The hurdles IT leaders will face in 2022 at first glance seem familiar: finding and retaining top talent, bolstering security, and creating friendly and robust remote work environments. But the ongoing pandemic has heightened these challenges.
The skills gap has been exacerbated by the Great Resignation. Support for distributed teams, once a business priority, is now a necessity. Securing employees’ personal mobile devices and other equipment for remote work has gained significance as the number of these devices skyrocketed as offices emptied.
Along with these concerns, new ones have appeared, including an abundance of pandemic-driven burnout and a shortage of the chips that drive IT and industry as a whole.
See how tech leaders plan to address their biggest concerns for 2022.
Competition for talent
The most frequent challenge tech leaders told us they’ll see in 2022 is finding great IT staff. Dan Zimmerman, CIO and chief product officer of TreviPay, says competition will be fierce for top talent in the next year. And while distributed workforces have enlarged the talent pool, there’s not enough people with the necessary skills available.
“The pandemic sparked many people to re-evaluate their career paths,” Zimmerman says. “While balancing the cost to attract top talent, we also recognize many workers want to be in-office or be offered a hybrid working solution. This means our offices have to accommodate multiple types of workers — for example, videoconferencing capabilities in every meeting room — and our job descriptions will showcase this type of flexibility. It will be important to listen and gather feedback on what is and isn’t working as we’re all learning as we go.”
Ginna Raahauge, CIO at Zayo, says those with technical skills to drive digital transformation are getting harder to land. Meanwhile, the need for those skills have grown during the pandemic.
“Very technically skilled workers who have experience with cloud environments, machine learning, data science, and software have always been in demand at tech companies, but now those skills are in demand at nearly every company, creating greater competition to land top-notch developers, software engineers, and data analysts,” she says. “Beyond that tech talent demand, there’s also just a general dearth of quality candidates across most industries at the moment tied to this Great Resignation trend that’s received a lot of media attention. Not having the right people in place puts pressure on how fast any company can move regardless of if you have the budget. If you don’t have the talent, you can’t do what you prioritize.”
Most business leaders see a gap in skills between their current employees’ capabilities and key areas necessary for success in the next three to five years, such as data science, digital transformation, and innovation, says Suneet Dua, US products and technology chief growth officer at PwC.
“This presents a unique challenge for all businesses, as we must work to ensure our workforce has the skill set needed to take our business where it needs to go,” Dua says. “In addition, flexible work options have increased the need for adopting digital transformation and attracting and retaining key talent, since workers need digital skills to excel in hybrid or remote working environments.”
Mark Schlesinger, senior technical fellow at Broadridge, says the talent shortage is highlighting the need to upskill current staff.
“With recent trends of higher attrition rates, most firms cannot afford to keep up with rising compensation,” Schlesinger says. “Many IT leaders will continue to struggle with filling key technology positions. This will lead to a two-pronged approach of external talent acquisition, where there are true knowledge gaps, as well as a focus on upskilling and reskilling existing top IT performers. This should help with reducing attrition, and if marketed appropriately, it will change the dynamics of attracting new talent.”
Maintaining hybrid environments
Zayo’s Raahauge says she’s talking with other CIOs to get a sense of what the hybrid work environment of the near future will look like. One pain point is the reliability of AV tools both in the office and in employee’s homes.
“Audiovisual tools are a constant conundrum for a CIO because they present a slate of cost-compatibility, latency, and network reliability issues,” she says. “There’s a big fear that these tools within the office have not been used in nearly two years and that there isn’t a standard for those connecting from home. If companies haven’t made investments in AV solutions that will provide a consistent, reliable conferencing environment that seamlessly connects workers from dispersed locations, the return to work won’t be very smooth.”
Raahauge says her organization is surveying the needs of in-office workers and those working remotely to develop a dependable AV infrastructure. That includes PC docking stations, lighting, and cameras that create a professional environment at home.
“When it comes to the videoconferencing tools themselves,” she says, “many are turning to [unified communications]-as-a-service to provide a more robust, all-in-one option to solve for many dispersed workforce needs: messaging, conferencing, business processes, calling, and more. That’s one option we’re looking at as well. Those only work well on solid architecture and infrastructure designs. That’ll be a big inspection area.”
Those companies that have invested in well-designed architecture for hybrid work environments will be better positioned than their competitors, Raahauge says.
“Companies that have been running lean during COVID will need to pick transformation efforts back up,” she says. “There will be a collision at some point when everything starts coming back online and they have to scale.”
Hazim Macky, vice president of engineering at Coinme, says his company is leaning into a remote-first approach, while offering a physical location for those employees who prefer that option, primarily in shared co-working spaces.
