With a majority of modern organisations exploring the possibilities of digitalisation, many are considering the best approach – aiming to not only streamline their business processes, but drive new opportunities, writes Lal Hussain, Director IT Applications, Insight UK.
With rising expectations around digital innovation from both consumers and employees, IT teams must increase their efforts to support innovation across the board; even when driven by, and impacting, multiple areas of the business. At the same time the IT team is expected to continue management of all IT infrastructure and operations, placing enormous pressure on a few individuals. How can organisations relieve the strain?
One example of this conflict between digital innovation and IT pressure is micro-services. The business case for micro-services makes perfect sense: replacing monolithic applications with a collection of smaller individual isolated services that can be combined, updated or even repurposed across the organisation – allowing a more agile, scalable approach to IT strategy. Yet from IT’s point of view this also means a host of new challenges: from added complexity in ensuring testing and communication between services work as needed, to securing each individual service.
With this comes an increased risk of stress and burnout in workers, which can lead to a higher probability of mistakes or delays. A move to micro-services therefore needs to be carefully planned, requiring changes in working practices, automation and other tooling to ensure that this does not lead to more pressure on IT operations departments but rather realises the additional business benefit that can be achieved.
Identifying the root causes of pressure, and possible solutions, needs to be a priority. One major culprit can be a lack of IT funding. For instance, Gartner revised their 2019 growth predictions for IT spend downwards to an effectively flat 1.1 percent. This reflects a trend seen in the 2018 Insight Intelligent Technology Index report that 59 percent of UK businesses’ IT budgets had either remained the same or fallen since 2017. For IT teams needing to balance digital innovation with keeping essential operations running, this can mean having to do more, with less resources, and often under huge time pressures.
For most organisations simply increasing IT funding isn’t an option – meaning teams need to explore different technologies and ways of working to invest intelligently without stretching the department. For instance, adopting wider scale automation suites across the development, testing, monitoring and deployment landscapes is key to increasing every individual in IT’s impact.
Blowing off Steam
Some organisations are taking a bimodal approach – splitting the IT department between operational and innovation-focused groups to reduce pressure on each, in a concept coined by Gartner in 2015. According to the Intelligent Technology Index approximately 70 percent of UK organisations surveyed have adopted this approach or are experimenting with it to some extent. While this might seem high it is still below the European average, and 11 percent of adopters say their organisation has not adapted well. Indeed, the approach has critics: Forrester claims it actually inhibits innovation by creating competition between various IT groups – meaning the change may not be worth the innovation cost.
Instead companies may turn to more agile and change-friendly working methods such as DevOps over a strictly bimodal approach. Employees should benefit as it fosters an environment of closer collaboration, both within the IT department and with sister business functions which can drive a successful innovation process. However, while agility might increase, the IT department is still under pressure to perform whilst maintaining its operational role.
Another option is to take pressure from IT and place it elsewhere. The current trend is for devolving IT responsibility to other business functions, creating HR-IS or Marketing-IS teams that tackle operations such as robotic process automation. Whilst logical, this addresses a symptom, not the root cause. Funding and people are still diverted, shrinking IT capacity and reducing the potential to benefit from economies of scale achieved with centralisation. At the same time, today’s innovation is tomorrow’s legacy – who will support and manage these new services across the business? Other teams are not necessarily well versed in – nor have an appetite for – keeping the lights on, all paving the way for blurred lines and more pressure for IT.
At a more technical level, organisations can adopt managed services as a pressure release valve, allowing the business to divest itself of running non-differentiating services such as email or storage to reduce the operational load on IT teams. Again, without correct planning this can simply create different pressures – hand-offs need to be clear, security well architected and service levels defined.
Self-service plays a part too. The ability for end-users to diagnose and resolve issues themselves can remove workloads from IT operations and lead to improved employee productivity and satisfaction. Ultimately, any approach needs a compelling business case explaining how it enables innovation. The goal needs to be raising new funding for innovation, not creating opportunities to shift budgets from internal IT to a third-party service provider.
It Takes More Than Money
Clearly, there’s no quick fix to reconciling the burden IT teams are under. An organisation experiencing pressure around digital innovation can’t simply invest their way out of the problems facing their IT team – nor can companies solve everything solely with technology. A high performing team is more than the sum of its individuals. If employees feel every experiment towards innovation is expected to succeed first time with no opportunity to learn from failure, then pressure and frustration will soar; innovation will be stifled; and recruitment and retention will become problematic – all adding to the burden.
Instead, companies need to invest in a corporate culture with shared values, where employees feel appreciated. Where setbacks are understood and learned from, and everyone can contribute to innovation holistically – with operations acknowledged as a necessary and crucial part of the cycle.
Yes this takes resources, but more importantly it takes the will to break down barriers between business functions to create a shared roadmap realised through investment in people, automation and a focus on the right departments, at the right time. The path to relieving the pressure is not something new, it’s a confluence of action around people, processes and technology. Executed effectively, this will support an innovation-friendly corporate culture with roles and processes which can adapt rapidly to a changing world.
Finally, it takes the most elusive of all resources – time. It’s no longer about the tech you buy, but about how that technology – and the teams responsible – are being applied and managed, and the culture that forms.