Three years ago, IT leaders were squarely focused on how to adopt fledgling AI techniques and approaches into their business models in service of digital transformations that included plans for shifting some workloads to the cloud. But then the pandemic hit, requiring a historic pivot that set some best-laid plans aside and accelerated others. Now that organizations have returned to a new (somewhat) normal, CIOs appear to be focused on getting back to basics \u2014 and untangling tech debt incurred in making it through the past few years.\n\nRecruiting, retainment, and yes, adoption of lead-edge technology, are back on the radar of IT leaders. And while their staffs are more distributed than ever, these leaders are committed to making positive changes in workplace culture, including diversifying their workforce, and creating a post-pandemic work dynamic that enables their colleagues to connect with one another across distances to do their best work.\n\nBut doing so means navigating new \u2014 or more intensified \u2014 challenges in the coming here, not the least of which is a global economy facing a likely downturn. Here\u2019s how IT leaders plan to address the biggest issues they expect to face in the year ahead.\n\nEconomic uncertainty\n\nOrganizations are concerned about multiple economic forces that are all causing uncertainty, says Srinivas Mukkamala, chief product officer at Ivanti.\n\n\u201cBusiness leaders are figuring out how to weather a post-pandemic soft economy, looming recession, and inflation,\u201d Mukkamala says. \u201cHow do you future-proof your business in the face of so much uncertainty? One thing that is clear is we will need to partner and work across industries to solve truly big problems that all organizations are facing.\u201d\n\nGrace Liu, senior vice president of IT for Seagate Technology, says the shifting economy can offer a chance to be opportunistic. \n\n\u201cWe need to improve overall performance while we adapt to the changing business environment,\u201d Liu says. \u201cThe good news is that, for managers, the best time to attract and retain talent is during economic downturns. Hiring and retaining the best people with the right skills is always the best strategy to improve overall performance.\u201d\n\nSome of the issues related to the Great Resignation have stabilized, says, Elizabeth Hoemeke, CIO of One Inc., and in terms of certain aspects of recruiting, she also sees the glass as half full. \n\n\u201cThe recent layoffs and hiring freezes by the big tech companies have leveled the playing field somewhat,\u201d Hoemeke says. \u201cThat\u2019s allowed smaller tech startups to compete for the significant talent that these workers have and can provide.\u201d\n\nThe need to grow smartly\n\nGil Westrich\u2019s company, ClearML, is benefiting from increased adoption of artificial intelligence and machine learning (ML) technology. But the CTO and co-founder says that scaling to meet that demand presents its own challenges, which require self-reflection.\n\n\u201cHow do we grow our business responsibly?\u201d he asks. \u201cHow do we get the talent we need? Given how competitive the technology and associated talent market is, companies have to clearly map out their plans for business growth, ensuring they are as comprehensive, considered, and responsible as possible. We want to make sure our roadmap is robust.\u201d\n\nTyler Derr, chief technology officer at Broadridge Financial Solutions, is also concerned about how to address challenges that come with growth.\n\n\u201cRecent market volatility has added to the complexity of delivering high-quality products and services,\u201d Derr says. \u201cOrganizations will need to consider when and how to invest in proprietary innovation or partner with industry-outsourced solutions balancing cost and speed to market, while bringing to life a robust digital roadmap with clear and actionable objectives and key results.\u201d\n\nMaking remote work rewarding\n\nUniversity of Phoenix CIO Jamie Smith says the institution, in part because of its commitment to online learning, is fully dedicated to a remote workforce, including IT. But creating a strong work culture in a remote world requires an intentional approach that goes beyond what was sufficient when everyone was working together in person, he says. \n\n\u201cWe hold regular virtual and in-person events designed to build and enhance our feeling of belonging and culture,\u201d Smith says. \u201cSince 99% of our students attend online, our new way of working has increased a deeper level of empathy for the need to create connection and engagement in a remote environment.\u201d\n\nLaserfiche CIO Thomas Phelps\u2019 firm made the call to close its offices on Mondays and Fridays after reviewing data that showed the fewest number of employees were in the office on those days. \n\n\u201cClosing our offices made sense to conserve energy costs and give people flexibility to come into the office any day from Tuesday through Thursday,\u201d Phelps says. \u201cMost departments try to have employees work a day or two in the office and schedule weekly team meetings in person if they are close to a physical location. This helps to foster collaboration and mentorship that is aligned with our culture and values.\u201d\n\nPrithvi Mulchandani, vice president of IT business applications at Deltek, is focusing on finding ways for remote tech staff to engage and collaborate with one another better. \n\n\u201cWe need to be prepared to help our employees be productive from any location \u2014 getting them the right tools and then ensuring those tools work for them no matter where they are located,\u201d Mulchandani says. \u201cCIOs and IT teams can support their teams by implementing and upgrading tools such as hoteling cube reservation systems, in-office audio and video conferencing solutions, and employee social recognition platforms.\u201d\n\nRising costs\n\nJohn Reeher, CIO and CISO at EstateSpace, says his organization made capital investments earlier in the year, reducing some sticker shock from inflation. But other areas of the business, he says, will still face challenges related to widespread rising prices.\n\n\u201cInflation is a major issue for CIOs both in direct costs and labor,\u201d Reeher says. \u201cTechnically just to keep employees salaries in line with the cost of living, they need an 8-9% raise. Inflation ties in to retention. There are other companies out there willing to pay more to your employees, because of a labor shortage. As an industry we\u2019ve set a bad precedent: If employees want a raise, they change jobs. A hot job market and inflation make it more likely for your best employees to be poached.