Survival guide: Do's and don'ts for next-gen IT

Business IT is evolving behind your back. Here's how to head off extinction and assert a larger role

Here's the hard truth: The employees you support -- whose data centers you keep humming and whose email accounts you provision -- they don't need you any more. If you can't provide a service they want right now, they'll call up Salesforce or Amazon Web Services and order it from the cloud. And they'll do it without even telling you.

Your enterprise customers no longer belong to just you, says Narinder Singh, co-founder of cloud-based professional services organization Appirio.

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"The first thing you need to realize is that your business customers can leave or go around you in any number of ways," says Singh. "If people have an iPhone, they're going to use that for work, whether you want them to or not. If IT doesn't provide cloud storage, they'll sign up for their own Dropbox account. They aren't going to wait six to eight weeks for you to provision something for them. You can no longer treat business users as a captive entity. Instead, you'll have to become a consultant to the business and prove to them the value of what IT can do."

IT departments that wish to stay relevant in a BYOD and cloud-based world will need to redefine themselves as service providers. They'll need to make the leap from being technicians responsible for maintaining systems to experts who offer a menu of services and offer intelligent recommendations about which ones will help drive the business forward.

Of course, the transition from tech house to service catalog is full of pitfalls. Here are the key do's and don'ts for evolving your IT organization.

Do: Take a long hard look in the mirror
Don't: Jump in before you're ready

The first question you need to ask: Is your IT organization mature enough to become a service organization? Only 30 to 40 percent of large IT groups are ready to make the shift, says Patrick Gray, president of Prevoyance Group, a business strategy consulting company. You can't expect to have a seat at the table when your servers are still crashing and business apps are going down.

"The first step is to take a hard look in the mirror and make sure your IT department is really as mature as you think it is," he says. "Is your CIO called in after the business decisions have already been made and management just needs the cables to be connected, or is IT a valued part of the decision-making process from the beginning? 'IT as a service provider' sounds nice, but it's a much more fundamental transition than many CIOs and IT departments expect, and it's far more than allowing some cloud services into the company."

Honest assessment of your IT tools is key, adds Tom Davis, CTO for IT solutions firm LANDesk Software. The more point tools you have and the more you're still wedded to a break-fix mentality, the less ready you are for taking the next step.

"Providing a high level of service and automating redundant processes is exponentially harder in an environment riddled with point products," he says. "This will be your biggest expense in the move to becoming a service provider."

The good news? Removing point tools with integrated systems can save your organization money, he adds. But if your organization isn't ready to make the leap, it will end up costing you, says Joseph Lee, IT operations and delivery manager for SWC Technology Partners, a provider of managed services and infrastructure solutions.

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