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Change may be a constant but the last two years are giving that truism new meaning.
Moving forward when there are more questions than answers is no small challenge, and it's not easy to stay productive when times are uncertain and disruption is constant. IT leaders and their teams, in particular, have had to quickly create new processes and turn to new tools.
Here are some of the strategies that have helped boost IT efficiency during this new normal and ones that some leaders may overlook.
1. Become an IT evangelizer
With the increased dependency on technology and digital transformation, IT leaders and their teams are key to most organization's success. In turn, CIOs should step into strategic opportunities and market that importance.
The pandemic has underlined the need for IT leaders to wield some power in the C-suite, said Mike Bechtel, managing director and chief futurist at Deloitte, a research and advisory firm headquartered in New York.
"The heroics that we saw our tech leader clients conduct in 2020 and 2021 reasserted their seat at the [leadership] table, and I think that's a huge silver lining," Bechtel said.
That could mean phasing out doing more with less.
This recognition gives IT leaders the fuel to request budget increases for their projects, said John-Claude Hesketh, global managing partner at Marlin Hawk, a consulting firm headquartered in London.
"The world is continuing to get more digital, and [during the pandemic] there was more dependency on the CIO function than any other function in the business," he said. "CIOs are now learning that they are very well-regarded by CEOs and business leaders."
2. Automate rote functions
More IT teams are turning to enterprise automation technologies to automate time-consuming tasks for which algorithms and AI may be better suited.
Many enterprise IT shops use legacy administration and operations systems that demand a lot of time and attention, Bechtel said. The problem is that oftentimes, those charged with the maintenance and management of these systems are senior-level IT professionals earning senior-level salaries while performing what are essentially rote tasks.
This became increasingly apparent at the beginning of the pandemic, when organizations were in a race to virtualize systems in order to continue operating during lockdowns, Bechtel said. While many leaders acknowledged that automating certain functions was the best way to move forward, they didn't necessarily have the manpower to make the transition. Now, more of them are taking time out to implement automation, especially automating systems administration and operations so they could put their seasoned IT staff to better use.
Automating these types of tasks may mean that enterprise IT organizations make better use of their resources, Bechtel said. From his view, it's also an employee experience and talent retention play.
"This automation trend is a Trojan horse for attracting and retaining talent," he said. "In a world where labor is scarcer than ever, automation doesn't take jobs away -- it helps you hire the people you want to do the more compelling engineering work."
3. Reserve funds for tech developments
Virtual reality and augmented reality use cases seem to be growing by the day, as is metaverse hype.
While such technologies may seem like fads to some, they have the potential to help us move beyond the videoconferencing platforms companies are using now for richer interactive experiences, Bechtel said. IT organizations should reserve part of their budgets for the next iteration of extended reality technologies that -- while it may seem like a passing trend now -- may become the next go-to system that all companies will need to incorporate into their workflow.
"It's really about dividing the organization's time and budget so that a meaningful [amount] is dedicated toward the implementation of new, and the exploration of next," Bechtel said. This doesn't mean that IT leaders should chase after fads. Instead, they should be prepared to evolve with technology.
"Just make sure that you've got some budget so that you can digest what's next, and balance it with what's now."
4. Cloud source secondary functions
Resistance to cloud technologies has been decreasing over the years, and their boost to IT efficiency in the new normal has been particularly appealing.
The cloud liberates companies to focus on their core competencies, Bechtel said. He illustrates this using a luxury hotel chain as an example: If that company competes based on its white glove experience, moving its reservations function to the cloud and making that easier could enable employees to spend more time devoted to higher-value customer services.
Cloud technologies may enable enterprise-level companies to act more like startups and become more responsive, Bechtel said.
Moving at least some functions to the cloud has also been important as CIOs focus on digital transformation.
5. Be on the lookout for IT worker dissatisfaction
As the Great Resignation marches on, focusing on employee experience and better talent management is pivotal. That can mean leaders need to examine areas that may pose problems for IT departments -- not just workload issues but less obvious areas, such as cultural issues.
For example, companies in traditional industries sometimes recruit workers from tech-focused companies.
These organizations aim to become more innovative, armed with this new expertise, Hesketh said. But such a strategy can backfire, largely due to the culture shock of moving from a Silicon Valley-type tech company to a traditional company. The cultural sentiments around technology are quite different.
"At Google, or Apple, or wherever they've been, everybody understands technology, so you don't have to spend your time explaining the benefits of it," Hesketh said.
This may not be the same at a bank, where IT may be viewed as a cost center rather than as part of the business strategy.
"Therefore, [former tech workers] can see there's a huge opportunity in a bank to improve the tech and customer experience," Hesketh said. "But they don't know how to take the core business on this journey because they don't understand [the organization's] thought pattern."
Culture issues like these don't just disappear.
IT efficiency in a new normal that keeps changing
The list of tools and processes that potentially help support IT departments' efficiency in these constantly changing times keeps growing. But what's clear is that CIOs and other IT leaders must study their organizations for the unique challenges and strategies they need to manage disruption and move forward.
About the author
Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer and editor living in Paris. She covers multiple topics, including technology and business.