Once upon a time, IT managers had one core job—keep the network running, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. As long as the executives had information going where they wanted it to go, nobody bothered the IT department.
Times have changed.
Today, IT managers deal with a complex digital landscape. Their companies are brimming with interdepartmental connections, remote workers, mobile devices for most, or all of the company, and external digital connections to every sector relevant to the company’s interests—suppliers, transport, financial institutions, service providers, and numerous others. This landscape has created an expectation among customers that they will have access to business information anytime, anyway they want it, no matter where they are. These expectations put IT on the front lines of every company’s business strategy.
The Increase in IT Visibility
In one sense, the IT department’s job hasn’t changed much. They’re tasked with putting whatever technology is relevant to work for the company. However, the nature of today’s business technology—especially the high requirement for mobile solutions and an increasing reliance on cloud services that allow workers and executives to connect to the business from anywhere—puts IT managers on the spot. They need to ensure that all of these hundreds or thousands of potential connections within the company work every time, at all times.
The growing importance of IT is acknowledged in companies around the world, most notably through the introduction of executive positions focused on tech issues: the CTO (Chief Technology Officer) and CIO (Chief Information Officer). While these positions serve different purposes—the CTO provides technical expertise at the executive level, while the CIO understands the technical side well enough to apply it to the company’s business requirements—both of them act as a link between the IT department and the company board.
The Importance of Proactive IT Managers
In the early days of professional IT departments, workers and managers did whatever was required to fulfil their necessary tasks, then kept track of the systems and waited to be called upon. It was not uncommon for executives to disregard the presence of IT entirely until something went wrong; at times this led IT departments to become complacent when the networks functioned smoothly and little else was asked of them.
With executive links to IT being created at numerous major companies, and an improved understanding of IT’s functions at the rest, the IT manager no longer has the luxury of sitting back and waiting for instructions. A major part of the manager’s job in today’s business climate is to study emerging technologies, understand the potential application of those technologies to the company’s interest, and present to the appropriate executives (the CTO, CIO, or the board itself) evidence on how the company should invest its technology budget.
In short, the IT manager can no longer be an expert on present technology. Reading the future is now part of the job.
IT Managers Must Ensure Data Security Within the Company
One other critical task of the IT department is to ensure data security within the company. In an era of constant data flow to and from outside sources, hackers are more prevalent than ever. The IT Manager especially needs to understand where the security gaps are and present methods for shoring up those weaknesses. At times this may require a technology upgrade, either in hardware (firewalls) or software (anti-malware programs); however, the most common security flaw in any business is employees making mistakes and being phished by hackers. The IT manager is responsible for studying how much vulnerable the company’s critical data is to such mistakes, and employing appropriate training to minimize the risk of employee-related data leaks in the future.
IT Managers Move Organizations Forward
With the advent of social media business strategies, mobile technology, cloud-based data solutions, and the general expectation of immediate data access at all times, IT managers have never been more important. They possess the deepest knowledge of anyone in the company regarding IT platforms and best practices in technology and information systems. This makes their job a true challenge, but those who are up to the challenge are the key to moving their companies forward.
This post is based on an article originally featured on ThinkProgress.com.