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Observations on 2020 From the CIO Hot Seat
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Observations on 2020 From the CIO Hot Seat

By Alastair Pooley | December 28, 2020

Whilst any large-scale event, such as coronavirus, can have a significant impact on many people across the globe, we all experience things differently and will naturally each view the event from individual, and unique perspectives. I therefore find it helpful to regularly connect with industry peers to compare and contrast our experiences and learn what others have done when faced with similar challenges.

As Snow’s CIO, I’ve found myself thinking about what’s happened during this rollercoaster year, where we are now and where things are headed. Fortunately, I’ve attended multiple virtual CIO events over the past year and have been able to add peer perspective to the mix. I am consistently encouraged by the increased willingness among peers to collaborate, share experiences, listen to each other’s challenges, and collectively try to find solutions. That might be one of the few good things to come out of this pandemic, but it is a good thing, nonetheless.

So, what has 2020 shown us?

Technology is doing what it is supposed to do

While most prepare for natural disasters such as severe weather events, no CIO was focused on preparing for a global health pandemic a year ago. However, one of a CIO’s most important duties is to ensure, through contingency planning, that the company’s tech stack and employees are protected as much as possible from external events. These could range from potential business interruption events such as fire or security attacks to more minor issues such as downtime, insufficient tooling for the company’s needs, giant cloud bills and many other potential stressors.

The tech industry has an enviable record of being able to innovate quickly to meet new challenges. However, while the movement of IT operations and applications to the cloud has been underway for years, the epidemic and the subsequent sudden shift to off premises home working, has led to a sudden, dramatic acceleration to the cloud. In a recent Snow survey, it was found that more than 80% of IT leaders have increased their overall cloud usage in the last few months, and the majority responded that they believed this increase would continue.

When the going gets tough, technology gets going

With a remote workforce, we have also seen a dramatic increase in the use of collaboration tools. Like many technology solutions, these tools were already in use and had many advocates within the industry. But when even your elderly aunt says that she now attends regular zoom meetings, you know that technology has shifted in a way that is likely to stick. CIOs I speak to are looking beyond Zoom, Slack and Teams to lesser-known tools such as virtual whiteboarding like Miro. Looking beyond the better-known collaboration tools to find slightly different solutions that can better replace the in-office experience has become increasingly important and the software industry will no doubt continue to respond to this demand with new and innovative solutions.

Necessity is the mother of invention, as the saying goes, and that has certainly been proven this year. CIOs, technology vendors and all kinds of businesses have made adjustments on the fly to not only keep the lights on but to use the disruption to innovate and transform. A McKinsey study on COVID-19’s impact on digital transformation early in the pandemic found that “we have vaulted five years forward in consumer and business digital adoption in a matter of around eight weeks.” Similar statements by tech companies and thought leaders are even more aggressive in their assessment of the digital transformation we have seen this year.

Supply chains have been more important than ever this year, and jobs that, at first glance, don’t seem like candidates for remote work can appear possible when digital transformation is sped up to meet urgent challenges. Who would have thought that we would see this solution enabling forklift operators to work remotely? Yet the pandemic created the demand and technology found a solution. Teleoperation solutions like this use case are underpinned by the cloud, as is most innovation happening right now.

There’s planning, and then there’s “re-planning”

We all had plans prior to COVID, of course, but the massive change we have undergone in such a short period of time necessitates a reconsideration of previously agreed plans. The move to an overwhelming work from home environment and the tech infrastructure changes needed to support it continues to be one, if not the, biggest drivers of change. Office firewalls are useless if all your employees are at home on their own broadband. Physical infrastructure, which requires maintenance can become problematic. Pre-COVID business continuity plans look pretty outdated today, and CIOs are re-planning and building new business continuity plans to factor in our new reality, including more cloud...everything.

The CIO’s mission is more complex than ever

It’s always a balancing act for CIOs. The dual mission of accelerating digital transformation while watching costs is always on every CIO’s mind but never more acutely than now in a market that is financially constrained by demanding change. As a group, we are under more pressure than ever before to deliver, but we're also hyper-aware of the need to be prudent with budgets and overall IT spend. In Snow’s recently released “2021 Priorities Report,” more than 1,000 IT leaders voiced similar concerns.

The three top priorities for IT leaders this year were reducing security risks, reducing IT spend and adopting new technologies – all coming in at 38% (“delivering digital transformation” came in fifth at 32%). What will be challenging for everyone involved is that these initiatives are often conflicting.

Top IT Priorities

The survey also reported that overall, cost and complexity have increased as spend on all technologies – software, hardware, SaaS and cloud – was up across the board. So it isn’t surprising to learn that the majority of IT leaders have found that technology management and oversight has also become more difficult over the past 12 months.

I believe that perspective is power. Only with superb, in-depth visibility of your IT stack, devices, cloud infrastructure and more – can you control your estate. When you reliably understand exactly how your technology is being used, where it is and who’s using it, can you then optimize the IT budget and maximize its impact.

2021 – soft landing or hard reality?

With nine months of data to help inform strategies going forward, companies are now able to consider what their operating model will be going forward. Longer-term strategic planning will allow technology to be designed in a way which both addresses the challenges of a remote workforce and customer base and also secures any benefit which can be drawn from the new normal. I am optimistic about the ability of technology to help us address these challenges. To “Zoom” someone is a widely used and understood verb now, I sometimes wonder which innovation will be the next.

For a closer look at Snow's findings, download the full 2021 IT Priorities Report