The role of the IT department is so critical for a company that it has to make sure it takes the greatest advantage of it. When we look at the present role of the IT department, this is not what is happening at all. And it’s not simply a matter of working harder or smarter. It’s a matter of role definition, position, responsibilities and developing the right competencies. We need to take another look at the IT department.
This difference will become clear when comparing the present role of the IT department with a new role. However, today, the IT department is evolving towards a third role. This has also to be considered.
Today’s common role of the IT department
The following responsibilities and activities are commonly associated with larger IT departments. Smaller departments may have a subset of these responsibilities and tasks.
The role of the IT department is to provide technological solution to the whole company regarding electronic information. The IT department is in charge of all computer based systems.
The IT department develops and implements these IT systems. It maintains, manages and optimises them.
The IT department provides custom-programmed solutions. Company’s websites can be included here.
The IT department provides, maintains and manages the office automation software (e-mail, word processor, spreadsheet, sharepoint, fileservers, ..).
The IT department defines, implements and manages the needed technological platforms and work environments (development environment, test environment, ..). It should provide the best and quickest operational environment for their end-users.
It also provides the infrastructure for automation, which is the computers, the network, the circuitry and all equipment needed to make the IT systems work.
The IT department is also in charge of securing all these systems and networks.
It is responsible for data quality assurance.
It provides assistance to the end-users regarding the software, systems, tools and devices it (the IT department) is responsible for.
The IT department is also responsible to solve the technological issues the company may face. They have to come up with solutions to for users.
The IT department is responsible to ensure the continuity of the implemented IT solutions and infrastructure. In case of system failure, its role is to restore and to fix the issue limiting the impact on the business and its activities.
The IT department may provide policies, frameworks, guidelines and parameters for the individuals' and operating units use of software systems, computer systems and networks, including the encoding of data.
The IT department acquires software applications, technologies and devices which may enhance the functioning of the organization.
Additionally, the IT department also:
· manages the data centre operations
· manages programmes, project portfolio and projects
· operates the Project Management Office or Project Office
· manages the access to the IT solutions
· does facility management (equipping and managing the computer room)
· implements, maintains and manages solutions for telecommuting (teleworking)
· follows trends in IT
· does research in IT solutions
· implements, maintains and manages telephony, fax machines, printers, plotters, video conference, ...
Descriptions of the role and activities of an IT department found on the worldwide web sum up these activities. Almost certainly, they represent the expected role of the IT department. And probably, they also represents the largest part of the IT department’s activities.
If this is the case, it limits the role and contribution of the IT department. Plenty of competencies that have to be found in an IT department are not utilised.
Before building a solution, the problem, its context and the objective need to be understood. The solution must be designed. It may implement innovative concepts. But in essence, the listed activities are all oriented to building, maintaining and managing solutions. They suppose that, to some degree, that the right solution has already been defined.
By limiting the role of the IT department, and not utilising all competences to be expected in it, the risk to have solution of lower quality or, worse, one that simply doesn’t fit increases. Achieving business-IT alignment and innovation remain a very far dream.
Some activities that have been forgotten to be listed: organising the data, data migration, ensuring the business continuity and disaster recovery at the level of the IT implementation, the development of frameworks and methodologies.
But more important, this description of the IT department overlook domains like enterprise architecture, business analysis, business process modelling or information architecture. These domains are still rather young. They don’t provide a direct benefit to the business. Nevertheless, they are key activities for an IT department.