Software marketing, business strategy, data security, technology maintenance — just a decade ago, these were four distinct areas of expertise. But today, for many organizations, they're all rolled into one very important job: the IT professional.
What was once an employee hired to fix computer glitches and set up new office equipment has evolved into a powerhouse position that companies are raising to near-executive status (or actual executive status, as a quick Google search for "chief information officer" will prove). At the core of this role shift is, of course, the cloud, the very same technology responsible for many dramatic transformations in the way modern offices are run.
In the past, most of an IT professional's time was spent dealing with hardware and technological infrastructure issues, said Chandar Venkataraman, chief product officer of data protection and governance software provider Druva. [Looking for an IT Job? You Need These Skills]
"They dedicated 100 percent of their time to maintaining existing systems," Venkataraman told Business News Daily. "Then, IT focused on systems, but also supportive applications, like enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management and content management. [Because of the cloud], for the first time, IT is able to transition into more of the business end of an organization."
"IT [workers] now have a unique opportunity to proactively drive their organization's cloud strategy, how data is collected, stored, governed, etc.," added Nenshad Bardoliwalla, co-founder and vice president of products at data preparation company Paxata. "They are no longer bound by limitations of hardware, operating systems or interfaces."
But the brave new world of information technology isn't all glamorous. One of the biggest challenges that has come with the cloud is the ever-growing number of software programs and devices that IT departments must now oversee. Instead of all employees using the same IT-recommended programs across the board for their day-to-day tasks, they can now choose the cloud-based solutions of their choice, like Dropbox or GChat for internal file sharing and communications.
"Users don't all come in with one solution — they all want to use different things," said Curtis Peterson, vice president of operations at cloud phone system RingCentral. "IT professionals are in a weird position. Do they defend what they brought in, or embrace what users want? They have to create unity and consensus on that [among workers]."
Peterson believes that this shift from implementer to "babysitter" of devices, software and apps has taken away some of IT's former control over a company's tech solutions — which, in some cases, may be viewed as a hindrance to the department's innovative power.
A related issue that has arisen with user-elected cloud solutions is the loss of visibility and control over sensitive corporate data transferred in and out of networks, and between employees' work and personal devices. Consumer-grade cloud applications have created a major security issue for companies that don't have the right IT solutions in place.
"Employees can use Dropbox to share corporate data [on personal devices]," Venkataraman said. "Once data has left the organization, IT doesn't have visibility. It can be shared with ex-employees and continue to be shared. It's hard to know where corporate data ended up."
Data privacy especially becomes a problem if a personal device with company data is lost or stolen, as any company that's experienced a potential or actual BYOD security crisis has learned.
"Should a device be lost, what's the role of IT?" Venkataraman said. "Who owns data in the cloud? It's important for policies to be put in place ahead of time [so employees know] data is owned by the enterprise, not the user."
Venkataraman noted that IT departments also need to set policies for what types of files employees can put in the cloud (for example, no personal photos and videos), in the event that backup and recovery measures need to be taken to restore company-owned data.
As the cloud continues to evolve, so will the role of the IT professional. For now, though, one of the best things a person in this position can be is a technology evangelist in the office.
"IT workers can come up with solutions that make work better, cheaper and faster, which was their original mission," Peterson said. "They need to know the cloud solutions road map [and provide] internal customization for clients. They can still be part of innovation, but at a higher and more important business function level than ever before."
Bardoliwalla agreed, noting that technological advances and the continued evolution of IT will go hand-in-hand.
"The next wave of technology innovation will be to serve those visionary IT leaders who are reinventing the infrastructure tooling necessary to support the cloud-enabled business," Bardoliwalla said.
Originally published on Business News Daily.