Digital transformation: 5 new realities for CIOs

March 3, 2021

Originally published on The Enterprisers Project.

After the upheaval of 2020, are you cultivating employee loyalty? Baking security in from the start? CIOs leading digital transformation in 2021  face new risks and opportunities.

The massive digitalization we’ve seen over the last year will likely be remembered as one of the most enduring hallmarks of the pandemic’s influence on society. Because of this widespread digital transformation, executives – particularly CIOs – are facing a number of new, completely unexpected realities that present a mix of risk and opportunity. And how we handle them will have a huge impact on business success.

Let’s explore five leading examples.

1. Digital acceleration

The first few months of COVID-related lockdown saw companies’ digital communications strategies accelerate by six years – and nearly 80 percent saw increased budget for digital transformation, according to a study by Twilio. IDC projects that IT spending will climb to $6.8 trillion over the next two years. With barriers like competing priorities and slow executive approval now out of the way, CIOs have a tremendous opportunity to execute on the transformation plans that had been stalled for years, including the transition to cloud-based technologies.

As we continue to push forward with the digitalization agenda, it’s opening a world of opportunity – literally – for IT and business operations. Now, geographic boundaries are mostly irrelevant, and from now on, we’ll enjoy the flexibility to place employees wherever they’re needed and give them the freedom to choose where they live and work. Thanks to greater adoption of cloud technologies, there are almost no limitations.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

2. Everything from home

We’re not just working from home but also attending school, shopping, and conducting all essential communications without ever walking out the front door. Many jobs that we previously thought were only doable from the job site can now be done remotely. Product development teams now have their living rooms and garages full of parts, equipment, etc., harkening back to the early start-up era for companies like Apple, HP, Microsoft, and others.

Of course, the more we do from home, the more our finite bandwidth resources are taxed. Traditional peak hours for internet usage were in the evening, but with everyone home 24/7, streaming everything simultaneously, the Wi-Fi is straining to remain stable during an employee’s more ideal work hours. We must equip WFH employees with the technology and bandwidth they need to be productive and efficient. Allocate budget to upgrade employees’ home networks to premium bandwidth. Nothing causes more headaches than choppy bandwidth on Zoom when trying to support clients.

[ Is your team exhausted? Read our related story: Remote exhaustion: 13 tips to reduce fatigue. ]

3. High-risk is the new normal

With the move to the cloud and WFH, we’re now forced to manage a high-threat environment every time an employee fires up a laptop or mobile phone and taps into the company network or cloud resources. Social engineering and phishing ploys, especially those using COVID-related tactics and preying on stressed-out employees, are on the rise. That means home network security now falls under the IT decision maker’s purview and real-time security scanning with immediate response and remediation across all systems and infrastructure is essential.

Multifactor authentication should top the requirements list, as should keeping employees informed and well-trained about threats as they arise. We no longer have the luxury of battening down security later; it must be baked into everything – every sandbox, every prototype, every cloud-based lab environment – from the start, because the minute it comes online, it’s already vulnerable.

4. Highly-distributed incident response

For companies like ours with customers all over the world, responding to their needs with a distributed workforce presents both challenges and opportunities. With calls and network traffic routing differently and the sometimes-questionable quality of home internet connections to support remote troubleshooting, customer support is much more complex. This creates multi-step incident management processes and sometimes requires leveraging people in various locations to solve customer issues.

But it also gives us the opportunity to have our employees closer to our customers. No longer bound by the need to be physically present in the central office, our team can now provide higher-touch support by more easily going on-site when needed to serve their needs. We’ve empowered our team, as well as our partners, with the data and tools they need to deliver a more customer-centric experience at each step of the customer journey.

5. Support human connections

Remember back before COVID when we were all struggling with a huge talent gap? While that seems to have been sidelined, it’s likely not gone completely away and very well may re-emerge with a vengeance once we return to some semblance of normalcy. Are you doing enough to help cultivate employee loyalty?

Maya Angelou famously said, “At the end of the day, people won’t remember what you said or did. They’ll remember how you made them feel.” This is especially true now with employees feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Now more than ever, we need to remember that employees are more than their job roles, and leaders must focus not only on how to make them more productive but also more valued.

In every decision, prioritize the human element and support connections as much as possible. Enable virtual water-cooler moments using technology and communications that emphasize connection and understanding. Remember that employees are essentially opening their homes to their workplace while also dealing with personal challenges like distance learning with their children at home or even potentially losing loved ones to COVID. Treating your employees with empathy and compassion and offering them flexibility will foster motivation and engagement and ultimately loyalty, which can be incredibly valuable as the world begins to reopen.

IT leaders and managers can sometimes easily get caught up in focusing on technological challenges and solutions, but recognizing and planning for how those affect people is a huge part of post-COVID operations. By learning to navigate the new realities with empathy and people-centric consideration, CIOs can be much more effective at steering the organization toward success.

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