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Four ways leaders can shift from survival to strategy

digital transformation
(Image credit: Image Credit: Chombosan / Shutterstock)

The future may still feel uncertain, but companies are tired of waiting around and feeling like their hands are tied. Senior leaders want to move beyond survival tactics and get back to what they do best: devising and executing business strategy. Of course, this strategy will look different given the current climate, but living in the unknown is no longer an excuse for inactivity. In fact, it’s the opposite. Business strategies should be focused on making organizations more responsive to disruption, knowing that the new normal still has many surprises (good and bad) ahead.

Despite wanting to move forward, however, IT leaders can’t ignore that Covid-19 has impacted almost every line of business. Organizations are spending less on IT as a way to control costs while the economy recovers—and innovating on a limited budget isn’t easy. However, senior leaders can still play an active role in transitioning their companies to being more responsive. By taking these four steps—in any order—leaders can help their companies become nimbler organizations, without over-extending expenses during uncertain times.

1. Try out trial-and-learn initiatives 

As IT spend declines, big-budget, enterprise-wide investments have been put on hold. While this decision makes sense due to economic uncertainty, it can be frustrating and counteractive for senior leaders and IT decision-makers who are still under pressure to digitally transform their organizations.

The good news is that these leaders can still make progress with “trial-and-learn projects.” Companies are more willing to spend smaller amounts of money on a specific area to see if and how it helps address their specific business need. If the investment is successful, organizations have the option to expand those efforts. In this case, companies can not only target niche areas to drive meaningful impact, but when it comes to getting C-level buy-in (i.e., more budget), they already have proof-of-concept. This practice helps organizations forge ahead with digital transformation without a massive initial investment. It may even stick after the pandemic. Testing out which projects drive the most results—and fix the most business problems—before over-investing sounds like a wise business strategy. 

2. Embrace cloud for agility

The Covid-19 pandemic has clearly accelerated demand for cloud. Moving more applications into the data center only slows down responsiveness for two reasons: A) people don’t want to work in person, and B) there is minimal scalability as business fluctuates. The cloud solves for both of those problems, and gives enterprises an advantage when it comes to responsiveness. If companies had existing cloud projects, they were less disrupted by the shift to remote work. On the other hand, companies with workloads deployed on premises started moving those to the cloud.  

Even beyond the pandemic, companies should consider accelerating the move to cloud in their IT strategy. The benefit is the agility of a hybrid IT environment, in which some projects are on-prem, while other apps, services, computer networks and storage is in the cloud. With a hybrid IT environment, companies can leverage the convenience of cloud being a utility—which they can just turn on and avoid staging and setting up infrastructure—and they don’t have to sacrifice the high performance of the mainframe. In fact, a hybrid IT environment may be companies’ best path to creating a nimbler organization.

3. Accept remote work, embrace its implications 

Remote work is the new reality. How most enterprises quickly embraced this new reality and empowered their knowledge workers is nothing short of amazing. Now, however, leaders need to address the implications of remote work in the face of constant change, including changing expectations on how personal information must be managed.  

Governing information’s usage was hard enough prior to the pandemic and the dramatic shift to remote work. Now, firms need to rethink how they govern information with a view on constant change – remote work today, changing privacy legislations tomorrow, accelerated migrations to the cloud, and the increasing usage of artificial intelligence (AI). Firms saw quick wins moving their employees to Teams, Slack, Zoom and more to support remote work. Now it's time to plan and put in place what’s needed to govern information as its used across myriad employee tools and technologies, including automatically identifying and classifying information containing PII, and redacting information on the fly to protect consumers while keeping employees productive. These capabilities grow increasingly important, as most companies’ regulatory compliance efforts initially focused solely on structured data and lagged behind with their content and unstructured data. Simply managing information is no longer enough. Information management – for both structured and unstructured data – but put governance and compliance first.

4. Invest in automation and AI 

Automation and AI will boost organizations’ productivity and responsiveness. Most organizations are fraught with processes that are not built to respond to constant change, which puts companies at risk. Some of these processes are core to business—for instance, customers couldn’t close their financial books early in the pandemic because it required several people learning how to complete the tasks remotely.

Senior leaders and IT decision-makers should invest in digital automation, so they can automate processes that require people to interact with content and systems. Companies will be able to take the knowledge and expertise from their employees, encapsulate it into rules engines and AI and machine learning technologies, and automate mundane tasks so workers are free to focus on more challenging, innovative work. In this way, AI, machine learning (ML) and automation reduce risk, boost productivity and improve responsiveness for organizations.

Digital transformation has not been put on pause due to the pandemic. In fact, it’s been redirected to a core challenge – enabling firms to be responsive. One of companies’ biggest differentiators—the one every leader should be working toward—is not necessarily the fanciest DevOps program or the most expensive AI initiative. It will be nimbleness in the face of disruption. Now, senior leaders must ensure the list of projects and priorities must reflect that goal.

Kyle McNabb, SVP of Product Marketing, ASG Technologies