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Maintaining IT Strategic Relevance in a Post-Pandemic World

Challenges continue to face the IT industry. In a post-pandemic world, how can CIOs ensure that IT maintains strategic strength within their organizations?

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, IT organizations shifted their focus to meet the challenges of working under a new paradigm. This included quickly transitioning to hybrid work models for much of the US workforce. Despite those challenges and hurdles, IT clearly demonstrated that when there’s focus, there can be success.

And, the IT industry continues to face challenges: an economy with high inflation, continued talent resourcing challenges from the Great Resignation, and ongoing supply chain woes.

So, how does a CIO ensure their IT organizations maintain strategic relevance?

Realize Alignment with Business Is Paramount

CIOs need to abandon trying to manage IT demand from the bottom up. This path is often an exercise of prioritizing and reprioritizing an infinite, often outdated, list of IT demands that far exceeds resources to deliver.

Instead, establish an IT governance model that aligns IT investment with the business strategy and is focused on high-impact opportunities, including:

  • Offering an equally differentiated user experience to your consumers and your talent. Consumers expect the right IT solutions “that delight” for product or service delivery access. Your workforce must also possess the right IT solutions to enable successful delivery.
  • Being in lockstep with your organization and supporting growth initiatives. IT needs to demonstrate nimbleness in its ability to quickly shift to meet emerging business growth opportunities, especially if operations integration is required. IT will need to be at the forefront of rationalizing and standardizing the IT ecosystem.
  • Optimizing current application systems, including enterprise platforms, if replacement isn’t feasible. Inflation presents new constraints on capital investment. For CIOs, the challenge may become: "How do we make the best of what we have to optimize the build, enable full utilization of IT system capabilities, and ensure system stabilization? "

Mitigate the Headwinds

The demand for IT resources always will outstrip supply. To mitigate the headwinds, CIOs should:

  • Prioritize talent. Ensure the right steps are being taken to retain your high performers. Then, enable flexing by identifying key consulting partners to augment or lead major implementations. Additionally, tread carefully into outsourcing. It’s not just about quantity: Find trusted partners, avoid sole sourcing, and implement controls to monitor the quality of service.
  • Address ongoing security challenges. External threats, malware, viruses, ransomware, and phishing aren’t going away. Having the right artillery is a mandate, not an option.
  • Prevent the emergence of rogue IT. If the demand for IT services isn’t met, operating units may decide to build their own IT teams using department headcount or consultants. Utilize IT governance and take steps to mitigate business units from making inroads into the IT terrain.
  • Get IT teams back on site. Given hybrid work models, CIOs must still focus on the importance of relationships and being physically present. In-person observation brings the user experience to the forefront and can spark innovation as well as rapid intervention and resolution of issues.

Recognize People Are the Key to Enabling Change

Upon completing an IT strategic plan, I surveyed the leadership team to identify the potential inhibitors to success. At the top of the list was weak organizational change in that IT delivered, trained the staff, and then moved on. Previous implementations lacked executive champions; some users eagerly embraced the change but many avoided engaging, and there was no continuous learning.

Strategy is the guiding light, but CIOs can’t forget about the people. Solid organizational change plans must be embedded within the IT strategy.

  • Ensure business leadership championing of key IT initiatives. Their messaging must focus on selling “why” this is an imperative. Don’t underestimate the attachment to legacy processes and systems, especially after a merger or acquisition.
  • Realize the implied business process changes driven by new technology solutions. This includes the impact to the people and organization. Go-forward responsibilities and accountabilities must be clearly communicated, cascaded, and understood.
  • Create a communication plan with the right messaging for varying stakeholders. Key for change success is stakeholders’ understanding of WIIFM -- "What’s in it for me?"
  • Budget for and implement a knowledge transfer and training program. Make sure it goes beyond the go-live and provides for continuous learning to optimize the utilization of the technology solutions delivered.

Demonstrate Value, Express Appreciation, Celebrate Success

It’s paramount for IT to be aligned with the business strategy. For the CIO, it’s not just about creating an IT strategy aligned with business priorities. That IT plan needs to be put into action to deliver high-impact tech solutions.

I suggest adding metrics or data to the equation of people, process, and technology, as it’s vital to demonstrate value delivery and ROI -- two often forgotten factors. Executive leadership teams, especially the CEO and CFO, are increasingly expecting a report on IT’s ROI. CIOs need to provide a scorecard or dashboard with delivery performance and financial metrics that demonstrate success and value realization.

Lastly, before rushing on to the next best thing, take a pause. Recognize the contributions of the many stakeholders and IT team members, and sincerely express appreciation and celebrate successes. Appreciation and celebration are two CIO imperatives that can’t be forgotten in the post-pandemic world.

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