Why do we still call it the IT department

From infrastructure to functionality to innovation, the IT department is what allows companies to design a completely new digital enterprise, says Terry White, executive consultant at Netsurit.

The IT department does much of its work behind the scenes and is more integral to a company’s success than many realise. It certainly does much more than “information technology”.

In today’s modern world, IT is a driver and enabler of internal change and is a value-added revenue generator in the digital products and services space. In making a case for the rebranding of IT, let us start by looking at its history.

The first data processing (DP) departments date back to the 1950s, evolving into electronic data processing (EDP) departments, then information systems (IS), followed by management information systems (MIS), and finally information technology (IT) and information and communications technology (ICT) departments.

This brief history shows that companies have tried to name their tech functions based on what they do, which begs the question: “Is information and communications and technology what modern departments do, or is there more going on in a digitally enabled business environment?”

The meanings of “information” and “technology” have changed over the past 20 years. “Information” is now a word indicative of big data, analytics, decision support and many other terms beyond its 1990s definition. “Communication” is more about mobile than it is about computer networks, and, in any case, VPNs are far removed from the old point-to-point owned networks of the past. “Technology” in the 90s was used mainly to describe computers and hardware, but now the lines that define technology have become blurred. And what about organisations that have outsourced most or all of their technology either through hosting or the cloud? An ICT department no longer simply means “the department which produces information with technology and communications”, if, indeed, it ever did.

Renaming the department is not a pointless exercise. If we agree that words have meaning, then in this case, the new CIO is definitely a manager of meaning, and what his or her department means to their organisation is critical to success. For instance, if we were to call it “the tech backroom” or the “tech support services” department, user expectations and indeed budgets would be severely downgraded. On the other hand, if we were to name it the “supreme driver of digital business and innovation”, we might expect a little resistance from other business units. Words do have meaning.

Some CIOs have realised that labels matter and have rebranded their departments to reflect their roles and the intended message to their organisations.

Look at these IT department titles, and consider whether they mean more to your organisation than “IT”:

  • Integrated technology services
  • Digital business group
  • Global technology solutions
  • Agile competitive technology solutions (ACTS)
  • Business technology unit

Is it not time that IT department names should indicate the intersection of business and digital functions, while also indicating a focus on results? I propose the appellation “digital business solutions”, for example. Or perhaps “digital business services”, indicating a more supportive and internal role.

It is apparent that IT creates and maintains so many systems that go unseen or unrecognised by the greater organisation, but these are integral to the success of a business. That’s why it’s important to choose a name wisely and mean what you say.

Takeouts

  • Why do we still call it the IT department?
  • The role of IT has changed in a digitally enabled business environment. Its name should change too.
  • What a CIO’s department name means to the organisation is critical to success.
  • The IT department name should indicate the intersection of business and digital functions while also showing a focus on business results.