Digital transformation: 3 IT leadership trends for the next normal

As we move toward a post-pandemic world, CIOs will play a key role in establishing a newly autonomous, more flexible work environment. Here are three trends to watch
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The majority of businesses in the United States have spent more than half of 2020 functioning remotely, and they will likely continue to do so into 2021. It’s clear that CIOs and their teams can do much more to ensure business continuity and even growth than just putting the right technology in place.

Here are three related digital transformation issues business leaders should consider as we move into the next normal.

1. CIOs will help set the cultural tone

Most businesses have already implemented the specific technology and tools necessary for workers to complete their day-to-day tasks. Now it’s time to focus on another area of business that will help teams remain productive as COVID-19 stretches on: Culture.

In 2019, well before the pandemic struck, Gartner had already predicted that by 2021, CIOs would be just as responsible for the culture in their organizations as HR leaders.

[ Also read Digital transformation: 5 ways the pandemic forced change. ]

However, that shift has come to fruition much more quickly in the new norm where the entire workday has gone digital. It’s suddenly fallen on CIOs to lead the charge in overcoming new challenges and embracing new ideas and systems in order to stay afloat.

It's suddenly fallen on CIOs to lead the charge in overcoming new challenges and embracing new ideas and systems.

One of the cultural changes that our own technology department has spearheaded involves rethinking the workweek and implementing new technology. The goal is to enable asynchronous communication to improve work/life balance for employees working in varying time zones who may also be caring for family members during the day.

We’ve also quickly adapted an agile mindset when it comes to testing new tools that help us feel connected by replicating the things we used to do in person, such as team-wide meetings, brainstorming sessions, whiteboard ideating, and more.

According to Elise Olding, VP of research at Gartner, culture is a key accelerator when it comes to digital transformation. CIOs would do well to partner with HR and other traditional culture leaders within their organization to adopt the technology and processes that support and reinforce the desired culture

[ Get answers to key digital transformation questions and lessons from top CIOs: Download our digital transformation cheat sheet. ]

2. IT as a governance and oversight center

The next normal will be all about enabling individual business units to scale and shift independently so that the organization can keep up with the changes that seem to happen overnight these days.

How can a CIO help empower this level of flexibility? By giving business units the autonomy to choose the tools they need and reposition IT as a governance and oversight board.

In our business, we’ve implemented what we call a “central operations” team that takes care of the day-to-day needs of business units when it comes to implementing new technologies and integrating them with other systems across the organization.

In this new workflow, our IT department has transformed from day-to-day task takers to a laser-focused team that works alongside the CIO to create and oversee the technology policies that govern the business as a whole.

This repositioning calls for a mindset shift when it comes to IT. Technology departments will need to be broken into smaller, more agile, hyper-focused teams that dissolve bottlenecks and enable the speed that will be necessary in the next normal.

3. Diversification of vendors and revenue streams will be paramount

While many of us have heard the advice to diversify our personal assets to mitigate losses in the face of market fluctuations, COVID-19 showed us that this practice is just as important when it comes to the revenue streams and service providers that keep our businesses moving forward.

The next normal will require that businesses transform their thinking and become more cognizant than ever about how revenue is concentrated.

The next normal will require that businesses transform their thinking and become more cognizant than ever about how revenue is concentrated.

When COVID-19 first turned the world upside down, the businesses that had multiple reliable revenue sources — as well as the agile structure and technology to pivot and take advantage of them — are the ones that are still running today.

For example, for the traditional businesses that have made it through the storm so far, now is the perfect time to create new digital revenue streams that can help them stay afloat through the next change in tide.

In addition to revenue diversification, a lesser-considered area where business can diversify is in their vendors.

In a fast-changing world, it’s time to let go of the outdated idea of an all-in-one service provider. What happens if your vendor of choice can’t keep up with the times, eliminates a key service on which you rely, or chooses to not include new functionality that would empower your organization’s digital transformation?

The concept of vendor diversification goes hand in hand with the modern microservices ideology in the technology world. Specialized vendors allow businesses to adopt and update their services to match what they need in any given moment without interrupting other areas of business.

Will your business be prepared to thrive in the next normal?

Adopt diverse vendors and revenue sources, re-structure your IT department so governance and day-to-day tasks can be managed concurrently, and position CIOs as cultural leaders to transform your business and prepare it to thrive in the next normal.

[ Culture change is the hardest part of digital transformation. Get the digital transformation eBook: Teaching an elephant to dance. ]

Nishant Patel is Founder & CTO at Contentstack– a leading Content Management System and Content Experience Platform. Previously, Nishant was Founder, CEO and CTO of Digital Experience Platform, which was acquired by German software powerhouse Software AG in September 2018.