Lots of people are taking off their masks, restaurants are filling up, and Bruce Springsteen is back on Broadway, so at first glance it may look like the world is getting back to normal. But look a little closer and you'll notice that there are still stores that are boarded up, restaurants that have gone out of business, and office workers who are still Zooming from home. The pandemic has likely changed some things forever, and one of those things is the role and budget of the CIO.
Indeed, amid the celebration, right now also feels like the aftermath of a slow-moving disaster. Many offices have stayed mostly empty for more than a year, and some or all of the workers who used to spend time there every day may not ever come back on a daily basis.
That means that organizational budgets for CIOs, facilities, and human resources are likely to be reexamined and reallocated in this new normal. These facilities managers, human resource leaders, and CIOs are in the position of evaluating the best way forward in this new post-COVID era, but exactly what the future will be is still unknown.
Technology research firm Omdia took a fresh look at how market conditions have changed over the last year since it issued its 2020 Future of Work survey and offered some fresh perspectives and predictions on where CIOs, the IT organization, and business overall is headed next in a new report, How COVID-19 and Digital Transformation Drive New Technology Choices and Job Opportunities Outside of IT.
"What we found is that the IT department is no longer making unilateral buying decisions," said Tim Banting, senior principal analyst in workspace services in Omdia's enterprise services team. "They are part of a team comprising typically of HR and facilities, as COVID-19 has started changing the way that people work."
Organizations are reimagining what the new office looks like. They are rethinking what physical offices should look like and how they should function. They are also looking at what digital or virtual offices should be.
These changes will impact the IT budget. For instance, if fewer workers come into a physical office, how does the need for networking equipment in that office change? Do you need the same kind and same number of routers? Are offices still places for people to do individual work, or are they more often places for collaboration, and if it is the latter, should facilities managers be creating larger collaboration spaces with big white boards.
"It feels like offices and businesses will have to start thinking about what they can provide the employee that they don't already have at home," Banting said.
Some companies have even taken the step of shutting down their expensive urban headquarters buildings and may look to suburban hubs for new office sites, according to Banting.
"It does feel like a fundamental shift," he said. "But of course there will be organizations that may have just spent billions of dollars on a vanity office in Cupertino, and they feel like they need to justify employees going into the new headquarters."
On the IT side, CIOs sent workers home with laptops and video conferencing software last year. But it's time to reexamine whether those simple tools are adequate. Do workers need bigger displays? Do they need more than one monitor? What about webcams and better microphones, particularly if they are representing the corporate brand in virtual meetings with external partners and customers.
Other technologies that are getting more attention include anything to do with security in this age of distributed work such as edge security, and VPNs. Companies are also reevaluating their unified collaboration and communications technologies as they look to enhance collaboration in a virtual setting. Employees are spending more time using software such as Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex, and Zoom. How can those tools be improved?
"CIOs have moved from infrastructure officers to innovation officers," Banting said. "CIOs are finding out what technology can do for the business, how it meets their needs, and how it makes them more agile by promoting distributed working. Technology can be used as an asset rather than a liability on the books. That's quite a fundamental shift in the IT department and the roles that CIOs play."
While that changing role of the CIO has been a theme for quite some time, the pandemic accelerated the timeline.
"It's often the case that macro-economic trends that are out of our control bring in wide-scale changes," Banting said. "But those changes were already underway."
What else is changing? Quite a lot.
Businesses are now able to recruit new employees from anywhere that has an internet connection. Plus, the work-from-anywhere movement has changed worker expectations about work flexibility, too. Banting noted that as many people have worked from home for more than a year, their lifestyles have changed.
"A year is a long time for someone to form habits," he said. Employees aren't likely to want to trade in the ability to pick up their kids from school for a long commute again.
The new work-from-anywhere movement will impact how managers manage and how employers engage with employees. Banting points to new technologies such as employee experience platforms that are designed to measure end-user application use and experience data to identify how the workforce interacts with the tools that they use. Omdia believes that measuring employee sentiment will also be a crucial capability for these platforms going forward.
These platforms are intended to help organizations manage one of the biggest changes to the enterprise and workforce in a generation as employees gain more influence, move to distributed work, and rely on technology more to get their jobs done. There are still plenty of challenges ahead, so fasten your seatbelt.
"Culture is the hardest thing in any organization to change," Banting said.
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