With 2015 under way, it seems to be an appropriate time to look forward, not just to what IT departments are going to deal with in the new year, but also to how mobile, cloud, and other technologies will redefine IT over the next five years. The truth is that the changes that are coming are far from insignificant. IT will radically change over the next five years. Here are some of the key ways that the IT department of the future will differ from the IT department of five years ago, and the IT department of today.
Help desk and support
The help desk has always been the face of IT for the vast majority of employees in much the same way that the customer service line was the primary solution for consumer interactions of all kinds – billing and banking, insurance coverage, booking travel, and technical support. With the advent of the Internet, companies began offering self-service options to customers to meet many of these needs, a trend that mobile has pushed to new heights – it's common today to do all your banking, including making deposits, all from an app on your phone with no interaction with a teller or an ATM.
The self-service and self-support approach saves money for companies, time for their customers, and can drive significant value for both. The trend has also made it clear to most people that, given the right tools and resources; they can solve their own problems.
This understanding doesn’t end at the office door. Users armed with the understanding that they can solve their own problems will look to do so, and the nature of support – helpdesk, desktop, and remote or mobile – will change. Much like in the consumer world, IT support modeled around self-service and support offers tremendous value in terms of costs, less downtime, and satisfaction for both IT and end users.
That means a range of self-support resources like knowledge bases, wikis, internal forums, and social-based support solutions, all of which allow people to support themselves as well as their coworkers and colleagues without needing to call the helpdesk, will become the norm. At the same time, non-traditional forms of support or engagement, will become increasingly valued and important.
This change removes the helpdesk from the center of the support team’s org chart. The help desk will still be there in 2020, but it will be joined by new types of support professionals – support staff embedded within business units, not directly connected to either the helpdesk of the traditional, broad and process-focused support staff. Teams centered on creating and maintaining self-service resources will become part of the new support org chart; and user engagement specialists, be they Genius Bar-like staff, roving trainers, or folks that work directly with business staff to develop peer-based support and information-sharing models directly within business units.
Mobile management becomes mainstream
Over the past few years mobile has often entered the workplace through the backdoor. IT has assigned an individual or a small team to “handle” mobile. As mobility becomes the norm in enterprise computing and as desktop OSes move increasingly towards a more secure and mobile style architecture, a move driven by the architecture of Windows 10, the line between mobile and desktop management will blur and eventually become nonexistent.
The result is that the tools and processes associated with mobile devices will become the tools and processes used to deploy, configure, secure, and manage all corporate endpoints. The traditional PC management processes will fade away and be replaced by a mobile-style management, which will result in streamlined processes, cohesive management paradigms, and cost savings overall.
Simply put, mobile and the tools to manage it will no longer be an outlier. They will become the way all devices are managed and this has several implications for how IT is organized.
First and foremost, mobile management will no longer be separate from desktop PC or user management, and teams that have been separated up to now will become a single cohesive group, likely one with a great deal of cross-training that will mean individual job functions within that group will diminish somewhat.
With the traditional monolithic imaging model giving way to much more lightweight management of devices and allowing users to easily install and manage apps on their own, the deployment teams within IT will likely shrink and the skills and roles that make up the group will center around being advisors or partners to users. New positions devoted to self-service app management will join the group and will work closely with user engagement staff – in some organizations, the two may even merge into a single new type of IT team.
Agility becomes key
One of the truths about mobile app development is that the legacy long release cycles don’t work. Employees are used to the iterative processes used by major tech companies in the consumer space. The most notable example is Google, which pioneered the release and iterate approach, but Apple, Microsoft, and many other vendors have adopted faster and often annual release cycles. For IT to remain relevant in a world where managers and individual employees can bypass IT and source their own solutions, agile development, implementation, and management processes become core competencies. Without them, IT loses influence and any hope of controlling or securing corporate data.
This impacts the makeup of an IT department in a very nuanced way that may not me immediately obvious. Creating a successful, agile IT culture requires breaking down many traditional hierarchies and the silos that keep staff working largely with only other members of their teams. The levels of management within each team that limit the degree to which junior members can immediately take ownership of an issue or project as well as communicate directly with team leads needs to become streamlined.
