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IT's New Window of Opportunity to Tackle These Top Priorities

Coming off the pandemic-driven crisis of the last year, IT organizations are poised for a frenzy of activity and progress. Are they up for the task?

IT's key initiatives in the months and years ahead look a lot like they did pre-pandemic. Secure IT data and systems, act as a strategic advisor to the business, accelerate IT digital transformation, are among the big ones.

The difference, however, in 2021 and beyond is that the timelines are accelerated and IT itself has a unique window of opportunity to get things done.

That's according to a new survey and CIO Agenda report by The Hackett Group, based on a survey of CIOs and other IT leaders from approximately 300 enterprise organizations.

The report identifies 10 key issues for IT organizations right now, centering around four emerging enterprise themes: people, risk, cost, and digital acceleration. The challenge for IT organizations will be just how to execute on so many important priorities at the same time.

Just as in previous years, the first key IT initiative right now is to secure IT data and systems, according to the report. That's even more important this year because the risk is greater than ever with a vastly expanded remote workforce.

"Security is No. 1," said Richard Pastore, senior director for IT Research and a co-author of the report. "It's table stakes. We can't do anything if we don't make sure we have the security in place for mounting threats."

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Richard Pastore

That's especially true when corporate data is flowing from the secure office environment to so many different home networks and computers.  

The second key IT initiative right now, according to the report, is for IT to act as a strategic partner of the business. That's not anything that's new, according to Christopher Key, director of the IT Executive Advisory program and another co-author of the report.

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Christopher Key

"IT organizations have been aspiring to that for a long time," he said. The pandemic and post-pandemic era has opened that opportunity for IT. Last year IT acted as the heroes, enabling technology-led responses to the pandemic such as enabling remote workers, automating processes, and setting up chatbots. That will only continue in the current year.

For instance, 63% of those surveyed said they have initiatives for this year related to greater visibility and access to data from supply chains and operations to make faster decisions and increase enterprise agility.

"In the past, IT has had to foist itself onto business stakeholders," said Pastore. "This disruption of the pandemic created 2021 as a year of adaptation and experimentation for businesses, especially in the industries where the world was turned upside down ... IT now has an opening. Rather than having to push, they are being pulled into this role of strategic advisor."

This is the moment that IT has been waiting for as the tables have turned. Now IT needs to be sure they are ready to grab that opportunity.

"If they miss this opportunity or they screw it up because they're just not responsive or they're not agile enough, or they are simply acting as gatekeepers and not advisors, then they've squandered a golden opportunity," Pastore said.

Next on the list of IT key issues is aligning skills and talent with changing business needs. The Hackett Group report notes that the pandemic has normalized a remote workforce, and that's provided many CIOs with something new -- permission to hire talent from wherever it happens to be. The move to remote work is putting a greater focus on collaboration tools to help ensure productivity and what The Hackett Group calls "innovate-from-home" capabilities. In addition, there's a greater need for process automation to eliminate manual dependencies. The survey found that 73% of organizations cite this as a major initiative for this year.

Rounding out the top five on the Hackett Group list are No. 4, cultivate a customer-centric, innovative IT culture; and No. 5, accelerate IT digital transformation.

The Hackett Group report notes that within the digital transformation acceleration a key area is likely to be migration to cloud-based applications to increase resiliency and better-enable remote work. A full 25% growth is expected in this area. IT will also need to focus its efforts inward to apply digital transformation to its own processes and operations.

All of these top five key IT issues are top priorities, and they will help enable IT organizations to achieve the next five on the list, according to Key.

The second half of the list is as follows:

  • Improve IT cost-efficiency
  • Improve IT agility
  • Modernize IT application platforms
  • Optimize deployment of IT resources across the organization
  • Reduce/avoid technology complexity

All these changes and initiatives will be happening in an environment that is still undergoing change and disruption. Of the survey respondents, 41% said they expect business conditions will stabilize by Q2 2021, but 36% said it will take longer.

IT organizations' success in these key initiatives will be measured on a couple of KPIs, according to Pastore. First, as the company pursues a number of change initiatives, has it also remained stable and maintained continuity for the year. Second, how has it progressed on its enterprise transformation.

"Those are the two things that IT really has to focus its sights on," he said. "What has to happen for IT to succeed in those focus areas?" 

For more on IT enterprise issues, read these:

8 Work From Home Experiences We Didn't Expect Last Year

10 Hot IT Job Skills for 2021

CIOs Brace for 2021: A Bumpy Ride With Lots of Opportunity

Augmented Analytics Drives Next Wave of AI, Machine Learning, BI

 

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