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

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"Before you adopt a shared services model, you need to make sure your infrastructure and your IT processes are mature enough and can scale properly," he advises. "If your solutions are inadequate and you try to scale them, you'll end up with bad processes repeating over and over. What you've accomplished is basically moving the work from one unit to another with no gains."

Do: Automate your infrastructure
Don't: Get stuck changing lightbulbs

Unless it's a one-person operation, execs who make the big decisions (and the big bucks) aren't usually asked to also replace the lightbulbs and fix the toilet. IT departments need to stop being glorified service techs who keep the servers humming and email free from spam; instead, they must start assuming a larger role.

"IT is always going to have a mundane component: setting up email accounts, jockeying help desk tickets, and the like," says Gray. "In the service-based IT organization however, these activities should be 'outsourced' to an internal or external party that manages itself, getting these activities off of the CIO and IT's radar. You can't be a high-value service provider if these tasks are your main area of focus."

You don't necessarily have to move to the cloud to transform your IT department into a service provider, says Jeff Fisher, VP of strategy for RES Software, a provider of dynamic desktop solutions. But you will need to automate as many low-level services as possible.

"Don't assume that moving services to the cloud is going to automatically elevate your role," he says. "It's better to focus on automating the delivery of in-house services first to intimately understand their dependencies. This will help immensely when it comes to determining which services can be moved to the cloud. Automating challenging IT projects like application upgrades or operating system migrations can give users a better experience without requiring direct intervention from the IT team."

Randy Clark, chief marketing officer for IT process automation company UC4 Software, says most enterprises are already heavily reliant on integrated applications using shared infrastructure, making them too complex to manage manually.

"For example, doing inventory and pricing refreshes for hundreds of retail stores or assuring stock trades through online brokerages requires multiple applications to work together to provide relevant, accurate data," he says. "This requires applications and infrastructures to be in sync and managed to defined service levels. IT process automation can reduce manual effort by up to 90 percent, allowing valuable human resources to focus on more productive work to better drive the business."

Do: Solve business problems
Don't: Try to be an IT hero

You've been hearing this for years, and now it's become a matter of professional survival: It's time to stop acting like a geek and start thinking like a suit. That could mean a 180-degree shift in your approach to technology, notes Simon Johnson, director for service management at GlassHouse Technologies, a provider of infrastructure consulting services.

"Transforming IT into a service provider means shifting away from the traditional mantra of greater efficiency, higher utilization, and cost reduction and toward what the business is looking for, which is primarily innovation and agility," he says. "You need to sit down with the business side and understand what problems they are trying to solve."

LANDesk's Davis says tech staff who are accustomed to being praised when they step in and fix problems need to resist the urge to play hero, no matter how good it feels.

"It feels great to swoop in and save the day whenever things go wrong, but it doesn't help the business grow," he says. "It is a big cultural shift to stop being a glorified technician and start being a business enabler and service provider. By breaking away from that hero mentality, you can move IT forward into planning and working with the business-critical systems."

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