Technology has always been an evolving industry. It’s about improving on devices, applications, and processes until another revolutionary thing comes along to perfect.
But it does seem that technology as a whole, and the information technology department in particular, has undergone more changes during the past few years than even those that live on the cutting edge of it all have come to expect.
In what ways is the IT department different now than from just five years ago?
The Mobile Workforce is Evolving
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Mobile workers certainly weren’t rare five years ago, but the devices they use and the way they use them has changed remarkably. For example, the average mobile worker five years ago had to lug a laptop, business phone, and personal phone everywhere. Peripheral devices, such as projectors and external hard drives, were separate and generally cumbersome.
Today, BYOD (bring your own device) policies allow mobile workers to use a single phone for both business and personal uses, and many of the cumbersome peripheral devices are built into laptops, notebooks, and tablet computers so the worker has a lighter load. The downside to the mobile workforce, and BYOD policies in particular, are the increasing challenges IT departments face when trying to keep sensitive company and client data secure in this environment.
Much of Our Documentation Has Gone Digital
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While few workplaces have achieved a truly paperless office, the cloud combined with more widespread acceptance of the digital signature has reduced the amount of documents we have to keep around. Backups are almost all digital now, and are often stored off site so office spaces aren’t so crowded and cluttered. The increase in email, text messaging, and instant messaging means more work gets done with fewer reports and memos necessary to document the actions.
Not only is digital document less wasteful and cluttering, it is also faster and more efficient. It took time to distribute paper notifications to all the employees in a large office, but email alerts and instant messaging keep everyone updated to the instant, and there are fewer problems such as lost memos and notifications. With the proper backup systems in place, the company’s mission critical and sensitive documents are far safer than their paper counterparts of old.
The Cloud Shrunk the Global Workplace
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When most companies depended on email to allow multiple workers to contribute to a project, it caused problems because after a few exchanges, none of the workers were sure which document was the latest version. This meant duplicated efforts, wasted work, and quality issues with the projects they were trying to produce.
The assimilation of cloud based documents means all the workers, anywhere in the world, at any time, can access on a live document (or other project) at the same time. There’s never any question about what the latest version is, or who has accomplished what. This opens the doors to workers contributing to projects across time zones and in any work situation.
Computers and Devices are Smaller, Yet More Powerful
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Smaller devices packing more power has been the hallmark of technological advancements since computers were invented. But the past five years has seen an extraordinary example of this type of progress, as smartphones pack as much computing power as some of the old desktop PCs lurking on desktops not so long ago. What has the smaller size and increase in power meant to the IT department?
Workers can now use small portable laptops and notebooks in lieu of hulking PCs. The IT department doesn’t have to strain for ways to power huge banks of energy hogging desktops. Wi-Fi can often satisfy the needs of a group of workers, so that it isn’t always necessary to wire each PC individually. Furthermore, smartphones and tablets suffice for many workers, which means the department no longer has to maintain a fully functional PC for them at all.
Social Media Has Changed Most Every Aspect of the Workplace
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Social media has changed the workplace drastically, and in some ways this is beneficial to IT. In other ways, it’s brought additional headaches. Social media is an excellent way for workers to get quick answers to questions, to communicate effectively, and to find news and insights to help the workflow. But for every valuable piece of information out there, there seems to be a disproportionate amount of misinformation, and even harmful things.
The effect on the IT department largely depends on the company’s policies on social media use. When it’s kept to a reasonable level and monitored efficiently, it can actually boost productivity. But when workers are using social media without the proper restraints, it hinders productivity, opens the company to security liabilities, and even overloads system capacities.
The IT Department is Now a Crucial Part of Marketing Efforts
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Marketing, too, has gone digital. The increase in dependence on websites, blogs, online advertising, and mobile advertising means that few of any company’s marketing campaigns can be executed without help from the IT department. These professionals are now called upon for SMS messaging campaigns, eNewsletters, more functional websites, interactive marketing messages, online advertisements, and social media marketing efforts.
Few things get done around the workplace without the support of the IT department. However, workload automation systems and other such advancements is making it easier for the IT workers to keep up with it all. Perhaps the best thing that the past five years brought was the emergence from the economic recession, which curtailed advancements in many industries. Now that the economy is back on track, many companies are again willing to invest in the technologies and upgrades that IT departments need to sustain and improve their workplaces.
What’s in store for the next five years? Along with the usual influx of new applications and devices, IT workers can expect their demand to rise. An impending talent shortage in information technologies is expected to drive up demand for qualified IT staffers, meaning more job security and opportunities for advancement for those who have the right stuff.