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Why CIOs must embrace the tech bounceback culture

Steve Dunne Profile picture for user Steve Dunne October 28, 2021
The need to react to IT disruption will keep businesses on their toes even as the effects of the pandemic subside. Steve Dunne of Workday shares what some did with the resources available to them to bounce back.

A tennis ball bouncing in chalk dust with black background. Bounce back concept © PomInPerth - Shutterstock
(© PomInPerth - Shutterstock)

When I think of great comebacks, my mind always turns to sport. Liverpool coming back from 3-0 down to beat AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League Final or Tiger Woods' fifth Masters in 2009 to claim his first major championship in 11 years. The one thing these events have in common is that the team or individual has to demonstrate real grit and resilience to find the resolve to bounce back.

IT leaders need those traits today more than ever. There’s no escaping the drama of the last 18 months. But, as we gently ease back towards normality, those responsible for IT will need to uncover some new approaches to deal with a world that will continue to throw out more surprises than a Game of Thrones wedding party.

Business will play a full part in the economic, but also human, recovery in the road that lies ahead of us. Shocked as we undoubtedly are, we need to rally and go again. But what will IT look like in this new era?

Large organizations that have spent heavily on IT and other infrastructure have unsurprisingly emerged stronger and with the defences and adaptive infrastructures to withstand most storms. Yet, even those companies who have successfully embraced digital, keeping IT ahead of the game is akin to working on the construction of La Sagrada Familia – it’s quite literally never ending.

Other businesses have not been quite so fortunate. They saw revenues and profits hit, and as a result may have put the skids on making further financial investments in their technology stack. History tells us that innovation and transformation, particularly during periods of disruption are key to emerging from the madness in one piece.

In a recent conversation, tech journalist and commentator Martin Veitch told me:

In 2020, according to my rapid analysis of analyses, maybe a quarter of companies cut back sharply on IT spend, a quarter cut back somewhat, a quarter stepped up somewhat and a quarter stepped up sharply.

He also explained that more important than this is what these businesses did with whatever budget available to them. In summary:

  • Public cloud deployment, already going fast, went faster. The fastest, simplest route to deploying access-from-anywhere IT services had a formula that matched the needs of the crisis. CIOs doubled down on cloud services where they made sense and it’s unlikely they will go back.
  • Co-location and MSPs offered partnerships. Nobody will have wanted new outsiders in offices, but third-party data centres and managed services provided a halfway house to access skills and facilities in a way that was affordable and manageable. And again, this is likely to prove a sticky change.
  • End-user computing was reinvented. With employees mostly at home, IT needed to re-engineer how they accessed critical applications through a mixture of cloud, streaming and other approaches.
  • Everybody needed a hand. Organisations need tea and sympathy from IT vendors and some at least responded. By relaxing terms and conditions, adding more services and generally listening, we may have seen a change in the weather for IT vendor/buyer relationships that have often been uncomfortably abrasive.
  • Classic on-prem strategies were relegated. Nobody wanted to jump through procurement hoops, spend on upfront hardware or commit to software licences. This doesn’t mean that on-premises IT goes away but it does point to a further erosion of its importance.
  • User support changed in surprising ways. Shorn of easy access to help desks and white-glove treatment, self-service kicked in as staff used Google and their own nous to fix issues. IT departments reported surprisingly low incident levels while line-of-business leaders reported often higher levels of productivity.

Veitch believes these behaviors are here to stay. He elaborated:

It’s not difficult to imagine that for some businesses crisis measures will bleed into 2021 and for many years to come. Companies will invest in tactics that bring them business flexibility. They will minimize upfront spending in favour of short-term adaptability and look for solutions that buy them wiggle room – but also have extensibility if so needed.

From my conversations with tech leaders and CIOs on the Workday Podcast, there are surely more tests ahead for CIOs’ ingenuity, nimbleness and willingness to oppose business-as-usual tactics. There remain challenges, and data security and governance remain works in progress. But the tools and learnings are there to use the pandemic as a catalyst for a smarter approach to IT now. CIOs and their cohorts need to be ready for the bounceback.

For smart CIOs it really boils down to understanding that flexibility and agility will be keywords to enabling a hybrid workforce.

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