Dealing with a pandemic and 5 other key challenges facing today's tech leaders
Technology, business and society are changing fast and often in unexpected ways. A pandemic that is moving many companies to embrace remote working on mass was not one of my 2020 predictions. For technology leaders, it is not about just about keeping up with change; it's about constantly adapting our technology solutions and the way we work to stay ahead of the curve.
Dealing with a Pandemic
Many companies are embracing remote working to help contain the spread of COVID-19. My tech leader colleagues in businesses worldwide have spent the past few weeks looking at the remote connectivity to their business systems, ensuring that secure connections can handle the load of your entire organisation, checking technology equipment is mobile (goodbye desktops), putting infrastructure in place to make applications web-enabled and testing video conferencing. For some organisations this will have been relatively seamless, for others, large changes have been taking place across their tech infrastructure at pace to prepare for mass home working.
Once the tech basics are in place, business processes and ways of working need to be addressed.
Business processes that rely on paper will quickly become apparent in the coming weeks and this is a great opportunity to digitise these. Management practises for individually remote teams will need to adapt quickly and there are some great tech practises that can be applied across the organisation. Business leaders will find daily stand-ups, using video rather than conference calls for team meetings and employing collaboration tech during meetings (such as an editable shared document or a virtual whiteboard) will help make the transition and running of remote functions easier.
Tech professionals are often adept at remote working and can help share tips with the wider organisation who might be finding it quite daunting. Some of my personal tips are: to use your commute time to take a walk to create separate home and work times in your day, make time for watercooler moments where you can chat with colleagues and communicate with your team and colleagues more than you would if you were in the office. Also, consider you ergonomics set up a separate work area with a table and chair, adjust your screen height and plug in a separate mouse and keyboard.
Once the technology is in place to enable your business to function through this unusual time, tech leaders should turn their attention to preparing for the challenges and embracing the opportunities that follow.
Many large organisations are struggling to adapt their business models (for example traditional print publishers moving online), business processes (annual financial cycles which don't fit with agile product development) and thinking (objectives and targets are siloed by function and often short term focused). Full business remote working and change in consumer demands precipitated by COVID-19 will mean our businesses need to become more agile more quickly than at any time in recent history. Business processes are changing at short notice and people are quickly adapting to remote working and using video meetings and instant messaging to communicate.
To move as one with the business we should embed ourselves and our teams within the business rather than operating as a siloed function. Agile work practices have long been adopted by technology functions in isolation from the wider business. The tech leader of 2020 can help other business leaders and functions to provide thought leadership in how modern tech methods and thinking can be applied throughout the business to increase organisational agility.
Anticipating what’s next in tech
Tech leaders need to know which emerging technologies to invest in and how the technologies may intersect to open up new possibilities. For example, the intersection of 5G, IoT and AI in Marketing could enable real-time data analysis on consumer reaction to advertising in offline channels.
There is both a challenge and an opportunity for the tech leader to identify the right technologies and make use of them in a way that propels the business forward. The successful tech leader experiments with emerging tech and upskills their team to enable them to understand where emerging tech may intersect with existing tech and the business.
The other consideration of this trend is anticipating the effects of emerging technologies on your industry and organisation. For example, in Media will blockchain change the insertion order process (the insertion order completes an order between a seller of advertising and a buyer) to provide all parties with complete transparency. To understand how emerging technologies might affect your industry it's key to use your network outside of your organisation to see what other companies are doing with emerging tech. You also need to keep in touch with startups and partners in your industry who are working in these areas.
Democratisation of technology
The abstraction and democratisation of technology mean that building technology solutions is more accessible than ever. Complex tech is no longer only available to big corporations and you don't need to be a tech expert to create a new tech product.
To successfully harness tech democratisation in your business consider embedding people creating products within the business. This brings together communities of people creating tech while providing frameworks and expertise. Encourage your organisation to embrace new techniques and create new tech roles orientated around the business to enable this (such as Community Manager, the new Change Manager, Machine Learning Process Owner).
Technology for a digitally native and mobile generation
The generation entering the workforce today expect business technology to work as seamlessly as consumer tech. They don't see the separation of technology for work and home and expect to use the same tools in both places.
The digitally native generation expect seamless wifi, video conferencing and technology that properly supports their ability to work anywhere. This generation communicates in short-form messages so your organisation’s adoption of messaging tools is as important as email. The next step is intuitive interfaces for business applications. Getting in place these critical basics will set you up for success.
It is tough to attract and retain talent in today's competitive global market. This is especially true at the mid and senior level in areas such as data science, engineering and security.
Address this by creating a tech brand identity to attract talent to the organisation, partnering with trusted suppliers for talent sharing and creating tech hubs in strategic lower-cost locations. The remote working revolution we are about to go through will also dramatically change company thinking about employing remote talent.
Technology leadership in 2020 means being a business leader and constantly evolving yourself and the way your teams and community works. This is key now, more than ever, as we go lead through these uncertain times.
Nadine Thomson is currently Global CTO at MediaCom. She is a digital business leader with international, cross-sector experience and a track record of delivering technology transformation. My passion and strengths are bringing business and technology strategy together to drive business growth and creating high performing, motivated teams to shape digital technology solutions.