“This is shaping our culture, the way we do business, and how employees collaborate to perform their job functions,” Macky says. “From a technology perspective, establishing systems and software platforms to enable collaboration and effective communication has been the priority and will continue next year.
To support this shift, Coinme’s processes have been transformed to be mostly digital and cloud-enabled, Macky says. “While remote working offers some challenges, with the current technologies, widespread use of high-speed connectivity and cloud-based tools, the benefits outweigh the challenges.”
While cyberattacks are expected to grow in number and sophistication in the next year, Rich Murr, CIO of Epicor, says he’s on the lookout for partners in fighting the threat.
“Combating cybercriminals requires continuous and rigorous improvement of cybersecurity capabilities,” Murr says, “and we’re increasingly looking to third-party security providers to assist our efforts.”
Chris Conry, CIO at Fuze, also sees the need for IT teams to integrate partner services that will constantly monitor suspicious activity and alert the organization when threats to corporate assets are discovered.
“This is crucial within corporate mobile networks, especially as bad actors place greater interest and emphasis on targeting the telecommunications industry and a larger share of workers are conducting day-to-day business on their mobile devices within the hybrid business model,” Conry says. “This proactive monitoring strategy will ease the burden on IT and security teams by resolving potential issues before they turn into breaches and will also break the ongoing cycle of security gaps within hybrid business models.”
And while it’s hard to overestimate the threat of cyberattacks, Tommy Gardner, CTO of HP Federal, recognizes the tension between implementing the best possible security measures and maintaining a reasonable budget.
“Ransomware will continue to be the biggest security issue in 2022, and organizations need to continuously improve the security of their devices and networks to keep their organizations secure,” Gardner says. “CIOs and IT leaders need to make the case to the C-suite or internal decision-makers that investing in security is the top priority. They can demonstrate how investing in new automation tools that use AI and ML capabilities for real-time monitoring can help minimize the risk of ransomware. Equally important is educating these decision-makers on the risk the organization will be shouldering if security is not prioritized, or risk management frameworks are not followed.”
Prasad Ramakrishnan, CIO and CISO at Freshworks, says his firm and others are working to navigate the fallout from a global microchip shortage that’s affecting most industries.
“The supply chain challenges for IT hardware and equipment are real,” Ramakrishnan says. “Our teams are strategizing our procurement plans on how we can mitigate any roadblocks we may face in 2022 due to the shortage. We’re always on the lookout for alternative solutions, minimizing our chip consumption and monitoring availability.”
The demands on IT teams have spurred an increase in burnout among employees, as budgets haven’t grown in proportion to the increased workload, says Malcolm Ross, vice president of product strategy and deputy CTO at Appian.
“These challenges will continue to dictate how IT leaders execute their role, and their degree of success, in the new year,” Ross says. “The misalignment between business decision-makers and IT leaders is the real culprit, and systemic organizational change is required to stem the tide.”
To keep its employees engaged, Ramakrishnan says Freshworks is leaning into cross training.
“We’re rotating jobs within the department,” he says. “Job rotation allows our employees to take on new projects, work with new team members, face new challenges and learn new skills. It’s incredibly important to retain the talent we already have, and we’re doing everything we can to make sure our employees are at their happiest.”
Ramakrishnan is also focused on providing tools at work that offer the same ease-of-use employees see in consumer technology.
“We’re in the Golden Age of consumer-tech simplicity, and employees expect to see that same simplicity, instant gratification, and autonomy in their workplace as they experience in their everyday lives,” he says. “The continued deployment of RPA tools, bots, and smart applications are table stakes for businesses who want to keep their employees happy and minimize frustration or resignations.”
The difficult part of digital transformation isn’t technology but change management, especially in uncertain times, says Aref Matin, CTO at Wiley.
“Transformation is difficult and takes a lot of effort, planning, and execution,” Matin says. “The technology aspect is often the easy part of the project. When you have people used to a specific system — or a specific process — the transition is often hard. You have so many different perspectives at play.”
Matin’s advice is to focus on the people involved in the process, who bring their own perspectives to the table.
“When dealing with large-scale changes across the organization, I prioritize both empathy and results,” he says. “This balance is crucial. As an organization, we have created a culture focused on supporting our employees. We need to listen and be open to a variety of concerns and needs. These can’t be dismissed. And we also need to focus on results to drive changes through, produce successful outcomes, and minimize business disruption. And it’s hard to predict how long change will take. IT leaders need to focus on the people aspect to make substantial changes easier for the organization.”