How Do Data Leaders Go from Responding to Recovering from COVID-19?

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Click to learn more about author Kyle McNabb

The pandemic is reaching an inflection point — or rather, the people affected by it are. While the future still feels uncertain, companies are no longer waiting in fear of the unknown. Senior leaders are ready to stop merely responding to the pandemic and start recovering from it — transitioning their companies to be more responsive to an ever-changing new normal.

Yet how do senior IT leaders move forward when COVID-19 has impacted almost every line of business? IT spend is in decline and will continue to decline into next year as firms look to control costs while the economy recovers. Still, there are a few steps companies can take to find their footing. Senior leaders can embrace these four best practices to lay the foundation for a nimbler organization for the future.

Shift Priorities to Embrace Remote Work

While the work-from-home movement started as a weeks-long band-aid, companies need to shift their priorities to invest in remote work as a long-term solution. This focus will also improve organizations’ responsiveness to future change, knowing that there are several unknowns ahead — from the economy and public health to customers’ evolving needs in the market.

Having an agile software development lifecycle (SDLC) is an important piece of positioning companies to support remote work, as is putting in place collaboration tools such as Atlassian and Microsoft to keep teams connected while working outside the office. If companies have agile SDLC in one department, such as research and development, they should try to replicate those learnings across other areas of the enterprise to improve responsiveness as a whole.

Leverage AI and Automation for Productivity and Responsiveness

Organizations and data leaders also need to focus on AI and automation to drive responsiveness. Many processes today simply aren’t responsive to constant change, putting enterprises at additional risk when the next challenge materializes. For instance, early in the pandemic, customers complained that they could not complete certain tasks — such as closing their financial books — because it required several people to learn how to work remotely.

CIOs should focus on digital automation, automating processes that require people to interact with content and systems. These areas are ripe for automation and AI/ML. Now more than ever, companies need to take the knowledge and expertise from their employees, encapsulate it into rules engines and AI/ML technologies, and automate mundane tasks, so workers are free to focus on more challenging, innovative work — which will help the enterprise become more responsive. AI, ML, and automation reduce risk and boost productivity when organizations need it most.

Accelerate Cloud into Your IT Strategy

During the pandemic, there has been a clearly accelerated demand for the cloud. Companies want to avoid moving more applications into their data centers, as doing so only slows their responsiveness — not only because people don’t want to work in person, but also because there is minimal scalability as business fluctuates.

Companies with existing cloud projects were less impacted by the shift to remote work — and companies with workloads deployed on-premises started moving those to the cloud. Going forward, companies should consider the agility of a hybrid IT environment, in which some projects are on-prem, while other apps, services, computer networks, and storage is in the cloud. That way, companies can leverage the convenience of the cloud being a utility — that they can just turn on and avoid staging and setting up infrastructure — with the high performance of the mainframe. In the face of future disruption, having this option will help companies pivot more quickly.

Invest in Trial-and-Learn Projects

As IT spend declines, companies are looking to control costs and reduce risk until the economy stabilizes. This more careful mindset has ushered in a wave of “trial-and-learn projects.” Large enterprise-wide investments aren’t materializing, but companies are willing to spend money on a specific area and see how it helps address their specific business need. When that investment proves to be successful, organizations have the option to expand those efforts. This practice benefits organizations as they forge ahead with their digital transformations. Testing out which projects drive the most results — and fix the most business problems — before over-investing is a sound strategy. While it was brought on by the pandemic, it could be here to stay as IT leaders see the benefits.

With the transition to remote work — whether in-progress or complete — CIOs and other IT leaders must approach digital transformation with a different mindset. During the pandemic, digital transformation is no longer only about supporting growth; it’s now about becoming responsive. This may reframe certain projects and priorities, so it’s important to reevaluate before moving forward.

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