The changing name and face of enterprise IT

What's in a name? A new role in organisational change it seems, as IT matures into a business change agency.

IT is dead, long live IT. The changing shape of how technology is used by the enterprise and its customers has led to the traditional name - IT - to be largely deleted from the tape drive. With new names come new responsibilities and CIOs in a wide range of vertical markets have rebranded the organisations they lead on a day-to-day basis to reflect the new position they as a business technology leader and their team members have within a business. 

A discussion amongst over 100 CIOs in a private forum surfaced a dozen new departmental names. Although there may be a wide variety in names, there was a clear consensus amongst these business technology leaders, the role of their team and of technology in an organisation is a world away from the IT department that by 2006 had spawned the UK made comedy series The IT Crowd.  At the time of its broadcast there were many in enterprise technology leadership circles who winced and wondered was it a documentary and not a comedy? 

Our forum of CIOs and chief technology officers (CTO) lead departments with names such as:

  1. Group Information Systems
  2.  IDT - Information & Digital Technology
  3. Technology - cited by a number of users for simply saying what it does on the tin
  4. Global Technology Team
  5. Digital Services
  6. Digital and Support
  7. Digital & Informatics Team
  8. Business Technology & Information Services
  9. Business Systems
  10. Information Technology Services
  11. Innovation, Technology & Sustainability
  12. Digital and Technology Solutions

Information remains a continually important element of the title and as we enter the next phase of the digital and data economy, it is only right that organisations understand that information is vital and effective management of information relies on technology.

Unsurprisingly digital has become popular in recent years and a number of organisations use the term business and the CIOs in the forum all refer to better levels of engagement and decreased alignment issues. 

These new department names are indicative of the enhanced place technology and senior technology leadership has in an organisation. A recent study of the global CIO community by the IDG Connect parent company found the CIO to be in a board level position and at the centre of "defining core business strategy, cultivating customer and board room relationships, and taking on additional responsibilities as companies prepare for the next chapter in digital business".

CIOs are only in this exalted position because the teams - which they built - have all collectively taken enterprise technology on a journey to be a key business component to deliver successful outcomes, no matter the vertical market. 

The 2020 State of the CIO report demonstrates that technology and its leaders are "essential for driving revenue growth and innovation", which has moved technology teams away from the old position as a supplier of tools that made the business more efficient. Today, as has been reported on IDG Connect before, the CIO and IT are brokers and teams across the business are actively involved in sourcing the technology (in collaboration with IT) themselves. In the past IT dictated, supplied and supported the tools that made the business more efficient, when the tools failed, efficiency gains were lost and the old nature of IT led to a relationship beset with friction and the claim that IT was not aligned. 

The change began following the financial crisis of 2008 and the continued economic difficulties that have followed. Business technology leaders rose to prominence in the years following the 2008 financial crash, helping organisations optimise their business models and processes and having done so, they began to be trusted and then to continually reappraise how an organisation operates. In doing so, CIOs reskilled their teams and today you would be hard pressed to find people in an IT organisation that were not as passionate and knowledgeable about the customer as in any other department.

The 2020 State of the CIO report found that a third of CIOs have a business strategist role and 46% consider themselves as transformational. "We are at the beginning of a maturity journey and it is creating some major changes in best practice," observes Erich Gerber, Senior Vice President of Tibco. 

At the heart of this maturity is the culture change not only within technology teams, but also the wider organisation. Cross functional teams combining the skills of front-line practitioners, technologists and management have proliferated from healthcare to the oil industry, retail to broadcasting. Those organisations that have experimented and succeeded with cross functional teams often go on to reshape the entire organisation and phase out old structures and team titles. Take Geoff Willis, Director of Digital Engineering Transformation at Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, as head of digital engineering transformation the former trackside race car engineer has led what you could call a merger of IT and the engineers that build the racing cars that take Lewis Hamilton to F1 title after F1 title.

"A few years ago we decided that we needed to look at the digital tools that hold the business together," he says of how the Formula One team reconsidered IT and saw its true value, the glue that helps the business, in their case, literally win. "We extracted people from the IT group and added some of them to the design and engineering group and they looked at the whole enterprise including tools such as the enterprise resource planning (ERP), product lifecycle management (PLM), as well as typical office and HR tools."

Innovation story

Willis' story may be from the forefront of innovation and F1 is not your typical business, but the challenges of winning motor races and winning market share have much in common.  Keeping ahead of the competition relies on a constant stream of new ideas, whether that be in a product or service or the operation of the business and here, yet again, technology teams find themselves in a new and respected place within business. The IDG survey finds new systems and architecture a primary objective of 39% of business technology leaders and their teams and 23% are developing new business strategies and new technologies for the market is a focus for a further 22% of respondents.

Innovation has many faces, one of the most common is the modernisation of business processes and operations. "We created a new target operating model (TOM) which set out to get us away from old ways of working," says James Thomas, CTO of the world's most significant medical research body, the Wellcome Trust.

"We created micro-teams that brought people from projects and operations together and we made them contiguous, they owned their own success and set their agenda," he says of his Digital and Technology department and how it has modernised the operations of the Wellcome Trust.

Thomas has ensured that the digital and technology teams were part of the innovation culture of the Wellcome Trust. "10% time was part of the organisation when I arrived, but only available to the web development team," he says. Now the entire digital and technology workforce has 10% time and Thomas has developed a way to ensure everyone gets 10% time and benefits from it.

As data awareness increases in organisations, many observers and business technology leaders believe organisational culture will continue to change.

"There is a perception that IT has to own the data as they have the technology, but it really should be owned by the respective business line," observes Gerber at Tibco. "Today you have internet of things devices that create data, you have APIs on distributed systems, so organisations need to get to a real time, one screen view that is relevant to all the demands on the business and all business units," he says of how old fashioned structures will continue to collapse and instead technologists and professionals of all types will come together to focus on business outcomes.