Marc Dowd
Marc Dowd (Principal, European Client Advisory)

We are living in interesting times. For many of us the impact of COVID-19 has not gone away and we are already feeling the impact of the stresses and strains of the post-COVID world. That said, we have no choice as digital leaders except to prepare our organisations for the future.

“May you live in interesting times” is an English expression that is claimed to be a translation of a traditional Chinese curse.

As digital leaders we are very well placed to understand the breadth of the organisation and also the details. More so, some might argue, than any other C-level executive because that is what we deal with every day. In so many ways the role of technology in business life has grown exponentially. IT has a massive impact on operations, brand and reputation, customers and our ecosystems, the workforce, and how they are organised and managed. The financial outcome for our organisation and even the efficiency of the leadership and the organisation itself are tightly bound to technology in most modern organisations.

During the pandemic, the focus was on IT to respond to the changing environment and restore the business capabilities. There is no reason to believe that this will not be needed again in the future. It might seem a bit pessimistic to expect another crisis, but we only need to look at the impact that the rise in ransomware is having on the future of many organisations to realise that in our accelerated world threats come faster and from widespread directions.

And that is not all. As we go forward, markets will most likely move into a period of growth and expansion the like of which we have not seen before. Or at least those are the predictions. As this acceleration continues it will be our job to extend and optimise business operations and contact between customers, ecosystems, the workforce and the leadership of our organisation to take advantage of this growth before it passes us by.

On top of this it is likely that we will also need to innovate existing internal systems or support business model innovation, or both. It looks like busy times ahead for digital leaders. You as a digital leader and your IT team will become key enablers for all aspects of your organisation, both from a defensive position but also to foster growth.

Planning for the Unknown

So, what do you need to think about? What planning can you do now to make your actions more effective as things accelerate?

We suggest breaking everything down into an organised plan. Start with operations; in relation to resilience and business continuity you not only have to have a plan to deal with all sorts of contingencies, but you also need to build in flexibility in case the unexpected happens. For many, IT infrastructure has not been a focus of investment over the past year and a half as funds were used for survival or contingency. Now it’s important to look at the updates and investments that will be necessary in the operational field of IT.

During the pandemic we learned a lot about the need for agility, and that has prompted many of us to look at new forms of governance; a review of your agile practices may well be in order so that you can deliver securely but at the speed that the business will need.

Digital leadership also must consider brand and reputation. Your plans for cybersecurity are an obvious place where an update could be vital. But at the same time we must not overlook privacy or compliance. Beyond that the importance of social responsibility and ethics is growing, and these are very much affected by the actions and policies of IT. Environment, sustainability and governance (ESG) definitely should be on your list of things to review.

While it is often the remit of the business to sell to customers, to attract, retain and renew new customers and of the public sector to support citizens, it’s rare that this is done without technology support these days. As we move into a period of fighting for market share and share of the economic growth that is due to come, the technology department will have to step up and help business achieve its goals. This is not optional, and digital leaders who fail will have an obvious negative impact on business outcomes.

Supporting the Changing Workforce

For almost all organisations an important impact of the pandemic has been the wide-ranging changes within the workforce and the way we work. Looking forward, IT will have to do its bit to keep the organisation safe and secure, but it also has a role to play in increasing productivity, agility and innovation within the organisation. Not only do we need to plan to support the people who work within our organisation, and even our ecosystem, but we also need to be very focused on the threat to resilience that comes from losing key talent. IT can enable a better working environment which in turn will help keep key staff in a time of increasing labour competition. Do you have a plan to improve employee experience?

Financial resilience is necessary for the digital team as much as for the larger organisation. We need to make alternative plans on a financial level to support alternative scenarios for growth or conflict. You might want to think about how to underpin huge growth at a platform level rather than point solutions. How can you invest once to streamline operations and reduce future point investments?

Last and very much not least the IT organisation needs to support the leadership of your organisation. Now more than ever before making the leadership aware of opportunities and threats by means of technological sensing and responding will help to formulate and broadcast a clear purpose and mission in these uncertain times.

“A word to the wise is enough. The old proverb is, forewarned, forearmed.”
Capt. Francis Hooke, 1685

In summary, over the next year we do not expect life to get easier or to go back to where we were before. I urge you to take the time to reflect and start planning for resilience, agility and innovation now because I suspect you are not going to have much time to spend on planning in the future.

If you would like to come and discuss your plans with your peers, or hear what they think the priorities are, we encourage you to join the IDC Digital Leadership Community before Thursday, June 10, when members of the community will gather online to discuss this topic.

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