IT leaders adjusting to expanded role and importance since coronavirus pandemic

Since the onset of COVID-19, technicians have seen the scope of their responsibilities grow beyond IT.

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IT technicians have become integral to online educators and students, remote employees, and businesses operating from home offices. 

Instead of sticking to their normal behind-the-scenes roles, multiple studies have found that IT decision makers now have 30% more control over business decisions. Additionally, 20% of respondents found their scope of work has expanded to areas beyond just IT. Another survey of IT workers found that 72% say they have to do more at work, taking on increased responsibility that wasn't originally part of their job description. 

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The IT role was always important, but now that organizations fundamentally cannot function without some form of technology, IT service teams have moved to the frontlines. Instead of simply supporting and assisting businesses, IT technicians are preparing business leaders and employees to embrace remote, tech-based realities.

"Outside of the normal day-to-day tasks, IT leaders are also being tasked with higher levels of collaboration and understanding other departments that they wouldn't traditionally be involved with," said Liz Beavers, who works as head geek for IT management software company SolarWinds.

"I was speaking with a school district recently as they were preparing for back to school and their IT team has expanded. They're doing more collaboration and helping to iron out and automate more business processes for other departments like HR, operations or facilities." 

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Paola Doebel, senior vice president and managing director of North America at Ensono, said IT teams have been asked to refocus their efforts on enabling remote team members and students, among many other examples. 

They have had to take a much larger role in managing  collaboration tools, distribution of mobile devices, and network security while keeping the core IT infrastructure running, she added. 

"In industries like retail, the bulk of customer engagements moved from in-store experiences to online, which put IT at the center of the customer experience, supply chain, and overall operations," Doebel explained.

"IT had to ensure that their technical environment could handle the increased online demand, as well any downstream impacts to supply chain, logistics and payment applications all connected to the online engine keeping the company operating and in business. IT had to refocus efforts to enable more robust customer engagements remotely via applications and web portals."

She said the best examples of this are insurance claims, government services and applications, most of which were not submitted or enabled via an application or web portal before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite the increase in importance due to the pandemic, IT has been gaining prominence within enterprises for years, Doebel said. IT has long been moving towards the role of business-critical for several years now as technology and innovation have become synonymous with business growth and improved customer experiences. 

IT teams rose to the occasion during the COVID-19 breakout and continue to drive innovation and transformation in these challenging times, she added. Important business decisions are now being put in the hands of IT workers who have to think of ways to future-proof their organizations. 

Suddenly, Doebel explained, IT technicians are now forced to deal with complex issues like owning data centers as well as designing, building, and running their technology estate at scale.

Digital transformation

Jeff Valentine, CTO at cloud management company CloudCheckr, said many of the IT teams he is working with said they have been consumed with handling remote access over the last few months. 

When the quarantine orders were first sent out, IT teams dealt with the brunt of concerns about how to continue business from home. Many organizations, he said, were forced to move systems to the cloud as a way to deal with massive shift to telework. 

Valentine noted that despite the increase in importance and work load, he no longer sees the kind of "fiefdoms" that were common in past years with IT teams. 

"I don't see it anymore, IT groups that would try to own everything and do everything and control everything," he said. "I think we have advanced beyond that." 

Beavers added that IT teams are being tasked with looking into how to realign business processes and rethink commitments to legacy business tools that were previously important to enterprises.  

"One of the other big changes that we've seen in terms of what IT is taking on is simply having a seat at the table if you will. I saw in our survey that 41% said IT is going to have inclusion in more business level meetings and decision making," Beavers said. 

"Previously, IT was a gate keeper and an implementer of technology but I think because they were tasked with making sure that users and teams were successful in such a quick time frame this year, business has been able to see how successful IT has been in those initiatives. They were literally keeping operations running and momentum moving forward while executives had an opportunity to learn from those IT stakeholders."

Beavers added that IT workers bring a new perspective and experience that can be valuable for holistic decisions that have to be made about how enterprises shift resources into the digital space. 

By involving IT in more aspects of an organization's functions, silos are broken down and collaboration across an enterprise is much broader. 

"I certainly don't think that IT's role will stop changing but I do think as a result of what we've seen, with digital transformation and with teams that are shifting to supporting remote temporarily, that problems will demand different ways of thinking and operating for IT," Beavers said. 

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