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Commentary: The New School of IT – it’s time to rethink IT (Author: Prof. Dr Volker Gruhn*)

18. November 2021

A thought experiment: You’re on the lookout for a sparring partner to help develop forward-thinking concepts and innovative offers. Who do you call? The answer should be quite simple – your IT department. Unfortunately, there are still far too few decision-makers who understand this reality. And that’s a mistake, because the success of digital business models should have had companies analysing their understanding of IT and its capabilities.

The sole function of IT for a long time now has been to simply keep things up and running. The specialist departments would determine the company’s agenda and demoted their IT experts to mere operational assistants. Anyone who still harbours these views of IT is missing out on untapped potential and risking success of tomorrow. Simply put, IT has firmly established itself as a source of innovation, a designer of new business models and a guarantor of revenue streams. adesso outlines just how those responsible should go about moving IT from the basement to the management board, which competencies and types of organisation are relevant and just what this future role will look like in the New School of IT.

From a former cost centre to a key position, the traditional IT department as it has existed to date must first grow into this new role. This transformation is having a far-reaching effect on the entire business – from how collaboration is organised to the manner in which business stakeholders understand data and develop solutions. To ensure that IT can have the desired effect, companies should focus their attention on three fields of action: ambidextrous attitude, cloud-native thinking and data-mindedness. IT departments currently find themselves caught between two conflicting aims. On the one side they are responsible for stable, cost-optimised day-to-day business, while on the other side they are supposed to make new business applications possible for which state-of-the-art technology is indispensable.


Dr Volker Gruhn explains the concept of the "New School of IT". He is the founder and chairman of the supervisory board of adesso and holds the chair for Software Engineering at the University of Duisburg-Essen. (Copyright: adesso)

The term “ambidextrous attitude” describes an organisational approach that takes both of these opposing requirements into account. A different corporate culture and a new type of organisational structure are the fundamental prerequisite for leveraging the full potential of IT as the nucleus of all company activities. IT will only be able to take on an ambidextrous attitude when people drive forward its development. Two roles that are of particular importance in this respect are Chief Information Officer (CIO) and the Chief Digital Officer (CDO). The CIO is a firm fixture for most companies. The CDO, on the other hand, is a new player entering the game.

The second field of action is cloud-native thinking. Today, a no-cloud strategy could just as well be a no-business strategy. The use of cloud technologies and processes makes a whole world of benefits possible: lower costs, faster processes, greater scalability and improved stability. Defining the right strategy helps businesses benefit from these advantages, without any of the adverse effects such as vendor lock-in, data protection uncertainty and a loss of control. However, simply lifting and shifting applications into the cloud is not enough. The cloud can only be used to its full potential if those responsible plan and implement their development and infrastructure to be cloud-native right from day one.

Last but not least, there’s data-mindedness. Lots of companies are sitting on mountains of data, but have not even begun to tap its potential. Data can become a competitive advantage that turns entire industries upside down. That is why an optimised data flow should determine the structure of the organisation and how internal processes are designed. The CIO and their team are responsible for proper data handling, from data gathering to data assessment and utilisation. This gives them all the tools necessary to elaborate new business ideas and better processes in collaboration with the divisions.

I am convinced that an IT which has fully and competently mastered these fields of action and their interplay is fit to take on its new role. The New School of IT offers companies an organisational framework and gives recommendations for action with the aim of getting IT a seat at the decision makers’ table. Only IT can evaluate technologies, assess their impact and develop solutions. IT must a have a say when business leaders are plotting the future course of their companies.

*Prof. Dr Volker Gruhn is the founder and Supervisory Board Chairman of adesso as well as professor for software engineering at the University of Duisburg-Essen.

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