Expanding IT Roles For Business Growth

The business expects more from IT than back-end support. Today's IT teams are expected to help drive business. Here's how to do it.

Azmi Jafarey

April 24, 2015

4 Min Read
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The traditional role of IT has been to provide the infrastructure for business productivity: back-end systems for ERP, CRM and other critical operations, LAN and WAN access, help-desk support, backup and security. Most IT departments also have occasional projects requested by sales, marketing or finance, such as integration initiatives or developing a piece of functionality that cannot be filled cost-effectively with off-the-shelf products.

However, today's business demands much more of IT. Business executives expect IT to provide well-functioning back-end systems to aid productivity, but now, they also look to IT to provide a competitive advantage for the business. 

For IT teams, especially those in small to midsize companies, this suggests a paradigm shift: From IT as “generalists” doing occasional business projects to a team of experts in certain areas, continually available for both substantive ongoing collaboration, projects and support.  The back-end work continues as before; this expertise is layered on top.

What are the areas where IT can be a better partner to the business?  A few are listed below.  This doesn’t mean that IT doesn’t already support these areas.  Rather, IT has to transform into a recognized and reliable leader in these collaborative areas.

Data mining & business analysis

Beyond database people who build operational data stores and data warehouses and conduct SQL queries requested by the business, IT needs people who know the data. Here's where a role that combines the expertise of data mining with the thoughtfulness of a business analyst is of supreme value.  

The group to create within IT is one that has immersive/deep knowledge of business data, can provide data analysis (descriptive, predictive, prescriptive) data visualization, and data modeling.  Business process expertise for data context would be a given. The team would understand the how and why of data-driven business decisions. From simple data clean-up to implementing data-flow architectures to arguing about the merits of a particular sales forecast or the lifetime value of a customer, this would be the team to work with.  IT members would have their counterparts in the business for truly collaborative work.

Web development & SEO

Many companies have web masters and SEO experts work as part of their marketing teams.  IT is often called upon for specific help, perhaps to host a web server, implement load balancing, add functionality or security to a user group, or help with a marketing campaign.  However, for marketing, where the focus is on presentation and content, these back-end functions are an afterthought until performance or security issues crop up.

Figure 1:

IT needs to play a role to ensure strong, sustained marketing support. Many websites have database back-end needs.  SEO data may be collected by tools but may not be integrated into CRM and marketing systems. These are areas where IT can help. I'm not suggesting have IT as SEO tinkerers, but rather as people who help with marketing design experiments and data flow.

Insourcing

If IT has a deep understanding of business processes, then you have a springboard for sharing IT talent as a supplement to the business. Some examples of possible insourcing:

  • Project management. Chances are IT has done large, complex projects and unless there's a PMO or equivalent organization, the IT team has project management skills. Drawing upon them, especially on a project that has IT components to it, is a great “building” exercise -- strengthening cross-departmental bonds and deeper understanding of business operations and imperatives.

  • Research on external options. Vendors, tools, services. Sales, marketing and other functions often examine how business needs can be filled from the outside.   You may have IT pros who can bring a neutral perspective to the table, with analytical and perhaps negotiation skills. Often, such options also have an IT component; for example, an off-shore development will have shared access and security needs for data. 

  • Supplemental QA and development. For software companies, if you have solid IT developers, IT can supplement QA as well as pitch in on R&Ds projects. This could be in areas such as database work and Amazon Web Services projects. Other areas could be early beta testing, input on product roadmap and participation in social media.

The above options all require a rethinking of IT’s role beyond the traditional. Market leaders will do this re-examination and extension of IT’s role.

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About the Author(s)

Azmi Jafarey

CIO and SVP of Technology Architecture at IntralinksAzmi Jafarey is CIO and SVP of Technology Architecture at Intralinks. Intralinks helps enterprises extend business processes and high value content across traditional organizational, corporate and geographical boundaries. This is through a cloud-based content collaboration network where sensitive information can move freely around the globe while maintaining security and compliance. Previously, Azmi was CIO at Ipswitch for nine years, responsible for operations, infrastructure, business applications and data analytics. Before joining Ipswitch, Jafarey held positions as vice president of IT and tech services at Vertical Communications, Inc. Prior to that he was with Solutia and Monsanto, where he managed global R&D Computing and information services as well as systems groups. Jafarey holds an MS in Chemical Engineering from the University of Massachusetts. In 2013, he was named CIO of the Year by the Boston Business Journal.

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