For companies across industries – and across the world – technology not only supports the business, it is the business. That means IT leaders have both more opportunities to drive innovation as well as more challenges than ever due to expanding cloud options, cybersecurity, skills gaps and more.

Innovation is, of course, a double-edged sword: The opportunity to drive digital transformation doesn’t eliminate the responsibility to “keep the lights on.” Some companies are better positioned than others to take advantage of the business opportunities innovation presents while also meeting the challenges every IT operation faces.

What’s the common denominator among the CIOs, vice presidents of IT and other leaders who are building a roadmap to modern IT operations?

To answer that question, Sungard Availability Services teamed with market researcher Vanson Bourne to produce “The Little Book of IT 2017,” which reveals technology trends and realities based on a survey of 1,350 IT decision-makers from around the world in seven industries. The research looked at companies across small, medium and larger enterprises in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden, France, India and Ireland.

High on function, low on transformation

Top 3 factors when investing in new tech

Some companies are better positioned than others to take advantage of the business opportunities innovation presents while also meeting the challenges every IT operation faces.

While opportunities abound to transform enterprises into digital, customer-focused businesses, the survey revealed a sobering fact: 62 percent of respondents spend much of the day responding to internal and external tickets and carrying out other administrative tasks. In contrast, strategic planning accounted for only 28 percent of their work.

Forward-looking IT operations in that 28 percent have several things in common, including a bimodal IT structure, a focus on customized apps and a leaner IT operation.

What drives bimodal IT

According to the “Little Book of IT 2017,” progressive companies are – or will — take a bimodal approach to reach both their business and IT goals. Seventy-nine percent say that to deliver on their goals for 2017, they have adopted or are planning to adopt a bimodal IT approach.

Bimodal IT is driven by growth factors, such as availability and scalability. These companies are more likely to train their teams in agile methodology and emerging technologies, while those not adopting a bimodal strategy are driven by security and regulatory compliance.

Apps and innovation

In today’s [fill in the blank]-as-a-service world, you can tell a lot about a company by how it approaches applications. For many businesses, off-the-shelf software no longer cuts it. In fact, most companies surveyed (59 percent) say they either develop custom apps or customize software to suit their needs.

As mobility becomes more critical to business success, it’s clear that custom or customized software for mobile devices indicates innovation. Of those who develop customized apps in-house, 61 percent report that all or a majority their mission-critical apps are suitable for use on mobile devices, compared to just 22 percent where no customized development occurs.

Best use of IT resources

So if custom or customized apps signal innovation, what does a lack of them mean? “The Little Book of IT” shows a cultural divide. Companies that rely on off-the-shelf software are less likely to adopt emerging technologies or implement a bimodal IT strategy.

Ironically, they have a larger proportion of full-time IT workers. However, they report the IT department’s biggest challenge is lack of staff resources. The bottom line: More IT staff does not equal more innovation.

Overall, the research is revealing when assessing the number of full-time IT employees vs. companies that were innovating. First, the greater the number of full-time IT workers, the more time the company spent keeping the lights on. In contrast, companies with fewer full-time employees were more likely to have budget increases, a bimodal IT strategy, integrated systems and freedom to drive technological innovation.

The cause and effect is unclear, but what is clear is that smaller full-time IT staffs correlate with IT leaders who are investing in innovative IT approaches for automation and agility.

The future of IT

Survey results show a measurable difference between the technological wish list of CIOs and the wishes of vice presidents or director-level IT leaders. The latter focuses on infrastructure and security while CIOs are looking to migrate to the cloud, digitalization and business analytics – i.e., the future and how the business is going to be using IT. However, this could divert budget away from the vice president/director level need to improve security and infrastructure.

The road ahead for IT is a long one. Organizations will need to keep their current infrastructure running as efficiently as possible while pressing on toward the destination of innovation and growth.


Dan Muse is a technology journalist and content consultant. He’s the former editor in chief of CIO.com. He has covered technology for three decades and held senior editorial positions with Ziff Davis, Jupitermedia, Disney Publishing, McGraw-Hill and Advance Digital.