leaders cite legacy technology as a major challenge to meeting their strategic objectives. Additionally, as new systems are introduced, many IT departments are finding that their current technical workforce (leaders included) lacks the training and skill sets necessary to take advantage of advanced tech resources.

IT organizations are suffering from critical skills gaps in almost every area of expertise, and it’s anticipated that these gaps will continue to widen in the immediate future. These gaps are most prominent in areas associated with mobile development and IoT and connected devices, but also include full-stack development, security, data science, development operations, APIs/system integration, and business domain knowledge.

To fill help these gaps, forward-thinking IT departments are turning to process automation. In fact, over the next 12–18 months, 81% of IT organizations will increasingly automate tasks to allow team members to focus on innovation.

As IT organizations continue the laborious task of replacing legacy systems with newer, more powerful solutions, three technologies are expected to have the most significant transformational impact on business by 2020: cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI), and customer-facing mobile technology.

These core technologies all share certain advantages. Each allows for better customer data acquisition, analysis, and accessibility, and each improves a business's ability to adapt to situations and provide solutions quickly. However, increased intelligence, speed, and agility are only part of the equation.

Cloud platforms offer security solutions on par with, or in many cases beyond, what is capable with on-premises solutions. The cloud empowers users to encrypt data, meet compliance requirements, and set permissions on a per-user basis, among other security-related capabilities. Cloud security as a concept is now becoming less perplexing for IT leaders, with 83% saying they feel more comfortable with their knowledge of cloud security than they did five years ago.

AI is likewise experiencing a period of rapid advancement, to the point where many tasks once considered impossible to automate are now fully managed digitally. As a result, high-performing IT teams are more than twice as likely as underperformers to see AI as a critical or high priority.

As for customer-facing mobile technologies, businesses have finally begun to recognize that digital interactions are at least as vital as face-to-face meetings. Approximately half of buyers (57% of business buyers and 50% of consumers) are likely to switch brands when they encounter businesses that fail to provide an easy-to-use mobile experience. As such, high-performing IT teams are nearly 3x more likely than underperformers to identify transforming customer-facing technology as a critical priority.

To learn more about new IT trends, download the “State of IT” report.

Innovation has always been at the core of Salesforce as a company. With the Salesforce Platform, businesses can turn large volumes of raw client information into something that’s both actionable and accessible, through automated CRM options, real-time data analysis features, and more, all built around Salesforce Einstein, the world’s most reliable AI for business. And while the Salesforce Platform offers advanced, cloud-based solutions for businesses of all shapes and sizes, IT organizations enjoy certain specific advantages that can help set them apart.

Salesforce app development tools and an extensive library of ready-made business applications help ensure that IT departments have the resources they need to engage employees and create unforgettable customer experiences. At the same time, advanced automation options and unrivaled security solutions give IT professionals the freedom to focus on innovation, rather than worrying about maintenance, upkeep, infrastructure, or protecting sensitive information. And because Salesforce is an entirely cloud-based SaaS platform, it’s easy and inexpensive to install and maintain, making it a cost-effective replacement for aging IT legacy systems.

Ask about Salesforce products, pricing, implementation, or anything else. Our highly trained reps are standing by, ready to help.