Forget about New Year’s resolutions, which tend to be tossed aside and forgotten as soon as the champagne loses it sparkle. For IT leaders, the new year is a prime time for planning, organizing and launching new strategies and initiatives. Evolving business trends, security issues and increasing government oversight of many IT activities, combined with a seemingly never-ending series of disruptive technologies, make it essential to begin thinking about tactics and goals as soon as possible for a successful 2020.
Here are 7 tips to help you hit the new year running.
1. Collaborate with business leaders to assess IT services and goals
Work to ensure that IT is a business partner, not an order-taker, says Michael Cantor, CIO of data center support provider Park Place Technologies. He suggests scheduling meetings with key enterprise leaders to review IT’s business value based on projects completed in 2019 and how IT can support the new year’s business goals. “Roll all the feedback into a strategy and rough IT plan for 2020,” Cantor advises. “Participate in the budgeting cycle and help ensure that funds are in the right places for the strategy — don’t leave it up to the business partners to do this on their own.”
Cantor believes that such an approach will position the CIO as the enterprise thought leader while providing a convenient launch platform for IT’s 2020 business mission. “[The plan] also enables transparency into the business of IT, providing a basic framework for measuring high-level results in 2020 and allowing ongoing measurements against those results,” he says.
2. Aim to control disruption
Business and technology disruption trends will continue to evolve in the new year and beyond. “IT has an increased responsibility and opportunity to help organizations stay ‘future ready’,” says Roy Nicholson, business consulting principal at accounting and business advisory firm Grant Thornton. Nicholson suggests creating a transformation management office to identify promising new transformative technologies and methods, and to administer enterprisewide transformation initiatives. “In the back office or front office,” he notes.
IT departments should be proactive about issues before they happen by creating a six- to twelve-month roadmap, suggests Rahul Mahna, managing director of process, risk and technology solutions at top 20 accounting firm EisnerAmper. “A simple way to create a plan is to look at future ideas using a weighting system to determine which initiatives to prioritize,” he explains. “If you’re busy fighting fires day-to-day, and you’re not planning ahead, your organization is always going to be at a higher risk.”
3. Centralize data analytics
IT departments have long been responsible for data collection, storage and management. Data analysis, meanwhile, is usually handled within individual business units. Yet as more enterprises begin understanding data analytics’ strategic importance, and as analytics are increasingly performed on a much larger scale and in real time, there’s an emerging trend toward moving to a more centralized data analytics approach.
“Successful analytics requires IT engineers and data scientists to work closely with each other and with business units to develop solutions and generate useful insights,” advises Yan Huang, an assistant professor of business technologies at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. “The IT department, or sometimes the IT department and a separate analytics department, will be driving organizations’ analytics capability.”
4. Stay on top of security
The start of a new year is a good time to evaluate enterprise security and IT’s role in protecting systems and data. “Take time to move from firefighting mode, and work with your team to think about the big picture — about 18 months out — and attack foundational security tasks,” advises Jessica Ireland, security, risk and compliance practice lead for technology advisory firm Info-Tech Research Group. “Our research shows that evergreen security topics are still relevant today, because IT teams are unable to take the time to get those basics in place.”
Ireland recommends creating space for security experts within the IT team, particularly if a dedicated security team isn’t available. “In the past three-to-six years we’ve seen more organizations catch onto the importance of security, not only from a common sense, must-protect-data perspective, but also as a business strategy,” she says.
Security breaches have become commonplace, and customers and business partners want to know their data is fully protected. Ireland notes that with GDPR and other privacy standards, such as consumer-specific mandates like CCPA (which takes effect in January 2020), individuals and businesses are recognizing that they have the right to be protected from data theft. “Security must become table stakes for your business … or you risk looking out-of-date and will lose opportunities,” she warns.
Given the seriousness of the threat, security risk management should be integral to all business and IT decisions in 2020. “Understanding your risk tolerance levels, and how that informs your team’s strategy … will help your organization in the long run in terms of investments and assurance to your clients,” Ireland says.
5. Reach out to external customers
As 2020 dawns, IT leaders should devote time to addressing the needs of their enterprise’s external customers, challenging their teams to assess how well they’re supporting business leaders on meeting product and/or service priorities.
“There can be a disconnect here, and that provides an incredible opportunity to align and integrate the IT department as an important partner in driving key initiatives and directly contributing to the bottom line and company success,” advises Richard Pierle, managing partner and CEO of technology consulting firm Pier Digital Advisory Services.
“Building empowered, cross-functional teams focused on delivering value to customers is the most effective way to improve the organization’s ability to deliver value to customers,” explains Kurt Bittner, vice president of enterprise solutions for Scrum.org, a software development training and certification organization. “To create these teams, you must obliterate the barrier between business and IT. Look for ways to create digital products or services that help improve customer experiences.”
6. Double-down on metrics
With technology and business activities drawing ever closer, IT leaders in 2020 will feel increasing pressure to implement, study and learn from key performance metrics. “[Since] most IT leaders are focused on metrics as related specifically to technology, statistics on business success often fall to the wayside,” explains Wendy Pfieffer, CIO at cloud computing software company Nutanix. “CIOs can optimize efficiency through balancing both of these KPIs.”
To promote enhanced business productivity, Pfieffer’s IT teams prioritizes two critical KPIs. “First, we focus on First Time Right (FTR), which helps us optimize our service deliveries and promote technological efficiency,” she explains. “Second, we utilize Net Promoter Score (NPS) for insight into whether or not we are meeting our customers’ needs.”
Studying metrics such as these can help IT leaders focus their attention on the most critical functions and prioritize helping those operations succeed.
7. Prepare your team to cope with change
As they enter the new decade, IT departments need to continue their technology evolution at full steam, observes Hriday Ravindranath, chief information and technology officer for BT Global. “For future success, teams need to create a learning culture that embraces and adapts to a digital-native approach,” he states. Getting teams up to speed on next-generation technologies, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, 5G and cloud networks, should be a top priority.
“IT departments will be expected to be experts on these new technologies and provide a new level of service to customers beyond operations and analytics,” he notes. “By building a learning culture, IT teams will become accustomed to failing fast, being agile and adapting to customers’ evolving needs.”
Brad Clay, senior vice president and chief information and compliance officer for printer and imaging products provider Lexmark, believes that IT needs to begin planning for risk, yet training for uncertainty. As the rate of change increases, the ability to understand and plan for every possible risk grows increasingly difficult. “By training for uncertainty instead, we equip our teams to respond in the best possible way to the challenges we didn’t anticipate and support their ability to take bold risks that can best position the organization for success,” he says. “When confronted with this type of fast-paced environment, the greatest failure that an organization can make is to stop taking action.”
IT organizations need to move away from their service provider roots to become an active participant in creating and enhancing business value. “As we head into 2020, it’s not enough for IT departments to keep the lights on and the organization safe,” observes Jarod Greene, general manager of the Technology Business Management Council, a nonprofit professional organization dedicated to advancing technology business management practices. “Success in 2020 starts with understanding what the organizational, personal and functional goals are, and then working backwards to demonstrate how IT departments can become a change-agent.”