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Keith Tilley, Executive Vice President, global sales and customer services management,

Sungard Availability Services

From banking to television, shopping to books; it’s almost impossible to think of an aspect of our lives that has not been touched by technology. Organisations across all industries are moving towards a digital-first approach; shaking up the way they operate, drive growth and engage with customers. Even the most established sectors are changing their go-to-market strategies as a reaction to digital demands.

For example, the banking sector is undergoing severe disruption due to the rise of plucky fintech start-ups, such as Stripe or Atom Bank. The UK has recently been hailed as number one in the world for supporting innovation in this area. And while positive to see, one can’t help but think of the pressure this is placing upon the IT department to keep up with this pace of digital transformation.

For the business, IT holds immeasurable power: offering a competitive advantage, enabling growth and playing a vital role in the market strategy. However, with so much to do, IT is becoming something of a complex beast.

Something of a bear, in fact!

At its worst, IT can be slow and unpredictable; prone to hibernation in times of limited investment and liable to lash out when placed under pressure, in turn wielding the potential to hold back organisations. If businesses do not control the bear, the IT department can’t hope to effect the digital transformation needed to keep their companies at the forefront of their respective industries.

A Powerful Force

Digital tools are vital for business growth today, from attracting the brightest talent[1], through to entering new markets[2]. This power has not gone unnoticed, with 79% of ITDMs stating that digital transformation is vital in remaining competitive.

In tandem, employees are placing growing importance on the power of digital technology, believing it will improve productivity, allow them to develop new skills, and make their jobs easier. With UK businesses facing ongoing market uncertainty following the EU referendum and subsequent vote for Brexit, could this digital revolution be the key to futureproofing organisations during these turbulent times?

Disturbing the Beast

This increasing demand for digital tools and transformation is putting a great deal of pressure on the IT department. Exactly one half of IT decision makers fear that they cannot drive digital transformation forward at the speed their management team expects. Combine this with the fact that 32% of employees also believe their employers are not driving digital transformation as fast as competitors are doing, and you have the ingredients for a disaster – commercially speaking.

When disturbed, a bear becomes unruly and unpredictable. The same result can be seen when too much pressure is placed upon an IT system ill-equipped to handle the demands of digitalisation. When this happens, the IT department struggles to deliver the best quality IT service to end users.  The bear’s unpredictable, volatile and temperamental nature is wreaking havoc, and the carnage left in its wake impedes businesses from innovating to remain competitive in their chosen fields.

Unsurprisingly, this affects more than just the IT department and is having a knock-on effect upon the whole organisation. Nearly a third of employees (30%) confessed that new digital tools are actually making their jobs more difficult, while 31% said it made their roles more stressful. Not only do these responses reveal scenarios at odds with the benefits firms undertake new IT deployments to achieve, less time is spent on thinking about the strategic direction of the business itself, when an entire organisation grapples to control the IT bear!

As the digital revolution continues, reining in the bear has never been more critical – and those who fail to do so will risk everything from staff retention[3] and customer satisfaction, through to their very survival.

The Bear Necessities

The pressure is very much on for the IT department! Technology is rapidly adapting and fierce competition abounds. Bearing this in mind here are some necessary steps to take when attempting to tame the bear to harness its strength:

Seek out the right skills: Bringing in the right talent – inside and outside of the IT department – who can help drive your digital culture forward will be vital. Remember that soft skills are just as important as technical ability.

Communicate clearly: Keeping a clear and open dialogue with the wider business will not only help the IT department understand exactly where business priorities lie, but will help prevent employee and management expectations from getting out of hand.

Secure adequate resources: Changing a company’s culture understandably requires investment. Communicating the benefits associated with digital transformation – and investing in training for those who need it – is crucial in order to ensure that the wider business both pays its fair share of the associated costs, and receives due positive outcomes too.

Don’t go it alone: Turning to colleagues and tech champions outside the IT department can help drive change. Additionally, partnering with an appropriately experienced managed services provider can allow the IT department to focus on delivering new, innovative services, rather than getting waylaid by small, fiddly system maintenance tasks, or overwhelmed by the changes undertaken. This was a strategy adopted by global logistics firm John Menzies PLC when it decided to completely overhaul and update its IT. A huge task by any stretch of the imagination. However, by partnering with a provider experienced in business transformation and Hybrid IT systems they were able to ensure the ‘business as usual’ nature of day to day operations, whilst effecting said transformation.

Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes lies with the connotations that are associated with the term ‘digital transformation’. Many have made the mistake of thinking it has to be an all-encompassing overhaul; but a revolution doesn’t come out of nowhere, it can be built upon one step at a time. In simple terms, taming the IT bear is about getting the most out of your IT system. By aligning IT to business outcomes, you then use it to open up new opportunities, create better working practices, and ultimately improve the competitive strength of your business. Taking this measured approach will help make the situation more bear-able!