How the Cloud Has Transformed IT Departments

iStock_000043197226_SmallFor a long time, IT was pretty straightforward. Your IT staffers sat together in their own department – probably in the corner of the building somewhere or the basement. Technology buying decisions fell squarely in the hands of this department, as did tasks such as data security and system maintenance.

The cloud has transformed all that. Most companies still consider IT departments crucial to everyday operations – they’re certainly not obsolete – but their roles have shifted. In the cloud era, IT departments have been forced to become more collaborative and innovative, and relinquish some control.

Less internal control

With companies increasingly turning to third-party cloud vendors for software and applications, tasks like data management, system updates and system maintenance are often in the hands of third-party vendors. Beyond coordinating these activities with the vendor, notifying employees and addressing any employee issues or questions, IT isn’t heavily involved.

The fear in that has long been that the cloud would make IT departments obsolete, but as we’ll discuss in a bit, that doesn’t have to be the case. Cloud leads some companies to shrink the IT department, but very few eliminate it.

Less control over technology purchase and use

Gone are the days when the IT department had the ultimate say in technology buying. In modern organizations, departments from marketing to human resources are often in charge of which technology they purchase and use. This stems from the long-overdue realization that there’s no one-fits-all solution across company departments, and the realization that individual departments know best what tools and technologies work for them. If the marketing department needs a new lead nurturing tool, for example, it’s probably the CMO, not the CTO, who is giving the final OK on the purchase.

On top of that, the shift toward remote or work-from-home employees has made it difficult for IT departments to control which technologies and tools employees are using. The IT department once acted as a gatekeeper, blocking websites, apps and devices that were not approved. But when an employee is away from the office and/or using his or her own devices, this is difficult or impossible to control. That’s where setting policies and procedures for the use of technology becomes crucial – and that’s something IT can do.

Frees time for big picture improvements 

This is the reason IT departments – particularly those that adapt and grow to changes brought on buy the cloud – won’t become obsolete. The changes above free up IT departments to think more strategically.

Rather than spending all their time managing hardware and software – installing, configuring, testing, securing, monitoring and updating – IT departments can become tech strategists for the company. They can spend more time on IT planning and analyzing how tech solutions are performing. They can also research and assess new technologies, guide other departments through technology purchases, develop policies and procedures for appropriate technology use and help reduce IT spending.

Greater attention to security

Outsourcing technology to third-party vendors does not mean IT departments can turn their attention away from security. The opposite is true, particularly in light of recent major data breaches.

Most third-party cloud providers are highly secure, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to compete in the market. However, IT departments are charged with making sure by finding out exactly how the vendor uses, stores and encrypts sensitive customer data. Add that to the task of controlling internal security problems – many of which the cloud has brought to light – and IT departments are spending more time than other on security issues.

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