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Goodbye to the digital grease-monkey: welcome to service-level IT


In the era of digital transformation, IT teams have to re-orient themselves to a customer service model, where they serve those they work with rather than dictating to them. With so much productized software and IT solutions available, such as Office 365 and other cloud programs, IT’s role is changing because people can do so much more on their own without having to be technically sophisticated.

This blog examines what it means to be service-focused and how IT can be successful in this new reality.

Why the garage mechanic vision of IT is outmoded

By increasing the complexity of how cars run, the auto industry has made it excessively hard for all but sophisticated mechanics to work on cars. Sure, we can still put air in our tires and some of us can change the brakes on our own, but the home auto mechanic is largely a thing of the past. Many cars even make it near impossible for drivers to even get under the hood and work on the engine without triggering an alert to the car company that would void a warranty.

The same is true for enterprise IT software. The complexity of the software is no longer something that internal IT staffs need to worry about or should spend their time focusing on — that is now controlled by the vendors of the products themselves. Office 365 is a great example, as the intricacies of the platform are handled by Microsoft.

Thus, when it comes to IT, it’s no longer possible to be a home garage mechanic. Companies are beginning to recognize this and are looking to hire IT folks who have skills in cloud architecture and are able to stitch together products while managing multiple service providers. Since the vendors themselves handle the complexity of the software platforms being used, there just isn’t a call for IT staffs to work in this area anymore.

New IT staff will be focused on business outcomes that are defined by service levels

In this new reality, IT has to understand the technology the company is using as well as understand how to support the business striving toward its larger objectives overall. New IT staff needs to be able to go to the business units and speak in their language, providing them options and having conversations that drive toward gaining an understanding of their requirements. IT is thus no longer in the position of telling the business what’s possible, but rather has to listen to the business about its needs and then offer up potential solutions.

But in our work with customers, it’s clear there’s a definite shortage of IT people with skill sets in this area, such as being able to leverage service providers and manage virtualization compliance and data protection.

Look, IT must recognize that we are in a new reality where users are spread across the world and applications are hosted in a diverse number of places. Most companies aren’t using single data centers or networks any more. A new architecture is required to support this reality, and IT skill sets need to catch up. In essence, IT needs to be trained as much in business consulting as in technology itself.

The new world of business complexity

The new focus of IT will be on using technology to reduce friction within an organization’s business processes. IT has to be able to integrate legacy technologies with new technologies to provide the business with the technological support it needs to achieve business outcomes. This is how IT will provide value to the business -- by reducing costs, improving the end-user experience, and enhancing productivity.

To put it simply: companies must stop doing IT to people. IT must now partner with the business and improve transparency into IT processes. This will foster greater credibility for IT and improve its ability to work with the business as a whole.

One example of this shift is that IT is in a position to educate the business on why and how to leverage the cloud. At one business I worked with, we pointed out that the company’s actual aim was staffing, and therefore IT needed to be focused on this as well. That meant not just being in the business of managing email, networks, or security solutions, but rather leveraging partners in cloud technology to reduce overall complexity so the company could focus on the actual running of the business.

Identifying threats and early warnings

By driving out complexity, IT can put itself in a much better position to decrease the organization’s broad risk exposure. During this process, IT may discover issues it was unaware of that it can improve to drive greater satisfaction from end users. By engaging in conversations with the business side, IT can surface issues that the business side may have stopped complaining about because they have been ignored in the past. IT can then address those issues to reduce risk.

Showing how to make full use of services

To return to the car analogy, today’s automobiles offer much more insight to drivers about the operation of the car. Dashboards show not just mileage, but many metrics on how the car is performing.

In similar fashion, companies are investing heavily in solutions that provide metrics and actionable data on how their employees collaborate as well as what they are actually doing with the huge amounts of data available in business systems. IT should use those metrics to understand key gaps and align priorities with business strategies.

IT must provide these types of metrics to business users, as transparency is the key to ensuring IT is trusted. Of course, those metrics must be ones that the business actually cares about. And the only way for IT to know what the business cares about is if it is able to speak in the language of the business and have the conversations necessary to understand overall corporate objectives.

From digital grease monkey to technology-focused business analyst

Thus, I’m arguing for a mindset shift. IT must stop seeing itself as the digital grease monkey or the fixer of technological problems. IT is now an integrator of multiple services and must align those products and platforms to specific business requirements and processes with the ultimate aim of enabling the business to do what it does best. The business side does not care about such things as the management of networks and email as ends in and of themselves. Instead, they care about leveraging those technologies to meet business needs. IT should view itself then as technology-focused business analysts rather than grease monkeys.

It’s just not practical any longer for two-thirds of the IT staff not to know what the business actually does. They must be as good at IT as they are at business consulting and always keep the company’s business objectives in mind.   


Dan Shelton is Zscaler director of product management

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