The Changing Role of the IT Function in Times of Digital Transformation

We have come a long way since the days when having an IT department just meant having a team of people that would make sure that our networks are connected, our computers are working, and basically having an ‘IT guy’ who would fix any computer issues we might be facing. 

The role of the IT department has clearly evolved and with the increasing impact of digital innovation and transformation across all organisations, we see an increasingly strategic role for IT expertise and capabilities in driving digital business innovation. Hence, the role of the IT function in organisations is rapidly changing – IT is required to fulfil a broad range of roles, from a reliable technology provider to agile business innovation partner.

These developments have triggered Professor Bart van den Hooff, a main researcher for the KIN Center for Digital Innovation, to study the evolution of the IT function, focusing on the many dilemmas that business managers and leaders face in organising IT capabilities in times of digital transformation.  In studying these issues, the starting point for Prof. van den Hooff lies in the practical challenges that organisations are faced with concerning the governance of the IT function. 

 Having created strong partnerships with different types of organisations, such as ABN AMRO, Heineken, Shell, Deloitte, KPMG, Rabobank, Holland Casino, etc., Prof. van den Hooff has managed to have a vital role in observing the evolution of this phenomenon over time. When asked about some of the most compelling insights he has gathered, he sees one persistent pattern: 

The changing role of the IT function is creating many dilemmas with regard to the organisation and governance of this function. This creates internal tensions and frictions, and many organisations are currently searching for ways to balance these dilemmas and shape an IT function that is is able to fulfill the many conflicting demands that digital transformation creates.”

We live in a time of many uncertainties. Organisations have understood that becoming digital is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’ strategy, but rather a crucial strategic direction that will allow them to remain relevant and competitive in today’s digitalised global market. These developments require the IT function to fulfil any roles that on the surface do not always seem easy to combine. On the one hand, IT still needs to be responsible for maintaining the functionality of the IT infrastructure, focusing on reliability and predictability, while on the other, IT needs to take a more proactive role in generating innovation, helping the business become more digital-ready, which requires more creativity and experimentation. This clearly has a strong impact on how strategy is formed and resources are allocated. 

 With the insights and valuable observations coming Prof. van den Hooff, business leaders and decision-makers can better understand how crucial the IT function is becoming, how it needs to evolve to create added value for the organisation and how finding the perfect balance between the different roles of IT is key to a successful evolution of any business. 

In his own words, Prof. van den Hooff states that “shaping the organisational model in a way that supports the new broadening IT function is a very difficult balancing act and only time will tell how things will evolve. With that being said, it is important that managers are aware of the changes and challenges that come with this evolution”. 

Prof. van den Hooff’s research doesn’t provide any one-size-fits-all solution for organisations to navigate the complexities of digital transformation. But it does help to become aware of the important pains and strains that it generates across and organisation, and possible ways to deal with these. These pains are not unique, nor individual, but they manifest across all organisations that are undergoing such a transformation. 

Author: Michael Omescu