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The New Org Structure of IT Businesses: Why Leaders Are Becoming Generalists, Not Specialists

Posted by on September 23, 2020

Jonathan Reichental

I attended a Gartner conference last year, and one overarching narrative seemed to remain constant through every presentation: Silos in organizations inhibit innovation.

What many IT businesses over the past decade have realized is that it’s no longer sufficient to keep the account management department away from the software department away from the marketing department, and so on. In the past, when technology was less universally accessible, it was very common for the IT department to be kept separate—and treated as such. As a result, when the system went down, or there was a hardware issue, fingers would get pointed and departments would try to pass blame onto one another. 

This proved ineffective for everyone.

But over the past few years, and as technology has become intertwined with every single function of the business, not only has it become more difficult to point fingers, but it has become blatantly obvious that innovation requires a more holistic approach. When an issue happens within the business, it’s not one department’s fault. It’s the company’s fault. The system went down, the business lost revenue, and the customer was let down. 

That’s a shared responsibility—not a siloed one.

Now more than ever, IT businesses need to rethink the entire structure of their organizations—or, at a minimum, reorient their departments if they want to drive innovation. 

For instance, through my work in product marketing at Cherwell, I can tell you that internally we have teams with stakeholders from a wide variety of specializations. Our key technology team, for example, has operations people, network people, software people, etc., all working together to own a clearly defined business result end to end. Instead of organizing the company by silos, it’s organized by product area, meaning that we don’t just want all the same types of people sitting in separate rooms together. Instead, we want groups of people with differing perspectives and skill sets, working toward a measurable business result for the company.

This is the new org structure of IT businesses.

Now, instead of hiring leaders who are proficient in one area, IT businesses are looking for product owners. They want leaders who understand the market, the company’s levers for growth, and have an awareness of customer behaviors. 

  • “Who are our target customers?”

  • “How do they need to access our software?”

  • “How can we drive more business, and more profitability?”

As a result, IT businesses are seeing a lot less specialization at the leadership level. 

Today, companies are looking for people who can play multiple roles—technologists at heart, but with a high level of awareness of the ways in which growth can be driven for the business as a whole.

From CIO to Chief Digital Information Officer

Aflac made this same organizational change recently.

When Aflac named their new CIO in 2019, they made a point of specifying the scope of his responsibilities by changing his title to chief digital information officer. While he was taking over a semi-traditional IT organization, this small adjustment in responsibilities signaled a new direction for the company: He wasn’t just the leader of IT, he was the leader of Aflac’s entire digital transformation—synonymous with the future success of the entire organization.

Before 2020, companies making these types of organizational changes were seen as forward-thinking, and even “early adopters” of what we all know will eventually become a world dominated by technology (if it isn’t already). But since the acceleration of COVID-19, digital transformation has become the number one priority for businesses everywhere. Especially at a time when workforces are more distributed than ever, it’s no longer sufficient to silo entire departments off from each other any further than necessary. 

If anything, organizations today are looking for ways to bring people closer together, to allow departments to seamlessly exchange information and keep each other informed in real-time.

The new org structure of IT follows suit: It’s one for all, and all for one.