Wow what the hell? How is it July already?
Someone pinch me please. Where did the first half of the year go?
A few grams (literally) worth of some virus comes out of left field, broadsides the entire planet, killing half a million – and counting, so far – destroys millions of jobs, forcing countless businesses onto life-support, and puts the global economy into the Great Lockdown – one of the worst recessions in nearly a century. In my polite Canadian understatedness, (is that even a word?) I’ll call this super ugly. Every client or prospect I talk to has indefinitely shelved or pushed-back IT projects that were already greenlit for Q1 or Q2, due to unprecedented levels of uncertainty about what’s around the corner.
Business leaders and their lieutenants in all major divisions and units are tossing their yearly forecasts and plans out the window as they focus on putting out fires, getting through this trainwreck or that, or just fighting to stay relevant and alive. So as you pause to catch your breath, now is the time to focus on strategic moves that will position your organization for stability and growth.
Let’s address the elephant in the room first – when is this thing going away?
Buckle up buttercup, it’s not going to be anytime soon.
The faster you accept this reality, the more agile you and your team will be in executing a successful strategy for the next 18 months and beyond. Keep in mind that throughout human history, every major pandemic has irreversibly altered the trajectory of the human race forever. We’re smack in the middle of one of those periods right now.
Yes, there will be a second wave, perhaps even a third. Some estimate that the USA will continue to wrestle with this mess for the next 2 – 5 years, based on the absurd resistance some people have to best-practices in preventive hygiene, coupled with an unhealthy obsession with personal liberty.
Next, let’s talk about four critical components of any strategies required to move forward, for tech leaders.
1.) Re-evaluate your business continuity and disaster recovery plans
Many organizations claim to have robust disaster recovery plans – until that is, something crazy like this happens. The COVID-19 pandemic has many silver linings, one of which is the chance to strengthen your work-from-home capabilities by evaluating it through multiple lens; starting with security: are your workers able to access company data and systems securely and efficiently? How confident are you in their ability to spot malicious or sketchy emails that might be sent by compromised email accounts of partners or even of your own employees? Do you have systems in place to ensure company employees are following recommended practices on password strength and multifactor authentication? Are they following clean-desk policies at home in order to prevent any sensitive data from being exposed to roommates or family members, or even being inadvertently exposed to videoconferencing participants?
Let’s move on to cost rationalization – your organization may have pulled the trigger on several purchases early on in the pandemic in an effort to supply enough resources to WFH employees to maintain business continuity. But do you really need to pay for a separate softphone on top of their landline? Do you really need to maintain two or four collaboration and AV messaging systems? Zoom? Slack? MS-Teams? Assess, reassess, and then cut that list down.
2.) Re-evaluate your talent development approach and workforce locations
Whereas before the pandemic your company may have been forced to source talent only from local geographies, the WFH collaborative nature of this new paradigm means your team may start looking at much larger markets and talent pools. Adjusting to this new change doesn’t even require a lot of time, and it may end up giving you new competitive advantages that had long been missed.
Are there any opportunities to consolidate and create shared services teams within your organization that can serve multiple business units remotely? What about analyzing cost-centers that offer you no competitive advantage? Can those tasks be augmented with the help of external partners? The opex efficiencies to be gained here are significant – savings on payroll, lease and rent, insurance, equipment costs, and more.
Take a cold, hard, unflinching look at your workforce. According to a Deloitte study this year (2020), many tech leaders report that upto a third of their staff could become irrelevant to the organization within three years. And yet despite this acknowledgement, tech leaders are lagging behind business leaders in prioritizing talent development.
What does this mean for you, as a tech leader?
It means that you need to find the right external partners that will help retrain and upskill those employees that are at-most risk of redundancy within the next three years. Focus on both technical and soft skills with on-the-job learning via new roles, projects, opportunities, and cross-functional collaboration. Don’t wait for another crisis to make you realize your organization isn’t fast and nimble enough to respond to new realities. Committing to such a focus moves you from a mere internal follower to a strategic partner that has the attention of the board, which takes me to my next critical ingredient…
3.) Be the change instigator
The same Deloitte study also points out that leading organizations have tech leaders that aren’t just trusted operators, nor are they just valued business co-creators; but rather they are change instigators. These leaders are in the driving seat moving business transformation forward. They’re not waiting for the market or customers to demand new abilities of the organization, but rather they’re preemptively anticipating where the market is going and they steer their business digitization efforts in that direction.
Insert your choice of cheesy cliché here; mine’s would be: “… skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”
Sure, you can crucify me for that later.
Joking aside, as an IT leader you can’t aspire to just be that faithful operator tasked with the monotonous implementation of the tech side of business objectives.
That’s just so 2007.
No, you need to be that leader who has that insatiable fire of curiosity. Reach out to your network, to your peers and yes, your competitors (!), and to your vendor partners and ask them what’s the bleeding edge doing? How are they shaping the market? What technologies are they using to transform their organization for the year 2020 and beyond? How are they obsessively focusing on different customer segments?
A simple example I’ll point to is banks, credit unions, mortgage companies, etc: Some of them are stuck in 1997 and they need you to come down to the branch at location X, to meet with person Y, to sign copies of agreement Z. Which then has to be filed away, to be scanned. By another person, who then manually keys in the relevant data somewhere else, and then the agreement goes into effect.
Meanwhile over here in today-land, leading financial institutions implemented technologies such as DocuSign a long time ago; so when COVID-19 broke out and physical distancing, branch shutdowns, WFH staff, etc. all became the new normal, they just kept humming along without a hitch. They didn’t lose millions of dollars per day or per week, they didn’t lose a single customer, because they weren’t waiting on their IT teams to come up with temporary fixes to analog paper processes from over two decades ago. (yuck).
4.) Invest in flexibility
I’ve long believed that having options, in any area of life, is non-negotiable. The clothes you wear. The route(s) you take to get to work. The vendors you evaluate for that critical project. The candidates you assess for an open position. In all circumstances, maintaining strategic options in order to gain the best value should never be taken off the table.
When the COVID-19 crisis hit the planet, we saw that those organizations that had a strong, confident, and flexible response were those that already had divorced service delivery from the underlying hardware layer. They knew they didn’t need to have corporate ownership over user hardware in order to allow workers and staff access to critical systems and data – they simply had intelligent mobile device management (MDM) policies for a Bring-Your-Own-Hardware (BYOD) strategy.
Think of it as a modern day, technological translation of the old Rockefeller maxim: “Own nothing, control everything.”
Where possible, this also means moving business services and processes off of premise-based infrastructure and onto the cloud, allowing for easier and timely access, as well as reducing the risk from having critical systems concentrated in one physical location. Adopting this new operating model will involve deeper analysis of existing business processes, understanding critical KPIs and desired business outcomes, and then undergoing digital transformation if and where necessary.
Don’t be shy about this. The COVID-19 pandemic has presented bold business and IT leaders a once-in-a-century opportunity to help significantly shape the future of their organizations.
And if you need help developing a strategic IT roadmap aligned to business objectives, reach out to me and let’s start a conversation.