In the panicked move to remote work in 2020, most organizations cobbled together quick-and-dirty accommodations just to keep the business running. Plans for digital transformation accelerated at warp speed as employees shifted to working from home overnight with virtually no time for planning, research, or preparation. Instead of the thoughtful and careful rollout CIOs envisioned, they were instead forced to make urgent decisions and hope for the best, assuming this would all be short-lived.
Instead, those crisis plans became status quo, making 2021 the year of hybrid work. As organizations have settled into this new reality, it’s clear there’s no turning back. Despite best-laid plans, many CIOs believe the pace of digital transformation will continue to accelerate, primarily catalyzed by outside forces beyond their control.
Digital transformation strategy to-do's for 2022
As CIOs shift from reactive to proactive mode, it’s time to transition from those emergency plans into a long-term strategy. Here are four lessons CIOs must take away from 2021 to inform their plans for the coming year.
1. Build IT infrastructure for the hybrid environment
With hybrid work here to stay, the IT and security infrastructure must adapt for the long haul, which could mean unwinding some of the quick fixes put in place in the rush to transition.
For example, at the start of the crisis, our engineering team at Nomadix moved operations to their home garages so we could continue to build and test new products for our customers. After a year, many have a full server rack at home for R&D. Now, we’re looking at moving even lab environments and test equipment to outsourced, centrally located data centers. This will provide better reliability and security and virtually eliminate the need for a fixed physical office location, allowing our network engineers to work from anywhere.
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2. Revise business continuity and disaster recovery plans
Having lived through the mother of all disasters, it’s almost comical now to look back at our business continuity plans from 2019. If our office caught fire, we may have had to work from home! Now we have to consider what might go wrong within that environment as standard operating procedure.
For example, what if there’s a failure in your distributed infrastructure? Previously, you probably didn’t care what ISP your employees use, but if they’re all using the same carrier and there’s a major fiber outage in their network, how will you adapt?
You may want to consider having your employees in business-critical functions on diversified endpoints (which likely means subsidizing that cost) to mitigate the risk of a widespread business interruption.
3. Balance innovation with operations
To be more agile, innovation and development teams must be closer to the business and have the entire team involved in new product development, testing, and validation. This ensures that their priorities are met from the beginning and no time or resources are wasted. Performance and regression testing and security scanning must be baked in throughout, in real-time, to shorten the development cycle for maximum efficiency.
In our organization, that meant moving to weekly sprints and release cycles for our internal infrastructure. Each week, our business reps prioritized what was most important and participated in the testing and validation process. As we worked to roll out our new partner portal, our marketing and support teams were involved from the very beginning, advising the development team and testing features and functionality.
By bringing IT and business operations closer together, we’ve been able to balance innovation and operations without having to sacrifice either, even when talent or resources have been limited.
4. Operate with empathy and a people-first approach
With so much focus on adapting infrastructure, it’s easy to forget that people are involved here, too. Change management is as much about helping people adapt and accept a new system as it is about the system itself. From an IT point of view, we don’t often think about helping people along, but that must change, especially in a remote environment where people may already feel a bit disconnected.
Applying marketing communication principles to support internal change can be a game-changer. As you adapt operations, develop communication plans that treat employees like customers you’re trying to convince to buy your product. “Market” your new system or process to employees with proactive messages that explain what’s in it for them and how it will make their jobs easier.
Make sure leadership is all speaking the same language and identify internal business champions. Keep them close and up to date so they can be the eyes and ears within their local workgroups to answer questions and identify roadblocks. Roll out help guides, cheat sheets, and other supporting materials along with ample training and support. Making it easier for your employees to adapt to new systems and processes will make them much more supportive and comfortable, and ultimately drive better adoption and buy-in.
As we look ahead to a new year, we all desperately want to move on. But CIOs must remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and we’re not finished yet. While there are signs of hope and leaders must maintain an optimistic outlook, we must also be realistic and have a plan in place in case recovery is slower than hoped.
By stepping back from the crisis, revisiting our short-term coping strategies, and planning for 2022 roadmaps with a long-term approach, organizations can move forward in the new world of work with confidence, security, innovation, and empathy.
[Get answers to key digital transformation questions and lessons from top CIOs: Download our digital transformation cheat sheet.]