Innovation at Scale: The changing profile of internal IT


The role of IT departments is unquestionably changing. Gone are the days of big server rooms and IT helpdesks. Now the reality is cloud, with software as a service. IT departments have had to morph from technicians to contract negotiators and managers. This means that IT teams have had to develop new skills. They are not so much technical whiz kids as strategic technology advisors, helping the business to get the most out of its IT investments.

In practice, however, there are a number of directions in which IT departments could move. So how do businesses see their IT departments in 2020? Findings from the SAS Innovation at Scale study suggest opinion is divided. I asked Mathias Coopmans, who leads our team of EMEA architects, to interpret key findings.

We hear about IT being positioned as ‘business partners.’ How true is this?

A good number of companies involved in the study saw IT departments as key enablers in explaining or meeting business needs. A good relationship between IT and analytics is “critical." We heard the two-way nature of the relationship emphasised. That it was important for IT to understand business needs, and the business to understand the IT issues. This can occasionally lead to tensions, although many organisations had resolved this through a shared planning and decision-making process for technology and analytics issues, and reported a much better relationship as a result.

Does this support the thinking that IT’s role is evolving from supplier to strategic sponsor?

This would seem so. Several organisations reported that their IT departments have become important strategic sponsors of technology projects. The IT department’s role is seen as being four-part: covering education of business owners on how to get insights into production; facilitation and curation, to bring the right people together; being able to explain models; and, finally, being responsible for governance of models. In some cases, IT staff were always on project teams for work involving hardware or software because they were important strategic advisors.

What about modernising technology?

Good question. In their role as suppliers of infrastructure, many IT departments have played an important role in moving the organisation to the cloud. Respondents described the IT department assessing and reviewing needs and then delivering the appropriate cloud contracts to address those needs. This role is therefore similar to the traditional IT role, but with cloud contracts instead of server capacity. Some respondents stated that they needed their IT departments to ensure that they delivered the “basics of modernising technology” but did not specifically mention cloud or infrastructure. We heard some also refer to the IT role summed up as “basically responsible for project management of suppliers." With maturity and cloud knowledge levels in IT organization rising, more standardized architectures are applied, which IT will like as it leads to more controllable and repeatable processes.

How about supporting operations and risk management?

Indeed, a number of respondents used the word "operational" in relation to their organisation’s IT department. For example, the IT department helping to source data to meet business needs. Others emphasised that the role was primarily operational, but also mentioned the connection of new data sources, as well as linking to cloud and managing security. For some, their IT department chooses an integrated DevOps approach, covering the whole model development and production cycle. These also included managing partners and choosing technology options, giving it a vital role in operationalising innovation. The result is a more integrated approach between IT and business, as well as a much lower risk on the operationalizing of the analytical outcomes.

How well is the growing analytics workload, and capacity management, being handled?

IT departments are seen in many organisations as the guardians of infrastructure. In this role, they play a key part in advising on how to expand or contract capacity and therefore deliver on business needs. Combining cloud and legacy systems is not easy. And IT departments are responsible for managing this, as well as advising customers’ IT departments on this process. We heard IT described as having a crucial role in “rationalising” the IT system.

Is the change in positioning universal?

Not yet. The traditional role of IT departments remains important in many organisations. Many organisations still, however, see IT departments as providers of "infrastructure." Several respondents mentioned the importance of the IT department in cybersecurity. These organisations need their IT departments to focus on providing a suitable platform for organising and running IT, often as well as becoming key partners in meeting business needs. This in itself can be challenging, because the legacy of overspent IT projects around the world means that many IT departments are constrained by out-of-date processes for approvals that do not fit well with modern business needs.

We also conducted a SASChat - Innovation@scale on Nov 14. See what participants were talking about. We asked five questions. Find an excerpt of that amazing discussion on twitter: 

How is analytics changing the scope of #innovation?
(1) As #innovation is all about changing the way of doing things, Analytics can bring a new dimension of being able to predict what results your innovation efforts will bring (Andreas Kitsios).
(2) I think #analytics is building the scope of #innovation more than changing it. (GorkemSevik)

What is the role of scalable analytics capability in driving #innovation at scale?
(1) #Analytics at scale can support decision-makers in finding hidden patterns in tons of data. It wouldn't be possible in any other way (Federica Ballerini).
(2) To enable your business to have exponential growth ability  (Igor Dsiaduki).

How has analytics helped athletes collaborate more effectively with their support teams?
Support teams want to know how an athlete's body and mind are progressing, responding to training and competition and recovering. Analytics may not provide the answer but it allows support staff to start the conversation needed for collaboration and build trust (Reece Clifford).
(2) Absolutely. Things like sleep can be monitored if all parties happy, so that what's happening elsewhere (away from training venue) can help create a clearer picture of the athlete's state of mind and body. After all, the 2 are interlinked! (David Smith).


About Author

Serge Boulet

Serge Boulet began his career in project management functions in the finance sector. He joined SAS France in 1985 and participated in the start-up of the French subsidiary's activities. He had several sales, business development and marketing functions. During these years, he actively contributed to the subsidiary's growth on the French market and supported customers in the development of innovative projects and the deployment of SAS solutions in areas such as risk management, multi-channel marketing and more generally all areas covering Business Analytics. His knowledge of business needs combined with that of the IT teams dedicated to business intelligence applications has enabled him to develop a particularly relevant approach and perspective on the valuation of company information.

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