At the beginning of 2021, CIO.co.uk outlined what they believed would be this year’s top eight challenges for IT leaders:
Facilitating the future of work
Securing the hybrid enterprise
Flipping the 80/20 IT landscape
Skilling up for accelerated digital roadmaps
Scrutinising IT budgets
Maintaining 24/7 uptime
Blending safety and innovation
Well, okay, I get all these. But is this as good as it gets? Couldn’t we aim a bit higher?
For example, we shouldn’t be ‘facilitating the future of work,’ we should be driving it! As for 24/7 uptime, surely we’ve all got that in place already? Particularly now, when technology has enabled businesses to carry on despite the pandemic?
I think we can easily come up with a more inspirational and impactful list—especially when we’re looking for talking points to bring to the CEO.
In this accelerated moment, CEO attentions are more than usually divided. But part of your job as a CIO is to make a case to the CEO for how technology makes a difference to competitive advantage. Technology can and should be the key to more rapid growth, to outstripping the competition, and to becoming more profitable.
And yet the above list would have us focus on infrastructure. If we were in a car, it’s as if the next five sets of traffic lights have all turned green, and yet we’re driving along in second gear: admiring the scenery when we should be hitting the gas.
So, what do I think we should be doing now? We need to focus on getting the CEO excited about their IT. And we need to demonstrate, as CIOs, that we’re commercially astute businesspeople and not propeller heads. We need to show that we’re thinking about how to help the company grow faster and make more money.
So, what about this list instead:
1. Omnichannel everywhere. Everyone engages with the business however they wish, whether they’re suppliers, customers, or employees.
2. Bring the customers closer. Digitisation of everything—now!
3. Integrate and automate to speed up the business; RPA, APIs and Middleware to deliver a connected business.
4. Real BI/MI to make delivering data the lifeblood of the business and enable fantastic decision-making.
5. Give the business what it wants. Departments should want to come to you first.
6. Support innovation. Create sandboxes where employees can safely innovate.
7. Programmes and projects delivered on time, within budget, and to specification. Always.
8. Right person in the right seat on the right bus. Wrong people off the bus.
Consider this list less about challenges than priorities. After all, if there is anything that past eighteen months has taught us, it’s that challenges have a way of finding you whether you plan for them or not.
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During COVID and the associated lockdowns, most business interactions were restricted to a few square inches of real-estate on someone’s screen. A CIO I know well said it was the lockdown that made him realise how much he needed interaction with his colleagues to be effective. Indeed, most of us were used to having a presence in the office—walking around, enjoying ad-hoc chats and water-cooler discussions, updating colleagues at the lunch table, whatever. Remote working brought all these spontaneous human interactions to screeching halt and not a lot has replaced them.
Has remote work made us more efficient? I don’t think so, but it has certainly made us think more about communication and how to regain what we’ve lost.
Over the past year, I’ve gathered a number of ways CIOs and CTOs have attempted to resolve some of these issues. Below are four ways that have worked and helped to regain some of the human presence that was lost during lockdown:
1.The doctor is in. Like Lucy from Peanuts, have a regular conference call planned and in everyone’s diary. When I set these up, attendance varied from none to twenty, but when people did drop by, work was only about 20% of the stuff we nattered about. Also, whilst it was scheduled for thirty minutes, it often went on for significantly longer, indicating that people were eager to engage.
2.The ‘always-on’ call. Designate a team or an individual to always have a channel open. I’ve done this with outsourced functions, where they can immediately interact with a member of the employed team without having to email or call. It’s particularly useful for agile working with distributed dev teams.
3.The cafe. There are systems out there now that allow a persistent presence; we’ve been using Kumospace. People pop in whilst doing something else, on the off chance someone else might pop in as well. We also used it recently to provide the much-missed informal chat sessions we normally have at our conference. It was the first time I’ve seen people stick around in a conference call, virtually moving between groups and conversations like in IRL. Some said it was almost as good as the real thing.
4.The regular update. We suggest to our CIOs and CTOs that they have a regular session in their diary, usually once a week, to catch up with the CEO one-to-one. They should have these meetings even when there’s nothing on the agenda to talk about. I know a CIO who keeps a set of Pictionary cards to hand in case conversation lulls. Even for the CEO, there’s time for a little fun! (It couldn’t hurt to have regular meetings with the rest of the Board as well.)
I am often asked about innovative technology for our new ways of working. I don’t see any game-changing new systems out there; most are simply a version of video conferencing. So we need to make do with what we’ve got. Similarly, none of the above ideas are massively innovative. But with some effort and thought, we can approach, if not replace, the human touch of office life.
Look out for another post on the challenges particular to the hybrid office.
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