\u201d\n\nTalent arms race\n\nTalent recruitment is challenging every year, but University of Phoenix\u2019s Smith, like others we talked to, says he\u2019s seeing more digital talent on the move, driven by near-term economics, making it difficult for IT departments to retain their best workers.\n\n\u201cEven on the doorstep of a potential economic downturn, we are seeing people leave for 40-60% more than market salaries across all technical disciplines,\u201d he says. \n\nSmith suggests that organizations need to create an employee-first culture to help retain their top performers. \u201cGiving our best engineers meaningful problems to solve and an environment where they can do their best work has never been more important,\u201d he says.\n\nAttracting, engaging, and retaining talent to fuel growth will continue to be challenging in the next year, agrees Dudek CIO Brian Nordmann.\n\n\u201cWe are in the midst of a highly competitive job market,\u201d Nordmann says. \u201cBut simply making sure you offer competitive compensation isn\u2019t enough. Keeping staff engaged by ensuring a sense of community with their peers and providing them with interesting and rewarding work is critical in retaining top talent.\u201d\n\nWorker burnout\n\nLaserfiche\u2019s Phelps is also concerned about the increasing number of tech workers suffering burnout. He says many people don\u2019t realize the increased stress on IT teams that began during the pandemic and continues today due to the increased IT demands of their remote colleagues. \n\n\u201cNot only do you have to continue providing the same services for people who are fully remote or fully in person,\u201d he says, \u201cbut now you have to sustain a collaborative work environment that combines elements of both and provide a rich, multi-architecture environment.\u201d\n\nPhelps gives the example of businesses that want to use both Teams and Zoom, and have those platforms interoperate with conference room AV devices, which are not typically Zoom or Teams-native, he says. \u201cOur support teams are constantly fine-tuning our tech stack and configurations to make sure the experience is fairly frictionless for employees and doesn\u2019t impede their productivity,\u201d says Phelps.\n\nManagers can help by setting expectations for stressed-out IT staff who need downtime, says Cassandra Brown, Bitly\u2019s vice president of engineering. \u201cHave managers and leaders model for their teams by taking time for themselves and encouraging paid time off, mental health days, and meeting-free days.\u201d\n\nThe need for more diverse teams\n\nDiversity remains an issue in the IT industry, especially as diverse teams have been shown to produce better outcomes. But the work of diversifying the mix of IT workers remains challenging, especially given previously mentioned pressures on the tech talent market. And that work goes beyond getting new talent in the door, extending also to creating a culture and employee experience that ensures all IT workers feel comfortable and productive and are motivated to stay.\n\nFor some organizations, establishing new relationships can help. Bitly\u2019s Brown, for example, says her company is working to address a lack of diversity in its tech workforce in part through external partnerships.\n\n\u201cTo be more intentional about diversity, equity, and inclusion, we start in the community,\u201d Brown says, including working with organizations that offer developer training for women and underrepresented groups. \u201cWe also will continue our commitment to the success of our employee resource groups, pay equity, and diverse candidate sourcing.\u201d\n\nSecurity threats\n\nMatt Mead, chief technology officer at SPR Consulting, expects increasingly sophisticated security threats in the next year.\n\n\u201cThere is a clear trend that ultimate security responsibility is falling on the shoulders of CIOs and CISOs, so they\u2019ll need to continue to look for ways to raise security posture without breaking the bank,\u201d Mead says. \u201cDon\u2019t just focus on security personnel and tools; focus on the low-hanging fruit that can solve larger security issues, such as providing rigorous and ongoing security awareness to your entire organization. Your security posture is only as good as your weakest link, which is almost certainly your employees.\u201d\n\nMaking the most of what the cloud offers \u2014 without breaking the budget\n\nMike Albritton, senior vice president of cloud at CData, says even for data-driven businesses, migrating certain business needs to the cloud can be daunting. Albritton says his company largely managed their business needs on-premises, but in the past two years have moved more of their business operations to the cloud.\n\n\u201cDespite being a business built to solve the challenges of digital transformation, we also face the typical challenges surrounding cloud migration and adoption,\u201d Albritton says. \u201cBecause we\u2019ve been able to slowly ramp up our cloud strategy \u2014\u00a0and use our own data connectivity solutions to make the process smoother \u2014\u00a0we\u2019ve been able to take most things one step at a time.\u201d\n\nAnd doing so is beginning to pay off.\n\n\u201cBy incrementally implementing best practices like real-time data access, user permissions for various platforms, and cloud data warehousing, we\u2019ve come to a place where those processes are now built into our foundations,\u201d he says. \u201cOur IT teams and individual team leaders can ensure that everyone has access to the data they need from the platforms they\u2019re already using, minimizing disruption to operations and making it easy for lines-of-business employees to continue performing their day-to-day tasks.\u201d\n\nBut with inflation and other factors pushing cloud providers to increase their prices in 2023, IT leaders must beware of budget creep. Cloud migrations can also be lengthy \u2014 and hefty \u2014 initiatives, leaving organizations waiting months or years for the promised ROI of a shift to the cloud to pay off, all while the meter runs. Balancing the finances of a cloud migration and contending with rising cloud costs will be a significant issue for organizations in the year ahead.