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IT leader’s survival guide: 8 tips to thrive in the years ahead

IT leader’s survival guide: 8 tips to thrive in the years ahead

The shifting business and technology landscape are placing increasing pressure on IT leaders to deliver. Here’s how to adjust and remain invaluable to the business.

Credit: Photo 40378719 © Convisum | Dreamstime.com

Managers looking toward 2024 and beyond certainly have a full plate. Decisions around game-changing current and future technology require decisive action and possible investment to remain competitive.

In addition to the usual technology considerations, economic, geopolitical, and supply-chain issues all compete for attention as IT leaders look to keep their organisations growing amid turbulent times.

So how can IT pros prepare for success in the near future given the shifting business, technology, political, and economic landscape?

Here are eight key ideas to consider that can help you prioritise, adapt, and thrive in 2024 and beyond.

Forget what’s worked before

Sastry Durvasula, chief information and client services officer at TIAA, says the dizzying pace of change in technology means IT leaders will soon face uncharted waters — and adaptability will be key to succeeding and seizing new opportunities.

When looking ahead, Durvasula favors the McKinsey Three Horizons Framework, which focuses on identifying challenges and responding to them in beneficial ways. As you face challenges in this model, first consider how to protect the current business, then act to embrace emerging opportunities, with the end goal of creating an entirely new business: “Incubating new business models powered by emerging tech should be a strategic priority,” he says.

“Balancing and prioritising these areas requires a flexible approach to product development, platform modernisation, innovative customer-facing capabilities, and client-centric tech innovations that we’re driving through strategic industry partnerships,” Durvasula says.

As an example, he points to a partnership TIAA has undertaken with New York University, in which employees can upskill through cyber programs that help them gain specialised knowledge and new skills.

“We’re really focused on upskilling and reskilling to foster continuous learning and develop through communities of practice,” he says. “What worked yesterday is not going to work today or tomorrow.”

Keep a level head

With so many disruptive technologies emerging at once, and IT leaders pulled in to solving so many more business challenges, it’s easy to get caught up in the fervor. But in addition to embracing change, IT leaders need to develop a multifaceted approach to navigating current technology and business challenges, says Sanjay Srivastava, chief digital strategist at Genpact.

“IT leaders need to adapt by adopting a holistic approach that focuses on resilience, agility, diversification, and collaboration,” Srivastava says. “In this evolving IT investment landscape, the definition of risk has not changed, but the timeframe for response has shortened.”

One area of focus for Srivastava is how to stay in compliance with various regulations, already a heady task, when considering both privacy and cybersecurity. It can be difficult to adapt quickly as technology advances, while working to comply with varying regulations across state lines and borders.

“The challenge is that the technology footprint — and our understanding of potentials and pitfalls — is still maturing, for instance with generative AI. It’s understandable and expected that regulations will evolve, and working through the changes coming in an otherwise long-term tech stack will be key to getting it right,” he says.

Never forget the power of people

Despite trendy talk about current and future use cases, as with any technology artificial intelligence is only as powerful as the people developing and working with it, says Satish Jayanthi, co-founder and CTO at Coalesce.

“Quality, hard-working individuals underpin all data initiatives,” Jayanthi says. And while there will be new opportunities for IT pros and new job titles — such as AI prompt engineer — Jayanthi believes the key to success with emerging technologies such as AI is finding and investing in the careers of people who have a strong personal interest in growth. “I firmly believe in prioritising human capital.”

Technology staff, he argues, need to be empowered to advance and refine their skills to succeed with emerging technology.

Richárd Hruby, CIO and chief technology officer of CYQIQ, agrees that any discussion of AI adoption needs to begin with a focus on people.

“Hiring in tech has always been a rollercoaster,” Hruby says. “It feels as if traditional metrics of experience have been upended. A year’s experience in AI now feels like a decade in other domains. Competing with [high-profile technology] giants, who can offer astronomical salaries, makes hiring seasoned talent a Herculean task. IT leaders of today must prioritise strategic HR.”

Prepare for a quantum leap in hacking

IT leaders must prepare for security risks — even those that are still years away, says Dietmar Fauser, CIO of Symphony. And, like other forward-thinking moves you can take right now, it starts with smart data management.

“IT leaders have to understand that the current algorithms will not remain safe with the advent of quantum computing,” Fauser says. “We need to get prepared to adopt post-quantum encryption algorithms early. This is important to avoid massive sets of archived and encrypted data that will be subject to future hacks with quantum algorithms. We already see attempts to steal such datasets for the sole use of cracking it in the future once possible.”

