Trends indicate that the role of the IT manager requires more focus on business strategy and less time spent on end-user service in today's age of widespread technology, according to Paragon Development Systems (PDS), one of Wisconsin's leading providers of IT services and products. 

"Companies are beginning to realize that their IT professionals can be indispensable in identifying and pursuing competitive advantages if given the freedom and time to do so," said Austin Park, vice president of Infrastructure Services for PDS. "More and more, successes or failures in business hinge on technology, so why shouldn't IT managers spend their time focusing on business rather than putting out fires."

At the dawn of the computer revolution, IT managers worked in large mainframe-packed rooms, where their only tasks were to automate and streamline business processes toward greater productivity and efficiency. During the 1980s, the arrival of the personal computer and office networks revolutionized the industry. Business executives began seeing that IT could increase personnel productivity and empowerment, rather than replace it. Consequently, IT professionals were seen as support staff for personnel, charged mainly with hardware and software procurement, end-user support, reactive maintenance and data processing.

In recent years, increasingly sophisticated technology has made IT systems important to a company's strategy, and, as companies continually recognize technology's influence, they are reengineering their IT processes to utilize it. IT managers who efficiently utilize external resources to keep current and in line with customer strategies in order to focus on measurable business practices are demonstrating value in the boardroom.

With 25 years of experience as an IT professional, Carl Christensen, chief information officer for Marshfield Clinic in Marshfield, Wis. said, "Today, the IT manager's role is to add value to the customer. My role is not defined by technology; technology is the tool that I am given custodial responsibility for."

In order to fulfill this role, Christensen has outsourced some IT services to PDS. "I really don't think that I could do my job without IT outsourcing," said Christensen. "The world of IT has become far too complex. When I started, we managed 200 terminals. Now, we manage over 7,000 workstations. The software has become more complex and our dependency on IT has grown significantly."

Today, companies can outsource services such as hardware and software procurement, device monitoring, Internet protocol (IP) telephony, server and storage management, security, data collaboration, deployment, support, and asset retirement, removing many of the day-to-day reactive duties for the IT manager.

"Our role is to take IT professionals from good to great by allowing them to prioritize their time and proactively pursue agile technology solutions that will remove obstacles to their business' strategy and deliver results," said Park. "When IT professionals are given the freedom to think on this level, they can truly achieve return on their technology investment."

Paul Fabbi, System Manager, Information Services at Provena Health in Mokena, Ill. has seen this work. "In the past, we were always playing defensive IT, limited by staff size and trying not to take on too much," said Fabbi. "Now, we're playing offensive IT. By taking advantage of IT outsourcing, we're not limited by staff size and have adopted an improved 'we can' attitude."

Fabbi is encouraged by the evolution that has taken place over the ten years he has spent in the industry. "The big decisions made by senior management now have an IT component. IT no longer has to try to get a seat in the boardroom; one is reserved because IT needs to be there. Today's successful IT managers are the ones that are very good in the boardroom setting."

As the IT professional's role continues to grow, PDS predicts those with business educations and backgrounds will excel. And with the future of IT seemingly boundless, the role of the technology outsourcer will become increasingly significant. Ever-evolving demands mean the IT manager of the future will need ever-evolving technology solutions.

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