IT analysts should be embedded throughout the organization. IT is one of the very few departments that sees how the entire company operates. It has an unparalleled view into business processes and information types, given that most of these are now digital in nature in most companies. That insight is the basis for where IT can make a big, positive difference: strategic consultant.
Rather than worry about whether a user has an iPad or a Windows laptop (or who owns it); about whether a person uses Quickoffice, Pages, or Word; or about whether a person accesses Dropbox, Google Docs, or SharePoint, IT should be worrying about how a user can get the best business results from the technology services, apps, and tools available.
Analyze the business workflows and processes. Look at the technologies in use and available. Make recommendations. Test out possible options through pilot projects. Educate, train, and reassess users on their use of technology to get better results. Help solve problems that matter. Be a real guru, an ally, an enabler. People will fight to get your attention, not look for ways to work around your rules.
Your in-the-field analysts, support desk, CTO (or whatever you call your technology exploration leader), and process experts should compare notes and see where acting together they can do more than better individual employees and departments -- to identify what can be brought to the company more broadly in addition to what is being done at the individual level. Having individual gurus is nice, but having a team that sees the larger picture and can coordinate the individual gurus for greater effect is even nicer.
Of course, you can't do any of this if you can't handle the basic mechanics of email, networking, and so on. But there's no excuse in 2012 for bad execution of the basics. Any IT organization still failing in those areas needs to be fired and replaced. If IT is still a mess, blow it up -- as you would a sales team that doesn't sell or a product development team that can't create products people want.
I suspect -- or at least hope -- that most larger organizations are well beyond the "keep the lights running" stage of IT. For them, there is a choice to be made in a technologically democratized workplace: Retreat to the data center or become a true part of the business. Getting there won't be easy, even in companies where both the IT and business leadership have a clue. But if you don't go there, you'll at best be an engineer locked in the engine room -- an outsourceable engine room. Wouldn't you rather have the run of the ship?
This article, "IT at the crossroads: Lead or fade away," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Smart User blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.