How IT teams can drive business growth and deliver a competitive edge

With digital capability becoming one of the most important differentiators in modern business, the expectations placed on technology teams have grown significantly in recent years. IT departments are no longer a reactive troubleshooting service solving day-to-day problems. Nowadays IT teams are also expected to be a key proactive driver in developing innovative business strategies and helping firms gain a competitive edge by embracing the latest digital technologies.

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So what is the current reality? To what extent are technology teams truly ready to meet these heightened expectations?

Our recent Tomorrow’s Tech Teams research examined the structure and purpose of IT departments today, speaking to both IT leaders and workers. It found that both groups face huge challenges in delivering technologies like cloud services, mobile apps and turning data into actionable insights.

Shockingly, it reveals that the IT leaders of the biggest UK businesses think their teams are not currently fit for purpose. In fact, on average, they are a staggering four years behind their most innovative competitors. Almost one in three IT leaders state that their teams need to be completely overhauled in order to drive digital transformation in their business.

Weighing up the skills imbalance

The survey supports our previous findings that one in four businesses are looking overseas to source talent in order to manage the well documented skills imbalance and shortage within the UK IT industry. Two thirds of IT leaders have said that their teams lack the expertise to push the company forward, and that they could increase overall productivity by 31 per cent if their teams had the right balance of IT skills, knowledge and experience.

In comparison, the majority (71 per cent) of IT workers feel that their skills and knowledge are not being fully utilised by their organisations. They believe this is mainly due to a lack of investment (46 per cent) and up-to-date training (34 per cent).

What is clear from the research is that IT departments are not currently in a fit state to change from being a largely reactive service to being at the heart of business strategy and innovation.

So how can organisations overcome this challenge and achieve digital transformation?

Review and restructure

As a first step, businesses must analyse and restructure their IT teams in order to enable innovation. A thorough review not only looks at how existing capabilities meet current business requirements but also the ideal future skill set. This can be done through performance reviews and more informal weekly catch-ups discussing employees’ existing skills, challenges and focus areas. However, these conversations must align with wider company vision and strategy so that employees are not only aware of the organisation’s direction, but are in full support of it. This will provide businesses with the required insights to assess what areas they need to improve in order to achieve their goals. Additionally, by engaging employees and asking for their opinions on where they think the department needs to change and meet business demands, individuals will feel involved and responsible for their development. 

It might be the case that the structure of the IT team and how it works with other areas of the business may also need to be revisited. Increasingly, digital transformation means that IT professionals need to work far more closely with Marketing, Sales and Operations to help deliver more efficient, cost-effective operations for these departments. Many areas of businesses are beginning to implement new tools and systems themselves, such as cloud technology to allow employees to access files anywhere. It is therefore important that IT departments are in control of new technologies being integrated into the business. This means that IT professionals must be able to understand the needs and demands of other parts of the business in order to add value beyond traditional technical support.

Provide tailored training

Training should be designed to support overall business goals and requirements while, at the same time, assisting the career aspirations and needs of the individual that were highlighted in the initial review process.

These training programmes need to be bespoke not just in their content but also in how they are delivered to employees. Broadly, different employees will respond to different training stimuli and environments, so you need to ensure you are meeting their needs by providing a wide range of training exercises. For example, offering interactive sessions, online forums for discussing challenges and ideas, short videos or mentoring, not just traditional, classroom style training, can support a culture of creativity and knowledge sharing. In addition, providing an employee the opportunity to work on a project within a different area of the business will allow them to gain exposure to wider operations and enhance their skills at the same time.

Build a culture of creativity

Furthermore, businesses and IT leaders must encourage individuals to think creatively about long-term projects that will impact the bottom line, not just fixing short-term problems. Employees should question existing systems and proactively think about how they can be improved. Embracing new technologies will be a big part of this. Whether it’s designing and implementing the latest mobile app or delivering cloud services, it is imperative that a strong business case is developed to demonstrate how investment in a new service can boost turnover or help reduce costs.

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By ensuring that the right structures and development programmes are in place, tech teams will become more productive, strategic and driven to achieve digital transformation that will deliver on business goals now and in the future.

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