In some organizations, this will be eliminating those middle management positions that serve largely as gatekeepers. It also means creating a flatter org chart with more direct links between teams and far fewer vertical links that encourage just managers and IT executives to be the only links between divisions. In some organizations, this may be a very subtle but powerful change. In others, this will be a shift of seismic proportions.
CISOs and security specialists refocus on securing data not endpoints
One of the biggest changes in enterprise computing is the incredible influx of mobile endpoints. All of them have a fundamentally different security model from traditional PC OSes. Over the next five years, security specialists will refocus their efforts on the inherent security capabilities of devices with sandboxed architectures and protected kernels, which require fundamentally different security strategies than traditional desktop OSes with fully open file systems.
The challenge becomes securing the data on these devices and controlling data flow as opposed to protection from malware and securing the endpoint itself. This is a significant change and although it has begun with mobile, it will soon become the norm for all types of enterprise computing.
At the same time, this doesn’t mean that threats will decrease. They will certainly increase while also adapting to new computing models. The recent Sony breach has been a cyber-security wake up call for two reasons – the sheer expanse of data and the fact that the attack was focused on publicly damaging the company’s reputation, rather than on simply stealing private or protected information. It has created a national dialog of previously unseen proportion around cyber-security and will almost certainly lead to increased regulation of data security across many industries.
This confluence of events will change the security team in a number of ways. The first is the sheer need for additional talent and ways to maximize that talent efficiently. This will require a highly cross-linked and agile security organization – one with less hierarchy and more collaboration. At the same, the mix of skills required will also grow.
In addition to the PC and network-focused teams that dominate security today, teams focused on mobile and emerging OSes will need to form – and they will eventually likely merge and subsume the traditional PC-focused team. Teams focused on protecting data wherever it lies – on a PC, mobile device, corporate cloud, and personal user clouds – will need to be added or expanded. This growth into specialized sectors will also drive the creation of a new security generalist, a role that will increasingly serve as a direct link to other newly formed teams, such as those focused around user engagement.
Technology spending and decision making expands beyond the IT department
Technology decision-making has already moved beyond IT. In a Mobile First world saturated with personal and business cloud services, many managers and employees are sourcing major technology solutions on their own and using their own budgets to do so. This trend will become impossible to reverse over the next few years. Successful CIOs will accept this and accept their new role as integrator and advisor. That means ensuring systems that integrate with each other and making sure there isn’t significant overlap of services. It also means ensuring security of data across a diverse range of services.
Above all, this transition means IT needs to be embedded in every line of business. Many organizations will create a team specifically geared to ensure a smooth relationship between IT and the larger organization, a team that can act as integrator and even translator of IT concepts. This team will become essential in allowing IT to have visibility into the technology in an organization, reducing the challenges of shadow IT operations, and building a deep sense of trust.
Infrastructure changes significantly
There is no question that services will continue to move to the cloud and endpoints will increasingly be mobile. This will have significant impact on IT departments, as many groups that have existed for years or decades – network management and systems administration being two prime examples – will need to transition to a vastly different reality where the corporate data center as we’ve always known it, diminishes and ceases to exist.
In some cases, these roles, as we’ve known them, might vanish altogether. As users take greater management of their devices and services, particularly identity services becoming cloud-based, many of the traditional responsibilities of a sysadmin will gradually disappear. Systems administration could morph into vastly different roles like services and apps management – a generalist role that would interact directly with other new IT roles (and could eventually be replaced by them) – or a more focused identity manager that resides as part of a user engagement team. Network admins will fare better since network infrastructure will still be required, but the roles within network management will shift increasingly in the direction of supporting mobile. Some network management duties could easily shift to other divisions like security.
Moving services to the cloud offers many opportunities as well as challenges. This fundamental shift will redefine what IT infrastructure is, how it is managed, as well as how it fits into an organization. Exactly what this will look like and the process IT teams will go through to get there will vary. Nonetheless, this is a change that is happening and IT leaders need to develop a strategy to handle it.
Lots of new opportunities as well as challenges
It’s easy to look at the challenges facing CIOs and IT departments in adapting to the world that is virtually on their doorstep. In the process, it’s easy to forget that these challenges offer opportunities, particularly in areas like building deeper relationships with business units, reducing costs, creating competitive advantages, innovating in new and unique ways, reimagining business process for a 21st century world, and driving success. Being successful in these areas, however, requires a commitment to ride out the storm with a positive and forward-thinking attitude.