By Nick Steiner, Partner and Advisory Group Leader
Just about everything we thought we knew about IT enabling employees went out the window in early 2020 when Covid-19 hit North America. Companies that were built around having workforces consolidated in offices suddenly found themselves with remote work models. Not only did this disrupt how organizations function and how employees get their jobs done, but it also threw a wrench into carefully architected pre-pandemic IT systems.
The good news is that most American businesses were able to adapt quickly and move forward with workflow adjustments necessary to accommodate telework models. But as we move into 2022 — the third year of this pandemic — business and technical leaders need to start thinking beyond Covid-19 and start assessing what their needs are going to be and what challenges their businesses are going to face. Most importantly, they need to be prepared for every possibility.
To that end, BPM’s senior technical leaders recently sat down to discuss what the next year will bring for our clients. And while we don’t have a crystal ball at our disposal, the team was able to come up with some key items that CIOs will almost certainly need to focus on in the next year as their role continues to shift away from being pure technology leaders and toward critical business drivers and decisionmakers. Here are the five that we see as the most important.
1. Securing Hybrid Cloud/On-Premise Systems and Applications Is Not Optional.
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced the hands of many organizations that were on the fence about migrating to the cloud. Whether it’s remote workforce tools, key business applications, email, Windows domains, development environments, or backups and file storage, most businesses are migrating some, if not all, systems to the cloud.
Though they bring many benefits, cloud migrations — both all-in and hybrid cloud/on-premise models — bring with them a mixed bag of security issues. In general, cloud infrastructures facilitate vendor platform patching and updating, which results in better security postures. Cloud vendors who provide strong access controls and access logging also enhance overall security. But cloud migrations also bring security exposure. Every cloud migration increases the organization’s attack surface, and that surface needs to be defended. Cloud deployments also introduce many new platforms, virtual environments, third/fourth/Nth party dependencies, service settings, and user privilege defaults.
All of these issues and more present potential vulnerabilities. Understanding how cloud migrations affect your organization’s security posture is a complex process, and the devil is in the details.
2. Communication and Collaboration Should Be Real-Time.
No matter what kind of business a CIO is responsible for supporting, collaboration is at the heart of success. That’s why forward-thinking IT departments have created robust systems that allow people to collaborate either as standalone teams or as groups composed of people from many different business units. Whichever approach an organization takes, that collaboration needs to be able to exist in the virtual realm as seamlessly as it does in the physical world. This is why tools such as Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and other collaboration platforms are so popular — and why they will remain mission-critical in 2022. All of these allow for real-time, on-demand collaboration to keep your business running efficiently.
And because it’s often overlooked, I should not fail to mention how important ensuring your employee performance management tool is remote-enabled is for your CIO strategy. In today’s remote and hybrid workforces, performance management is critical to ensuring employee engagement and avoiding turnover, so ensuring you have a tool that matches this new remote dynamic should be a critical CIO strategy priority in 2022.
3. Leverage Cloud Services Whenever Possible.
In 2020, the transition to cloud computing accelerated rapidly as workers were forced to telecommute. The Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) market grew by 23% from 2020 to 2021, and this growth is only predicted to accelerate as businesses strategically reallocate budgets toward operating expenses (OpEx) and away from capital expenses (CapEx). However, many companies still maintain critical infrastructure on their IT servers in their physical office spaces, often simply out of habit.
Many of the objections to transitioning toward SaaS and cloud storage inevitably come back to security concerns. And as noted above, these solutions do bring with them certain security challenges, although not necessarily any more than in-house, on-premise solutions and certainly not unsurmountable ones. But it is also impossible for IT leaders to ignore the huge advantages that SaaS and cloud storage offer, perhaps the biggest of which is that these solutions mean that IT teams no longer have to physically manage and monitor disparate systems whenever new tools are added to their stacks.
In other words, outcomes are better and IT teams can remove one of the most time-consuming parts of their jobs from their busy schedules and focus on activities that build value. Accompanied by a robust IT security strategy, a cloud-first strategy will help your business stay lean and competitive as technology increasingly becomes a key differentiator for successful, growing businesses.
4. Build a Successful Remote Employee Environment for Long-Term Gain.
At first blush, this might sound like a people strategy recommendation rather than a CIO strategy matter. In fact, it’s both. The long-awaited return to offices is (at best) being delayed for a few months, and the reality is that many employees prefer to continue working remotely. Organizations that have cobbled together systems to help promote and enable workers over the last couple of years are to be commended, but now is the time to expand that initiative and recognize that there are coworkers out there who have not worked together for almost two years and even some that have never physically been in the same space — and that this trend may continue for years to come.
Forward-thinking organizations that want to retain their employees need to build systems and processes to create communities in the absence of physical proximity. This is impossible without innovative IT strategies in place. Making sure your employees are well connected to the organization from all aspects — communications, culture and performance — through well-designed HR systems that are integrated with other platforms is thus a key CIO strategy priority for 2022. And build for the long term, because remote working is not going away.
5. Choose Quality Over Quantity When It Comes to Data.
The amount of data that humanity is creating now is truly stupefying, and it is only going to get bigger every year. IDC estimates that by 2025, 463 exabytes of data will be created each day, the informational equivalent of 212,765,957 DVDs. We are now using terms like “zettabytes” in polite company. Ironically, however, this data explosion has created a significant information gap. That’s because data analytics it about more than just having the raw data — it’s about being able to act on it quickly and make real-time decisions to improve profitability, efficiency and productivity. IT organizations need to lead the way in resolving this paradox by ensuring that organizations aren’t just accumulating data for the sake of accumulating data, but are instead being strategic about the information that they need to drive current and future success. At the heart of this is a recognition that data prioritization needs to be at the forefront of any good information strategy.
It all comes back to the well-worn "garbage in, garbage out" issue in data analytics: Bad information leads to bad outcomes. That’s why in 2022 CIOs need to talk more about the importance of standardizing data, cleansing data, and making it accessible through APIs. This is where the true intersection between technological success and business success lies.
Address Your 2022 IT Imperatives Head-On With BPM.
Here at BPM, these are the kinds of things we think about all the time, because we recognize that our mutual benefit is directly tied to our clients ability to succeed in crowded market spaces. A year ago our Advisory team about priorities for the future, and as we enter 2022 we feel confident that our initial considerations, which were made even before Covid-19 vaccines were first available, remain top priorities. To learn more about how our professionals think about the future of business generally, and how we develop strategies to help CIOs and IT departments support this ever-changing reality in particular, contact Nick Steiner, Partner and Advisory Practice Leader, today.
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