Despite big changes in technology over the past couple of decades, IT departments and the duties of their staff have stayed pretty consistent. The classic model involves helpdesk agents, desktop support staff, systems and network administrators, DBAs and developers, and managers at various levels reporting to a CIO or technology director. It's a system that has worked pretty well, surviving the arrival of the Internet and related shifts in both technology and culture with very little change to the actual duties of staff and running of a department.
A combination of forces -- the move to mobility, the arrival of a new generation of employees and the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend -- is changing the world of IT with a speed that might have seemed impossible a few years ago. The same is true about technology and how users interact with their smartphones and tablets, computers and even personal cloud services.
At its most basic level, the integration of technology into users' everyday lives -- both at home and at work -- is forcing IT pros to reinvent themselves, what they do and how they do it. Here's a look at how these forces will be re-shaping IT for years to come.
Enter the Millennial Generation
One major factor in the transformation of IT over the next few years will be the addition of the so-called millennial generation (also known as Generation Y, or more recently, "Gen C" ) into the workforce. This is the first generation that grew up with broadband Internet access, mobile phones, and social networks and it shaped their lives and expectations in important ways.
A recent study commissioned by Bomgar and GigaOm Pro discovered some key trends about millennials and how they view technology and workplace IT departments. The study found that younger workers:
- Have very high expectations when it comes to getting a response regarding support calls.
- Prefer interactions with IT beyond just calling the helpdesk, including email, chat and texts.
- Will typically research problems on their own (either before calling IT or while waiting for a response).
- Tend to work outside of typical business hours and off premises.
- Will develop their own solutions and processes with the tools at their disposal, including consumer-oriented cloud services and personal devices.
- Value working collaboratively with colleagues within their organization and beyond it.
- Are often willing to share knowledge about solutions provided to them by IT and solutions and processes they develop on their own.
For the most part, this means that millennials are assets to an organization. After all, what employer wouldn't want motivated self-starters that work well with others and can leverage their personal experience as well as that of their professional and social networks?
However, their tech expectations and preferences are likely to worry IT professionals. Millennial are part of a group that is technically proficient and often thinks outside the box. They're ready to leverage any technology at their disposal, whether it is provided (or sanctioned) by IT or not. And they're likely to share their thoughts and self-made solutions with others without involving IT in the discussion.
This means that while millennial may not be the cause of the "consumerization of IT" trend, they are certainly a factor in the process. You can expect them to become a bigger factor as their peers enter the workforce and move up through the corporate ranks. In fact, the changes surrounding this trend will be high on the agenda at the upcoming CITE conference March 4-6 .
Trends Leading the Change
It's easy to identify the major factors of consumerization that are transforming IT, but understanding that transformation means looking beyond those factors to the overall trends that have been unleashed and how they affect traditional IT jobs. The crucial trends include:
- Users taking ownership of their processes and technology.
- Workers, more technically literate than ever before, need less hand-holding.
- Solutions and devices beyond IT engender self-support.
- Users that develop solutions or are confident with technology can advise and educate others.
- The work/life balance is shifting and blurring.
- The single platform paradigm for tools, data access and devices is giving way to platform-agnostic solutions that can be accessed in multiple ways on different devices and from different locations.
- A more tech-competent workforce is redefining how staff view workplace technology and IT.
Of course there are other trends gathering like storms on the IT horizon like cloud computing, virtualization of the user desktop and applications, and a growing emphasis on analytics and collecting/mining big data.
IT's Relationship to Workers Means New Skills
In the past, jobs in IT were centered around technical skills and proficiencies -- understanding how to build and manage a network infrastructure, managing Active Directory and Exchange, repairing end-user device and software failures like broken printers or corrupted configuration files. Those skills were easy to identify, fit into neat boxes and could be illustrated by past work experience and industry certifications.
Technical skills will always be a part of the IT makeup, but as users become more empowered and knowledgeable in what you could call the IT-ization of the consumer, other skills -- most notably, soft skills like personal interaction -- will become more important.
Indeed, some of the skills and tasks traditionally provided by IT are beginning to shift to a partnership between IT and other staff. It's a trend that will continue and can offer a dynamic relationship that benefits everyone involved.
Perhaps the clearest example is that BYOD programs change the support relationship: IT still supports access to internal resources and tools but actual troubleshooting or replacing a damaged smartphone is more often the responsibility of the phone's owner.
Another is that if users are provided an internal platform for sharing their thoughts and processes such as a wiki-oriented knowledge base or social network, they can develop support and training materials on their own (ideally guided by an IT staff member or someone technically proficient).
As users' relationship with technology changes, it's important to ensure that their relationship with IT does, too. If IT works with users, becomes more open and integrated into various facets of a business, it can capitalize on the transformation happening. That means understanding user needs better, empowering users to contribute more and reducing some of the demands on IT.
If IT chooses to dig in for a fight against these coming changes, users will likely still develop their own solutions using their devices and preferred consumer services and share them with others. Working around IT will become the status quo and that's not good for providing value, reducing workload or keeping an environment secure.
This new collaborative and integrated IT model, along with the focus on mobile, BYOD, and big data, demand some specific needs that haven't always been the core skills of IT. As a whole, IT pros will need to:
- Maintain positive experiences and interactions with all users.
- Make an effort to understand the users' needs.
- Educate users about critical needs, particularly security.
- Be willing to listen to, and truly consider, user suggestions.
- Provide advice on consumer solutions (mobile devices, apps and cloud services, for instance) and their potential in the workplace.
- Develop solutions that are platform-independent or equivalent solutions for the major platforms in use.
- Expand beyond a help desk phone as the primary communication method.
- Work to help users share their knowledge and resources.
- Include appropriate non-IT staff in the project development and implementation processes.
- Be able to "connect the dots" between the technology and its use within an organization.
Next Page: What does this mean for jobs?