Salesforce Report Looks at What Makes IT Departments Successful's State of IT report for 2017 found that IT departments need to focus on optimizing the customer experience and invest in innovation to be most successful.

Cloud Project Management

Cloud computing and other technology advances have shifted IT’s role in the enterprise from a cost center to adding business value. That’s one of the conclusions from the latest State of IT report released April 26 by

“We continue to see an industry trend accelerating where IT overall is moving from a cost center to a value driver,” Dylan Steele, vice president of platform marketing at Salesforce, told eWEEK. “From a technology standpoint, you see IT really delivering bottom line value and ROI when it’s focused on the customer experience in things like reduced service times.”  
For this year’s report Salesforce broke out what it identified as high-, low- and under-performing IT departments based on how IT teams described their own operations. Only 15 to 18 percent rated themselves as high performers versus their peers.

Steele says the results reflect the importance of investing and focusing on customer experience. In the survey, 94 percent of high performers said their job was about enabling better customer experience and 74 percent of all respondents concurred.

“Think about airline industry. If you don’t have metrics focused on the customer experience nothing else matters,” says Steele. “You might say we left on time and all the systems worked correctly, but the ball got dropped at the customer experience level and that’s where IT has to be involved delivering a digital experience to the customer, but also to employees. They need the right tools.”

Pund-IT analyst Charles King says enterprises have been moving to make IT more of a value driver for years, but the goal has been a moving target.

“Virtually every organization wants IT to cut costs or have it do more for the bottom line,” King told eWEEK in an email. “Data center automation has helped businesses capture the ‘do more with less’ benefits from IT. Another trend is to shift the costs onto the individuals and groups using the most IT services and resources.”

The report also breaks out innovation as a potential driver of value. The top performing IT teams in the survey were 3.5 times as likely to say innovation was a high priority as the underperformers. “The challenge is, how do you balance the demand for keeping the lights on and freeing resources to innovate?” said Steele.

“Automation is one part of it. As the report shows, 81 percent of IT organizations will increasingly automate to allow innovation over the next 12 to 18 months.”

Much of that innovation will come from emerging technologies that include IoT, advances in data science to handle big data, AI and mobile. Salesforce and other companies are building in more data science capabilities into their services to help minimize the need for specialists. “There are fewer data scientists available than what companies want to hire,” said Steele.

Salesforce has made a big investment in AI, specifically its Einstein software designed to analyze data and provide sales people with customer leads and suggested courses of actions.

The report suggests AI will have a major impact as three-quarters of business buyers and 51 percent of consumers expect that by 2020, companies will, with the help of AI, anticipate their needs and make relevant suggestions before they contact them.

Among employees, 65 percent indicated they believe AI that automates or assists in work-related activities will have a major or moderate impact on daily work life at their organization by 2020.

There will undoubtedly be further advances in AI over the next few years that could validate the report’s forecast. But for now, analyst King says more work remains:

“I believe we're still extremely early in the cycle of AI as a business solution. There are a lot of extremely intriguing technologies and great potential but it will take a while longer to shake out which companies are doing solid sustainable work and which are heading for dead ends.”

In the Salesforce report only 20 percent of IT leaders said that their technology plans regarding AI are comprehensively defined and 23 percent said the same for their AI business plans.

Steele said one trend he expects to be even more prominent in next year’s report is the rise of so-called “low code” which is a way to design and develop software faster with minimal hand-coding. “I see more and more tools emerging and Salesforce was in this early with Low code is attractive because it lets everyone in the business build and consume apps in the easiest way possible.”

The State of IT report was based on a blind survey conducted January-February, 2017 that generated  responses from 2,263 full-time IT leaders that were not limited to Salesforce customers in the U.S., Canada, U.K./Ireland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Japan, and Australia/New Zealand.

David Needle

David Needle

Based in Silicon Valley, veteran technology reporter David Needle covers mobile, bi g data, and social media among other topics. He was formerly News Editor at Infoworld, Editor of Computer Currents...