IT's role continues to evolve -- here's what to expect at your startup

Now that technology is at the core of all business activities, IT finds itself evolving from having a supporting role to having a more central and crucial one. Even for startups, it's important to effectively define IT's place in the organization given the new realities created by the changing landscapes of technology and commerce.

Consider how dramatically this role has changed. Just over a decade ago, IT leaders were concerned with improving connectivity within the workplace and bringing their organizations online. More recently, they’ve had to worry about things like mobile tunneling, GDPR compliance and optimizing real-time business intelligence dashboards.

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Today, these teams face new sets of challenges. A recent survey by software-as-a-service (SaaS) management platform Torii revealed that the top concerns of IT leaders for 2019 include cybersecurity, the cloud, and budgets -- clearly a sign of the times.

It's no surprise that cybersecurity leads the list. Just last year, even large enterprises like Under Armour and Marriott Hotels were hit by security breaches underscoring the need for all organization -- including startups -- to put cybersecurity at the forefront of their agenda.

Many of these new concerns arise from each new generation of technological development. As such, companies must allow their tech departments to evolve and redefine themselves to better overcome these hurdles.

The Various Roles of IT Over the Years

IT's responsibilities in the organization have largely been dependent on the prevailing technologies of the time.

  • System and Support (Workstations and Mainframes)
    Starting from the early years when mainstream adoption of computers for business purposes started to build momentum in the 1980s, IT's role was mainly to provide support to computer users. The department’s mandate largely involved the setup and maintenance of workstations and the deployment of software to these endpoints. For larger enterprises, IT also performed administration of mainframes, servers, and local networks. Today, these tasks are still considered core to most teams’ activities.
  • Network and Connectivity (Internet)
    Once internet use started to gain traction in the late 1990s, IT had to assume the responsibility of connecting workstations and devices to each other and to the world. Prior to the emergence of wireless connectivity, tech staff were even responsible for laying down cables and appliances to connect the workplace. They also dealt a whole lot with network administration, including managing access to the internet and other on-premises computing resources, as well as setting up communications technologies like voice and video conferencing.
  • Security and Data (Cloud, Mobile, and Social)
    Today, workplaces have become highly connected. Internet and network connectivity are standard. Data is now also the lifeblood of most modern enterprises. So, on top of previous responsibilities, IT now has to take on security and data protection tasks. With the rise of cyberattack risks, they now have to actively mitigate and respond to security threats, manage access to cloud resources, and ensure protection and integrity of company data.

The New Realities of Startups and IT

Due to the emergence of new technologies, IT has seen its role expand from simply providing support and administration. Advancements in connectivity, automation, and artificial intelligence have allowed many of the routine maintenance tasks to be dealt automatically or be handled by line-of-business staff through self-service platforms.

IT now has to discover its new mandate. Given how technology-savvy today’s startup environments are, tech leaders must realize that their decisions and recommendations are not simply matters of technology but matters of business strategy. Beyond ensuring uptime of the infrastructure, departments must also weigh in on how technology can accelerate growth by increasing sales, cutting costs, and improving performance.

In today’s startups, the onus is on IT to help properly establish the place that new tech occupies in the venture. They must implement the right tools and solutions, set the right policies, build the right culture, make the right investments, and provide the right training and education to colleagues. Ideally, these activities should shape the direction and sustainability of the startup.

And yet, IT must also understand that, no matter how influential technology is to the business, that it is not the end-all-and-be-all of the venture. It is still a means towards creating better products and services and generating more value for customers.

A Modern Identity for IT

IT teams must embrace these changes and constantly look to cope with these new realities. The modern department must be able to demonstrate the following capabilities:

  • Leverages Technology
    Fortunately, solutions to address IT's concerns are constantly being developed, and teams must leverage them to the company’s advantage. Tech departments must be able to free themselves from legacy issues such as conventional support and maintenance. For instance, today’s teams can automate the management of endpoints, network devices, and even SaaS use.
  • Tackles More Strategic Issues
    By freeing themselves up from grunt work and mundane tasks, IT should then redirect its energies towards more complex concerns. The new emphases should be to work on testing new tools and solutions, streamlining and securing infrastructures, enhancing productivity, and demonstrating proactivity when dealing with emerging threats.
  • Provides Stewardship
    The tech department needs to position itself as stewards of the organization's computing resources and data. CIOs should lead governance initiatives that go beyond imposing stringent policies. They must be able to impose the right level of restrictions without hampering worker productivity. IT teams must even assume the responsibility of educating and training colleagues concerning the optimal use and protection of these resources.
  • Drives Innovation
    IT must also always have with one eye to the future so that it can direct the organization towards a more advantageous position, using emerging technologies as a competitive advantage.

Conclusion

Startups must capably define how they situate IT in their respective organizations. Planning IT on the onset could help ventures avoid messy changes and legacy issues moving forward. Given how crucial technology is to business these days, the team’s performance is bound to be a major factor in a startup's success.

Peter Davidson works as a senior business associate helping brands and start ups to make efficient business decisions and plan proper business strategies. He is a big gadget freak who loves to share his views on latest technologies and applications.

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