A former vice president at Microsoft has called on business leaders to treat IT as a strategic asset.

Wolfgang Ebermann left the tech giant in 2013 and is now president for the EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) region at technology provider Insight.

He says that business decision makers all acknowledge IT is a must-have in their businesses yet companies are not putting their money where their mouths are and hiring accordingly.

“When you ask a CFO if they see IT as an important strategic asset or cost factor, it tends to be the latter,” he told BusinessCloud.

“If you look at the way companies spend in IT today more than 80 per cent spent their budget on maintaining existing IT, which is just keeping the lights on.

“At the same time they acknowledge a big change is going on in the IT industry and the industry needs to adapt because if it’s seen as a cost factor and not as a business enabler driving outcomes, it faces a challenge.

“Whether it’s the exec themselves or finding an additional transformation agent, the CIO, or a few tech experts, a person in a new [IT] role needs to become the business adviser. This is critical.”

The smartphone is at the core of this change, believes Ebermann, in its new role as an assistant for people’s private and business lives.

“Business life is changing because the smartphone is becoming a business assistant,” he said. “It’s all centred around a new way of working and how to increase workforce productivity and attract the next generation of talent.

“They’re coming from university and they’re not email junkies like when I grew up. If you want to attract the next generation and increase workforce productivity, you need to change the way you work [and centre it around chat]."

Companies must assess whether their products and services are smartphone-enabled, says Ebermann.

“Adidas isn’t just about sports shoe innovation,” he said. “Think about how their shoes are digital-enabled with a smartphone letting you check your health.

“If you build the IoT (Internet of Things) into the tool and connect to a smart assistant only then do you differentiate yourself in the market. It’s a clarity every business needs to think about.”