How Business Leaders Can Unlock IT Innovation in 2022

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It’s an issue every organization faces — teams spending more time on mundane tasks than they do on strategic innovation that helps grow the company. That problem is even more pronounced in IT departments, where project delivery requests rose 40% in the last year alone.

IT’s evolution in a changing market

In 2008, Gartner found that 68% of IT teams’ time was spent keeping the lights on. Thirteen years later, MuleSoft research found that percentage has increased to 71% — despite digital transformation having become central to every organization’s success. 

Over the past decade, the message of “digital-first, cloud-first, mobile-first” became a corporate catchphrase echoed across hundreds of earnings calls. However, companies faced many internal obstacles to the promised land of “digital transformation,” such as lack of alignment between business units and IT, legacy systems, access to talent, poor risk analysis, and siloed data systems.If that weren’t enough, for various reasons, there was also a lack of urgency. That is, until a global crisis hit — a crisis for which no one had a tried and true response roadmap. Almost overnight, organizations could no longer say we’ll do it next year, we’ll do it later, we can’t do it right now, or we tried and it didn’t work.In the all-digital, work-from-anywhere world that resulted, organizations have had to sense and respond to changing market dynamics — and the needs of their customers and employees — with speed, agility, and efficiency. 

As a result, we saw more investment in digital transformation in the past six months than had been seen in the entire decade before. Digital transformation has made companies even more reliant on their IT teams — which says a lot. All the while, data silos across business units have persisted, and requests for new apps have kept coming, restricting IT’s time to activities that simply “keep the lights on” for the business, rather than transform the business for an all-digital future.

Redefine “keeping the lights on” for your organization

What can be done? The answer lies in the very tools IT knows so much about — technology. Automation, in particular, offers a forward-thinking way to redefine “keeping the lights on.” This technology helps people be more productive and effective in their jobs, freeing up teams’ time to focus on the task at hand, and innovating to keep up with the rapid pace of transformation.

It’s a hot trend in IT: According to Salesforce, 95% of IT and engineering leaders report prioritizing workflow automation. By automating repetitive and manual tasks (like processing documents, entering data, or taking action on the user’s behalf) without code, organizations enable business users to be “self-serve.” As business users become empowered by the technology, they see the benefits of quickly achieving their goals, fostering repeatable behavior. This, in turn, relieves the pressure from overburdened IT teams. Due to an increased number of apps, systems, data, sources, and more however, automation now requires operating across even more workflows, more often. Composability can help advance automation efforts with standardized, reusable building blocks to build new experiences, products, and services. This approach allows greater speed, agility, and efficiency, since IT doesn’t have to write custom code or start from scratch every time a new request comes in from the business. Land O’Lakes learned the importance of agility and automation within the early stages of the pandemic as the company found new ways to modernize its approach to IT. Consumer and distributor demands shifted amid COVID-19 and created a potential risk for the organization’s internal and external operations. With the help of MuleSoft, Land O’Lakes took a proactive approach, strategically implementing API integrations to retire 73 different legacy platforms and increase productivity by 25 percent.

In addition to its productivity gains, Land O’Lakes remained agile, increased its API reusability, and delivered value throughout the entire enterprise by providing consistency throughout its technology landscape. Further, it continued to help developers and internal IT teams meet the high demands of an evolving market efficiently and consistently by allowing them to spend less time managing cumbersome technology infrastructure. When used at scale, composability helps IT redefine “keeping the lights on”: the work that used to be required goes away, and anything can take its place — including innovation.

Tap into integration for continued capacity-building

Organizations now have an average of 976 discrete applications, an increase of 133 in the last 12 months, according to MuleSoft’s Connectivity Benchmark Report. Yet only 28% areintegrated, a slight decrease from a year ago.

By leveraging shareable building blocks like APIs that call on other tools or data sources, new applications and experiences can be built more quickly — making digital experiences better for the user without the leg work of building from scratch. This frees IT from repetitive l tactical  integration. With integration taken care of, teams stay focused on strategic work and differentiation instead of robotic tasks. Leaders across the world are taking this technology and putting it to work with them: 55% of organizations now have a “very mature” or “mature” strategy empowering business users to integrate apps and data sources powered by APIs — up from 36% in 2021.

 Unleash innovation to empower post-crisis growth

The pandemic taught us that anything is possible — transitioning in-person companies to a remote workforce overnight, vaccine development at lightning speed, full digital transformation in just weeks or months. There is a massive opportunity for IT to tackle some of today’s biggest business challenges and create transformational experiences for both customers and employees. To unlock tomorrow’s breakthroughs, however, leaders must tap into reusable automation and integration building blocks that frees IT from keeping the lights on, and engages the full business — and they must do it before they are left behind.

I, for one, am excited to see how leaders rise to this challenge, and can’t wait to see the experiences that the automation-empowered teams of tomorrow will create.

Tiffani Bova is the Global Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce. 

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