How the pandemic could change the face of senior executive teams and what it means for IT professionals in housing.
Following the announcement of the lockdown, the sound of sighs emanating from IT offices was almost audible as IT teams looked ahead with trepidation to the onslaught of questions, endless to-do lists and long working hours in the weeks to come.
I can imagine it vividly because I’ve been in similar(ish) situations in the past, albeit on a smaller scale when dealing with, for example, IT outages. It’s during times like these that IT teams go from working relatively undisturbed by their executive teams, to being put under the spotlight and feeling the immense pressure that goes with it.
As IT professionals, we know how important our function is. That it goes beyond functional disaster recovery and the failover of servers. Thanks to the laws of risk and reward, as IT becomes all-pervasive within business operations and brings greater rewards, the risk it carries naturally increases. It is therefore fundamental to risk management, business continuity and organisational performance.
Within businesses operating across many sectors, the value of IT is largely underappreciated, despite technology and digital strategies being vital to their success. Or to be more specific, it is undervalued until something goes wrong. And having worked in this field for some years, I know that this is a bugbear for people working in IT.
This paradoxical situation exists largely because over decades of technological advance, the model of executive teams has remained largely unchanged. Very few have incorporated CTOs and therefore IT teams usually find themselves under the directorship of the finance director or COO. Also, for the most part, IT departments are yet to master the art of talking the language of the senior executive team, which differs hugely from our own vernacular. As such, we are often caught in a vicious cycle and find ourselves with limited opportunities to steer or influence strategy in the ways we would like.
Pre-lockdown business continuity plans
I have no doubt that pretty much all organisations already had some form of business continuity plan before lockdown. And as business continuity plans are essentially the ultimate risk management tool, it makes sense to me that they are put together in genuine collaboration with the IT department.
However with the lack of IT representation at executive level, this seldom seems to happen. I would hazard that many continuity plans were created with limited business consultation with the IT department and little testing of the IT systems under complete disaster-style scenarios.
Following the baptism of fire that was lockdown and the scurry to implement full-scale remote working, I’m pretty certain that most continuity plans are currently being revisited and updated, with organisations looking at what worked and more to the point, where the plan was lacking.
Reconsider and review
But as well as updating the plans, I wonder how many have reviewed their approach to formulating those plans in the first place?
Lockdown did two significant things within most organisations. First, it forced the senior executive team and IT department to find some unity and collaborate better in order to keep the business going. And second, it dragged IT from its usual position of sitting in the shadow of core business functions and thrust it to the forefront during (dare I say it?) an unprecedented and very frightening time.
For those on a digital transformation journey, the value of the IT function was undoubtedly highlighted. And those using legacy systems are likely to have been forced to take a more reactive approach, but where they have been successful in their efforts, they are certain to have been the protagonists of the first chapter of the lockdown saga.
Either way, lockdown presented a unique opportunity for IT teams to demonstrate the value they deliver in facilitating front-line services.
Yin and yang…
The initial stages of lockdown may have caused immense headaches for IT departments, but for every ‘yin’, there is a ‘yang’. I have seen countless online posts and articles celebrating and praising the hard work of IT teams whose efforts kept the wheels spinning. IT has clearly caught the eye of executive teams who now have a greater appreciation of IT’s importance when it comes to risk management and business continuity.
But now is the time to further exploit that opportunity and catch their ear, too. To capitalise on this new-found spotlight and sense of unity and collaboration and change how IT is perceived within organisations; from an ancillary or support function to a core function; and to begin educating the wider business on how IT can not only bolster resilience but also enhance performance and optimise productivity.
Catalyst for change
Seizing this opportunity will take assertive action in the form of a marked shift in mindset and approach. By using this situation as the catalyst to change the way they operate, the most progressive IT teams can use their current momentum and take on a consultative approach, position themselves to work more harmoniously with the wider business and earn a more influential voice within the senior executive team.
This will be the first and most important step-change needed to pave the way for demonstrating the value of IT across the organisation. And who knows? Perhaps it’ll accelerate the rate of change towards the inclusion of more CTOs in strategic-level teams.
Dave Mason is the technical director of Incline IT.