Digital TransformationTriumph, Tragedy and Strategy

Digital TransformationTriumph, Tragedy and Strategy

Triumph, Tragedy and Strategy

Rikkii Richman MBA – 04/03/2021

When the Government announced the UK was to go into the first lockdown in March 2020, it urged the national workforce to work from home where possible. This was the catalyst for many organisations to accelerate their remote working capabilities, forcing IT departments to re-prioritise their work. Some will have been very successful and some will have been well prepared, whereas others will have found the exercise an impossible challenge.

These challenges have perhaps been not so much about establishing a remote working solution (after all, this technology has been around for decades and most companies are used to having employees connect into the corporate infrastructure remotely), but potentially the challenges associated with unprecedented volumes of users connecting concurrently. Or perhaps the challenges were more about the lack of prior investment in technology. This point is potentially easily remedied, particularly as there are undoubtedly going to be recent and valid operating examples to support the argument for more investment.

But cash is only part of the story. There needs to be a realistic and clear strategy to establish the technical and operational capabilities to support the business. If IT has made these arguments in the past and they have fallen on deaf ears, then the COO and CFO may have some explaining to do. If IT hasn’t pitched for this or hasn’t had clear strategies, then the attention may well be on the CIO.

No doubt, right now there will already be numerous CEOs chairing virtual Board meetings and unsurprisingly IT and business continuity capabilities will feature on their agendas, as they reflect on how the organisation and the IT department has supported the business through the COVID-19 challenges. Whilst some will be congratulating themselves, others will find themselves in an uncomfortable position as questions are asked about operational readiness, scalability and previously unidentified risks that need addressing. There may also be a focus on other technology transformation initiatives, particularly on the back of poor user experiences, as clients attempt to access their data and systems on a range of devices that prove incapable of capable of doing so.

Facilities and IT teams usually account for the highest operating budgets within organisations, so any indication that these investments are not cost-effective, whether real or perceived, will prompt the need for action. From a technology perspective, the Board may question whether IT has partnered with the right vendors; a key point where commodity services such as infrastructure, hosting, secure remote access, storage, online collaboration etc. have been outsourced. In some cases, these vendors may have provided outstanding levels of support, particularly if as a customer, you are an important client. But what if they have other customers who generate more revenue for them? Did they get more attention or a better service in the early days than your company did? How far down the pecking order were you when you needed them most? Did they over commit and under deliver? Why were they selected as the partner of choice to support the business? Has penny-pinching from the COO and CFO, bitten them in the backside when they needed technology the most?

They will consider how effective the CIO was at mobilising his or her team, to drive the rapid changes that were required to ensure an acceptable level of business and operational continuity during the lockdown. Irrespective of how well they did, they will question whether they have the right leadership in place to improve the overall capability of the IT team, particularly if there have been concerns about IT and IT leadership prior to COVID-19. Any surfacing issues in IT now could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and businesses will finally be forced to deal with issues they had neglected up to now.

They will want to see an IT strategy that will support the ongoing business operation both today and in the future? There may have been operating issues that exposed a level of IT immaturity that is no longer acceptable to the business, highlighting a need to get the fundamentals right and that includes remote access and effective collaboration tools. They will want to see how the strategy will unfold to fully support the business and that the IT services they provide are delivered at an appropriate cost and aligned to the needs of the business. Initiatives to automate will need to feature in order to achieve increased efficiencies, supporting further cost reductions as processes are optimised and platforms are created for innovation, leading to increased revenue for the business and further expansion. IT is an enabler; its role is to support the business by delivering all of this and this level of capability maturity is rightly to be expected from the business.

But this is more than just a time to reflect on the capabilities of IT.

Organisations have leapt forward several years, adopting and using technologies to keep their business operating as effectively as possible. From a facilities perspective, expensive real estate now lying empty, will no doubt prompt questions about the need for large buildings or extensive office space. There has been and will continue to be revenue challenges for all businesses. With the finer points of Brexit still to be defined and agreed (you remember Brexit?), companies will be looking for operating efficiencies to protect the bottom line, so any opportunity to scale down the size of its premises and exit expensive leases will be seized upon. Furthermore, if organisations have miraculously coped, despite furloughing staff, this may prompt a review of headcount. Ongoing costs are going to be an issue, because if nothing else, the Government will want to recoup its outlay from propping up businesses and the economy, so we should expect tax increases in the future, which again will be an influencing factor in how businesses operate in the future.

COVID-19 has been a wake-up call for businesses, prompting them to review their overall strengths and weaknesses. One certainty out of all this is further change, as businesses will want to move to an effective operating model that will enable them to navigate through the challenges of the next few years. Technology and the management thereof will be a priority, requiring capable and effective leadership to establish and execute robust plans. Effective stakeholder management will be a critical success factor for change, which needs to be executed in partnership with the business as new ways of working are to be adopted.

On the back of the disruption caused by Brexit, the anticipated broadening scope of IR35 and COVID-19, many organisations will have lost key resources and skills. Now is the time for organisations to plan for post lockdown activities and assess its teams for change readiness. Ensuring your organisation has the right skills to lead it through the technology and operational changes that are crucial for survival has never been so important. Effective Change Agents are going to be in high demand over the coming months, so make sure you have the right resource on board to effect those changes and position your business for success before it’s too late.

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Rikkii Richman

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