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by Jess Iandiorio
Richard Sanchez, president of Miami-based cloud-computing company 0NL9, Inc., is no longer surprised to see IT skills applied in new -- and potentially profitable -- ways.
One of his clients is a company that leases storage containers in over a hundred locations across Canada and Europe. Recently, an IT pro on staff, "who was previously doing things like fighting computer viruses," took the initiative to develop an online calculator that allows prospective customers to price their lease online, based on the size and availability of the container.
The IT staff for another client, a handbag company, tackled an issue that the sales team was facing at trade shows. Although they frequently generated interest among buyers, the sales team was unable to process orders on the spot from the company's booth on the exhibition floor.
The company's IT staff created a system that included a scanner and an Apple iPad application that enabled the team to quickly process orders from the booth, resulting in an instant bump in sales.
Sanchez said he has also seen IT staffers moving into business intelligence, correlating databases to predict demand for planned products.
"These are all areas where the IT staff already has skills," Sanchez says.
Sanchez's observations reflect a new reality: as some traditional tasks move towards the cloud, enterprising IT pros are creating new business ideas, adding revenue-making projects and partnerships, and working closer with marketing.
"IT executives need to portray IT as a competitive enabler with a focus on innovation and helping the business 'maintain and gain' external customers," wrote Forrester analyst John Rakowski in a recent blog post.
Charles Araujo, the head of the IT Transformation Institute, and the author of The Quantum Age of IT, is predicting "a huge value shift" for IT.
"IT organizations, either by choice or force, will have to provide some form of strategic value and competitive differentiation to the organization," he predicts. "That means that the IT organization that remains will be acutely focused on only those elements of the technology stack that provide differentiating strategic value to the organization."
In the near future, Araujo says:
The adoption of cloud services will benefit IT pros who can offer technology plus: plus marketing, plus strategy, plus product development.
"The result will be that companies actually spend more on IT and technology," Araujo says, "but it will become disproportionately reapplied into strategic initiatives."
This is already happening at Ceros, a cloud-based marketing platform that is used by global corporations like Virgin Atlantic, Samsung, and Peugeot.
"The cloud has enabled us to put our best IT people, our best engineers, on the really interesting problems, like new products and business intelligence," said Simon Berg, CEO of Ceros.
IT professionals who approach the cloud without trepidation put themselves at a major competitive advantage," Berg added. "A server closet is comparable to a small automobile garage. Administrators are severely limited by the tools and mechanics they can rustle up inhouse. The cloud on the other hand, is like a worldwide network of aircraft hangars complete with aeronautical engineers and the most cutting-edge equipment.
According to Berg, "the level of sophistication that our platform has achieved could not have been possible without innovative IT professionals who chose to embrace cloud computing.”
Mark Herschberg, of Madison Logic, is already seeing IT pros make an impact on marketing.
"As marketing matures, meaning there are more out-of-the-box tools, more of this work can be done by sys admins as opposed to developers," he said."Most marketing companies aren't looking for cutting-edge innovation in technology, so much as trying to reach customers more and better using existing technologies."
That plays to the strength of sys admins who can turn on new systems and "hook them together" by integrating them with existing systems, like the company CRM software.
Whether it's new business or marketing, there's a new bottom line, according to Jeff Grace, president of NetEffect, which provides computer and information technology support and consulting services in Las Vegas.
IT pros will be valuable as long as they take advantage of cloud services to "move up the value chain," Grace said.
"It used to be enough to make sure that everything worked," echoed Mark Weinstein. "Now 'just making things work' is just too low a bar."