Why will IT matter to my company?

By Allan Alter & Jeanne Harris Print this article Print

Don’t take for granted that the future will be flat, connected and technology-friendly. Don’t assume tomorrow’s business and IT environment will be a continuation of today’s. Instead, use these 10 questions to explore what the future might require from your IT department.


1. Why will IT matter to my company? Companies can do more with IT than ever before, but they are relying less often on their IT organization to provide and decide on technology. Clarifying the purpose of the IT organization will focus the redesign effort.

If the future is globally connected and extremely competitive, IT organizations will help industry leaders stay on top through innovation and analytics. Back-office IT will become a globally managed commodity. But if the world becomes fractured, disconnected and more insecure, IT can still earn its keep—by helping companies restructure, reduce their business costs and keep operating through the transition.

2. What would our IT organization look like if we could rebuild it from scratch? Would any company design its IT organization and systems to look just as it does now? Probably not. So what would IT look like if the CEO and CIO could do it over, without any constraints?

Think of the best-fitting organizational structure for the futures you are exploring. Depending on the legal, political and technical environment, it may be a streamlined global IT organization supervising a cloud-and-outsourcing services model, or a decentralized IT department with powerful local IT units. The security function might need a more controlling hand if crippling cyber-attacks are a threat.

3. How will our IT executives and other executives share and approve technology decisions? The IT chain of command is getting crowded. Social media and analytics are pulling chief marketing officers into more IT decisions. Companies are hiring chief innovation and chief digital officers. Employees are comfortable making IT decisions for themselves.  

Executives need to focus on governance, not fight for power. This question helps envision which IT decisions need to be made on global or country level, and which technology decisions are best made by employees and line managers instead of the IT function. It also helps answer questions about the CIO’s role, and whether IT needs to be overseen by a particular executive, such as the chief strategy officer or a chief risk officer.

4. How do you get all available data anywhere it’s needed? In the era of smartphones and analytics, people expect all kinds of data to be available everywhere, on any device. It doesn’t matter whether it’s structured transactions or unstructured video, massive databases or a few key insights. IT’s job is to figure out how to bridge old and new architectures so usable, secure data can get to where it needs to go, securely and reliably.

Those expectations will be scaled back in any future where legal restrictions, security problems and service disruptions get in the way. Even so, IT will need to find a way, in any future, to come as close as possible to the ideal of ubiquitous data and insight.

5: Are we winning or losing the fight for information security? IT’s future will be greatly affected by the severity of the cyber-security problem. Will companies and governments keep cyber-crime a manageable problem via technological advances and international cooperation? If so, then security fades into the background. 

But what if cyber-crime, or even cyber-warfare, grows out of control? Then it’s no longer business as usual for companies, their customers and IT functions. If things get bad enough, companies will cut back or redesign many Internet-dependent activities and processes. IT departments will focus on creating alternatives to today’s Internet-based network infrastructure to minimize the damage.

This article was originally published on 2012-07-17
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