Chief product officer at AI firm Sidetrade, overseeing product lifecycle. 22+ years’ experience in the software industry.
It’s the job of all business and technology decision-makers to share the vision and IT strategy that supports their organization’s mission, as well as manage a budget that allows those decisions to be fully actionable.
That’s a challenging task at the best of times, but in an economy where the short and long-term effects of the pandemic remain uncertain, it becomes an order of magnitude more difficult. The risk of making unnecessary mistakes is high. The technology industry has been a critical enabler in keeping the economy moving forward during a time when other aspects of the economy are suffering.
The good news is that, in 2020, some digitally transformed businesses have been able to turn adversity to their advantage, and customers, partners, suppliers and employees have been pushed toward broad-scale digital engagement with services. That’s because those companies were better prepared than others for the shift toward remote working at scale caused by Covid-19. They had also anticipated that the trend toward more cloud-based, service-led workflows might be stronger and swifter than their competitors had expected.
That said, making plans for 2021 will still be tough for everyone; for some companies, it might be a matter of surviving until the economy picks up. That will make smart decision making and good budget management essential, as will preparing the organization for worst-case scenarios.
In 2021, looking at a range of different scenarios will be the pragmatic approach for all leaders to adopt. An essential question for leaders to answer will be: What does the best possible outcome look like in the worst possible circumstances? Put another way, how can your organization be the best version of itself in 2021, whatever the future may hold?
Part of this assessment process demands understanding and avoiding the common mistakes that leaders often make in a crisis. So, what are those mistakes, and how do we avoid making them?
Understand and prioritize your business objectives.
Some IT leaders fail to understand their own business objectives and which should be prioritized in order to deliver the greatest benefits. Leaders must be able to organize themselves around these objectives and put the right skills, resources and technologies in place to support them.
Part of the answer is related to the IT budgeting process: the need to handle a budget of overall resourcing and excellence (not just of simple financing), aligned to those business objectives. Leaders should be able to assess their spending priorities in light of this and select only those projects that deliver the best value and outcomes in tough times.
Don’t be distracted by the latest technology trends.
Another common mistake leaders make is being lured away from their objectives by trendy technologies, without being able to measure what those technologies’ real business value might be or how they will support the mission.
IT leaders are often put under enormous internal, peer and market pressures to adopt the latest innovations tactically. But they need to make sure that new technologies are only deployed in support of clear strategic objectives. They should also only choose applications that are complementary and form part of an integrated solution. Adopting the latest technology purely as a competitive show of force is a tactical and reactive move, not a coherent business strategy. It’s imperative to understand the core benefits of the technology choice.
For example, artificial intelligence (AI) should be adopted primarily to make the business smarter and more adaptive for the future, and not as a “quick fix” to strip costs out of the organization. AI vendors themselves are clear: Theirs is a technology that complements human endeavor, not replaces it, in order to make the business more intelligent.
Not being swayed by disconnected stakeholders about technology decisions is important — unless a new system fits within the enterprise architecture and offers a demonstrable, measurable way to support business goals.
Leverage human skills at all levels of the organization.
Another mistake is failing to map the skills in the organization and not ensuring that teams have the right skills in place. For example, it can be a mistake to have too many skills in one area and not enough in others, creating unnecessary bottlenecks within the research and development cycle.
Leaders need to ensure that there is good balance of skills and employees across the entire research and development process. If they are not able to find the right skills directly, they need to establish where they can source them from in the market or how they can embed them within automated technology platforms.
Get your finances in order.
IT leaders can fail to have a holistic financial vision by being too focused on profit and loss and not enough on available cash or on cost versus benefit. This point should not need further explanation.
Develop a plan for how and why you’re gathering data.
The fifth common mistake is gathering vast amounts of data without having any clear strategy for how it can be used or how it will generate measurable business value.
Trying to source, collate and harmonize disparate sources of data can be a black hole in terms of time and energy – a well-known trap that many organizations fall into. Seeing the use cases clearly is essential, as is knowing which of the analytical processes could be commoditized.