What specific moves can your organisation take today? Fauser follows the recommendations of the US-based National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). He also tracks a few startups in this space, as well as current academic research.

“There is no simple answer,” he says, “but there will certainly be a competitive edge for the first movers — and a big headache for the laggards.”

Think like a startup

IT leaders should treat their organisations like a growing business, with all the agility, growth mindset, and attention to the bottom line that implies, says Mark Olson, vice president of customer solutions at Caylent.

“Lead your organisation with an innovator’s mindset,” Olson says. “Expect to adjust your short-term roadmaps as economic trends turn in supportive or challenging ways. Commodity services should go to the lowest bidder — while programs that drive productivity gains, create competitive disruption, save cost, increase agility, and reduce cycle times — are strategic investments in the long-term health of the business.”

Although IT may often be viewed as a cost center, Olson believes your organisation should treat the services you provide, such as infrastructure, development, and support, as a business within the larger organisation.

“Understand and promote the economics of the services that your team provides and manage your application and services portfolio for return on investment,” Olson says. “Ensure there’s an agreed-upon value associated with each of your applications and services.”

For managers facing increasingly tight budgets, Hruby says you can make the most of limited resources by using the approach of many startups and small and midsize enterprises.

“For most businesses, every IT dollar spent counts,” he says. “Our tech requires a lot of computing power, and therefore we must ensure to get maximum utility out of our tools, especially when it comes to scarce resources. I personally believe that with the Cambrian explosion of demand for cloud compute, investing in a more efficient infrastructure stack today will tell apart winners and losers in the next few years.”

Be smart about working arrangements

Tech leaders should keep an open mind to a range of work styles that came out of the pandemic, says Justin Rodenbostel, executive vice president at SPR. Now that offices have swung from completely remote to fully in-person or somewhere in between, IT leaders should stay flexible on this point to maintain job satisfaction, engagement, and retainment.

“IT leaders will need to learn what works best for their teams in terms of work location,” Rodenbostel says. “We’ve heard arguments from both sides on why remote work is best and why in-person work is best. We’ve read news articles about in-person mandates backfiring, and we’ve read similar articles on the opposite side. The answer is likely somewhere in the middle. It does not seem like we will ever go back to the office full time. IT leaders will have to adapt to succeed, when addressing how and when to schedule people being in the office, how office space may have to change to best support teams, and how to keep folks connected to the team and organisation while working in a hybrid capacity.”

Remote considerations extend beyond whether your colleagues are coming into the office. Rodenbostel says you should also be thinking about what approach works best for your organisation when dealing with internal and external customers.

“Examine which interactions with customers need to be in person, increase in frequency, or change altogether in order to maintain a high level of customer service,” he says. “Leaders need to be more deliberate in how they measure customer satisfaction and respond to customer feedback in hybrid and fully remote environments.”

Reduce your CO2 footprint

Gartner predicts that, within a few years, a quarter of CIOs will have their compensation linked to the impact of their sustainable technology strategies. The research firm suggests tech leaders consider working to reduce the environmental effects of the technologies they adopt, with a focus on improving the overall sustainability of the organisation.

Toby Alcock, CTO of global IT services company Logicalis, says companies can no longer turn a blind eye to the significant impact technology has on the environment.

“IT leaders will need to incorporate sustainability into their strategies and operations,” Alcock says. “This means transitioning to renewable energy sources, responsibly disposing of e-waste, and optimising hardware to be more energy-efficient.”

According to Gartner, companies could consider “moving to more dynamic and efficient methods for balancing power distribution in data centers, like using predeployed power distribution features, or using data center infrastructure management (DCIM) software to plan, measure, and document sustainable data center operations.”

Businesses should aim to balance efficiency gains with cost savings, Alcock says, while analysing the energy efficiency and environmental impact of their operations.

“As firms look more closely at their emissions, they’re also judging the sustainability credentials of partners and suppliers with greater scrutiny,” Alcock says. “So it’s important for resellers and managed service providers to be able to demonstrate their own carbon-reduction actions.”

Work with your business partners for mutual gains

The most likely way for managers to thrive is by engaging with business team colleagues, says Anthony Walsh, vice president of global technical operations at OneStream Software, adding that doing so will go a long way toward removing the perception of IT as a roadblock.

Walsh says aligning more closely with the business side can also help manage the demands — and potential risks — associated with adopting emerging technologies at speed.

“There is pressure on the technology organisation to support these initiatives with little to no additional funding,” he says. “This increases the pressure on the CIO and the leadership team to correctly prioritise what can be delivered. Foster a stronger relationship with the business to ensure buy-in and reduce the risk of shadow experience.”


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