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Past, present, and future of the IT department

The IT department has become the linchpin of every successful organisation, but how relevant will IT personnel be as the very technology they’ve nurtured begins to take over?

Priyanka Roy, Product Consultant, ManageEngine explores the past, present, and future of the IT department.

In the present age, traditional IT departments are as rare a sight as the much debated Loch Ness Monster. Gone are the days when IT departments were the sole proprietors of technology in an organisation. With the advent of new and disruptive technology such as mobile and cloud computing, technology users are more prevalent than ever in the workforce.

But, does this mean that IT departments, which have traditionally kept the technology that drives organisations in check, are being replaced by these rising technological innovations, as some would have us believe?

The role of IT departments has gradually evolved over the years. IT is no longer merely a cog in the wheel. Today, IT is more aligned with business objectives, playing a more integral role in the workplace. In this scenario of shared business-IT objectives and goals, the impact that IT has on the bottom line is huge.

That said, no conversation on the way that the role of IT has changed within organisations is complete without a look into the way IT has infiltrated the C-suite in the form of CIOs and CTOs.

From caretakers to decision makers

Once seen as caretakers in charge of keeping their organisation’s IT systems ticking, IT departments have seen significant growth in their influence across the organisation. From customer service to sales and marketing, every department has become increasingly reliant on technology.

ManageEngine’s 2017 study into the alignment between UK IT departments and their wider organisations found that the influence of the IT department is considered vital to business success. The results tell a story of businesses increasingly relying on IT departments for guidance and knowledge.

Forty-two percent of respondents from that survey reported that their IT department is always or regularly involved in business decisions; a further 37 percent stated their IT department is sometimes involved. This makes sense given just how valuable data has become to organisations today. However, even if you are amongst the minority who still see those working in IT as simple supervisors of systems and processes, it is important to remember that it is these very systems and processes that are integral to the collection, analysis, and end use of data, making them vital to the organisation’s success.

While the findings of this ManageEngine survey solely represent IT departments in the UK, these results should indicate how IT’s influence is building around the globe, considering the fact that London is widely perceived to be the world’s leading technology hub.

IT reaches C-level status

No longer are IT leaders middle managers reporting to the board. IT now represents a crucial share of the board, with CIOs becoming increasingly common C-suite fixtures.

The role of a CIO, first introduced in the 1980s, was initially focused on in-depth technical projects. However, the role has grown in both prevalence and scope. Now that technology, data, and security are so critical to every organisation’s success, today’s CIOs are key boardroom influencers and significant contributors to the direction of the business.

New systems, new responsibilities

IT personnel that haven’t made the jump to the boardroom are still finding themselves with more responsibilities, simply because IT systems have changed. Today’s IT departments aren’t just configuring network endpoints, performing system maintenance, and provisioning new user accounts; they’re leveraging cutting-edge technology to protect their networks from attacks and respond to end users’ requests more efficiently, on top of prioritising all those classic IT tasks.

Corporate endpoints have grown to include smartphones, tablets, and even a few IoT-enabled devices, but some of the more drastic changes have come with IT systems on the back end. Sure, enterprises are still using some form of Active Directory to manage user accounts and privileges; however, there are many new systems in the IT security space.

The increase in cyberattacks has made more advanced IT security systems an absolute necessity. Intrusion detection systems, intrusion prevention systems, honeypots, and other security technologies have shown that network security goes far beyond setting up a firewall. IT departments have also started applying big data as a salve for their security concerns; one of the clearest examples of this is security information and event management. Some threat detection systems even use machine learning to help IT departments cut back on the number of false positives.

Speaking of artificial intelligence, even one of the oldest IT systems, the help desk, has been touched by this trending technology. Chatbots are taking up Tier 1 support so help desk technicians can focus on building a better knowledge base, responding to more complicated tickets, and completing more complex IT service management tasks that can’t be automated or replicated by a machine.

What’s in store for the future?

With IT gaining influence in the boardroom and respect across the organisation, the future looks bright and a career in IT is more attractive than ever before. The IT team will continue on its upward trajectory as the cornerstone of a business’ foundation. Speaking of the challenges that organisations foresee, the results from the ManageEngine survey revealed internet and IT security are recognised as the top IT challenges for 50 percent of UK businesses.

Some have suggested that the rise of automation in IT management marks the end of the line for humans working in IT. However, these technologies simply automate the mundane and menial tasks from the workloads of IT employees, enabling them to roll up their sleeves and get involved with exciting, large-scale IT projects that will increase the agility of their respective organisations.

As organisations become increasingly technology-centric, the role of IT will continue to evolve with the influence and importance of IT growing exponentially in value. The successful businesses will be the ones who adapt to the changing technologies and recognise the crucial role that IT departments will play in facilitating the prosperity and longevity of the business.