Marrying the old and the new and finding the right skills to enable your IT plans is critical to modern business success.
In 2020, IT executives found themselves in a corner and many rushed their digital transformation plans to keep the lights on. A bit like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound, they were forced to use extremely limited resources to address some pretty major challenges. In 2021, these same IT professionals got the chance to regroup and could develop, streamline and improve upon the strategies they deployed the previous year. In 2022, it’s all about looking to the future and developing a tech strategy that is adaptive, innovative and resilient.
So what technologies will play a role in helping IT execs achieve these outcomes?
For Ziaad Suleman, chief commercial officer at EOH, focus should be on the traditional and the new. When he talks about traditional technologies, he is referring to those that are already being used today, like Infrastructure-as-a-Service, data, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, automation, blockchain and cloud. But this doesn’t mean that these technologies are old hat, says Suleman, particularly because many of them are still in their infancy from an adoption perspective. ‘New technologies’, on the other hand, highlight the possibilities of tomorrow. These innovations include ubiquitous 5G, the metaverse, and Web 3.0. He mentions the traditional and the new because he believes it’s so important for IT professionals to create a bridge between these two ‘eras’ so that businesses can leverage current day technology, while preparing themselves for the technology of tomorrow. “What we’re increasingly seeing is the convergence of different technologies, with various innovations coming together to provide efficiencies and deliver optimised solutions to problems.” This is what digital transformation is all about.
While it has been discussed for many years, digital transformation remains a hot topic, Suleman says. “The idea is to utilise technology as a holistic enabler across the entire business, automating manual processes by converging tech and data to get a better outcome,” he says. And once you’ve succeeded at this in one area of the business, the next step is to take this methodology and adapt it to address other sticky points and inefficiencies across the business. This is where change management comes into play.
When someone has been working in a certain way for an extended period and you come along and change things, you must be transparent and strategic about how you do it, says Suleman. This is especially true when it comes to new IT deployments and bringing in new processes that people aren’t familiar with and may not fully understand. “You must marry your business and technology requirements so that everyone moves in the same direction.” If you don’t get this right, business and IT will be speaking very different languages. Change management is about using technology to do what’s right for the business while bringing people along for the journey. “People and technology have to work together to generate business value,” he says.
Change management also becomes important when there is a perception that automation means job cuts, he notes. With the right change management processes, IT can assure and upskill staff so that they understand how they fit into this new, digitally enabled environment. But it’s not easy, Suleman admits. “You’re dealing with emotion, you’re dealing with money and you’re pushing a lot of people out of their comfort zones.”
The (right) IT skills
To successfully leverage digital innovations and ensure that the business really benefits from their deployment, it’s essential to have the right blueprint and the right team with the right skills so that you can transform technology opportunities and data into actionable insights. But with tech touching every part of the business, this means hiring a diverse array of IT professionals. Most companies can’t afford to have skills and expertise in every area, Suleman says. “Talent is critical. Attracting and retaining the right people is a non-negotiable today.”
Take a large company with a complex IT environment that plays in many different fields and creates products across a broad range of industries. The ‘traditional IT’ people have to ensure that their systems work well and in real-time. The company also needs experts across multiple streams (IT or otherwise) to help differentiate the business and monitor market changes. It requires people with the skills to create platforms that provide a good user experience so that the business can attract new customers. It needs infrastructure experts who can help manage the on-prem environment, and experts that can help migrate to the cloud. Steering this very elaborate ship is a CIO who should have the experience, knowledge and expertise to direct all of these parties while also aligning IT to business strategy. And this doesn’t even take the need for cybersecurity and other emerging technology professionals into account.
People and technology have to work together to generate business value.Ziaad Suleman, EOH
Given all the different IT competencies a business requires, it seems logical for IT teams to bring in people from the outside and to collaborate with trusted partners. The pandemic has made it more acceptable to outsource (in part or in full) and expand IT reach and the talent pool by working with IT experts located anywhere in the world. “The elimination of geographical boundaries opens up incredible possibilities and it means that somebody sitting in South Africa could quite easily connect to systems anywhere in the world as well as contract skills in Guatemala to produce a piece of work for a customer in Spain.
“It’s not uncommon for companies to get distracted by the glamorous bleeding-edge tech. But these solutions are only going to add value to your business if you can use them effectively, whether it be for cost savings, optimisation, or efficiencies,” he says. When it comes to IT deployments, it’s important to develop a plan aligned to business objectives and then make sure that you have the budget, the capacity and capability to execute the plan. If you don’t do this, he says, it’s a bit like buying a R2 million Ferrari, but not having enough money for the fuel needed to enable this supercar’s performance.
* This feature was first published in the May edition of ITWeb's Brainstorm magazine.