I’ve worked in the IT industry, focused on Microsoft mostly, for 17 years. Certainly I’m not on the high end, but I did get in at an interesting point. In the late 1990’s, the internet was booming and IT departments were forming. For me, this is where the IT industry really started. Before this, IT was a bit more undefined and commoditized.

Today, every IT department is unique and each one can exist in a different stage, depending on budgets and the value they provide to the business. In the earlier stages, IT is aligned to the IT industry, but as IT moves into later stages, the impact to the business is greater. When this happens, the IT industry disappears and IT becomes aligned to their company’s industry.

Stage 1: IT as the Cost Center
This is where traditional IT (and I) got started. Traditional IT is responsible for making sure the network is up, that you get your email and that your PC is working. All of these things cost salaries and capital. Frankly the value of this work, while important, isn’t very measurable.

Traditional IT closely follows a refresh cycle budget. Sometimes, the budget is based on break/fix work and no real planning. With proper planning, IT can make great leaps in cost savings through proven strategies. Some smaller IT shops remain stuck here due to budget constraints.

I worked at a company like this briefly. They are still at the same point they were at years ago with little movement. I’m not saying you should jump if you’re stuck here, but don’t be too comfortable to move on if a better opportunity comes up!

The way to jumpstart a traditional IT shop is to find just one efficiency and build on it, then prove value. A few years ago, VMWare played a huge role in this by providing cost savings through the efficiencies brought on by server virtualization. The savings came from a more effective way to operate, helping the business save money.

Stage 2: IT as the Cost Saver
With virtualization, IT figured out that the traditional bloated way of operating wasn’t the best and that within technology itself lied the way to making the most out of the investments made. Standards, operating processes, server consolidation and long term planning became the norm, allowing IT to better prove out their value (and budgets).

This coincided in my own career during the recent economic downturn. Everyone was being forced to do more with less. Many IT shops started figuring out innovative ways to save money while still serving business needs. We used a combination of virtualization for Windows servers and blades to save a lot of money.

Out of this simple cost savings measure, IT found other ways to leverage processes and automation to save money for repetitive tasks (DevOps). At the same time, companies like Amazon and Microsoft began to offer their extra capacity and solutions, managed in a centralized way to help companies reduce costs further (Cloud).

These technologies enable the move to Stage 3, which is where the IT industry starts to fall away.

Stage 3: IT as the Revenue Enabler
This is where the bravest and most innovative companies now find themselves. No longer constrained by their employee size or capital budgets, IT can make a massive impact on their employees and customers with easy to manage recurring operational expenses that are tied directly to performance, scaling up and down when needed.

Here, IT has mostly shifted away from the necessary evil of spending money with unquantifiable benefits, to a group within your business that can build revenue through the software and the solutions they can provide. This requires a little more specialized knowledge of your company’s industry.

A recommended way to maximize efficiencies is by running an IT model called Bimodal IT, which I cover in another article. Basically, you have 2 IT groups, traditional IT to keep things running and another modern IT group to focus on innovation at the speed that you business demands without shadow IT forming. This is directly tied to the speed at which cloud services enables you to work.

If you can’t operate this way or are looking to ramp it up, engaging a partner (like the one I work for) is a great way to get started! Once this is set up, the result is helping your business move at the speed it demands in a supportable and secure way.

What Next for IT?
I don’t think the next big leap won’t come through IT, but IT will continue to enable it. End users will continue to push and shape IT into what the business needs to provide unique value to the market. To some extent, this is already underway.

Every business out there now
is a software company.
-Satya Nadella (Ignite 2015)

This quote is very telling on where the IT industry is. Never has technology been so accessible to enable businesses to drive value to their customers. IT needs to adapt and become savvy enough in their unique company’s industry to give their end users an edge in the market.

Whatever the next stage is for IT, end users will be in the driver’s seat. If future IT is doing their job right, the IT industry will disappear into the industry they serve.