Five Ways to Keep Innovation Alive in Your 2021 IT Strategy

By Claus Jepsen, CTO, Unit4

This year, the pandemic taught us the truth of old proverb “necessity is the mother of invention.” When companies had to close offices on short notice to control the spread of the virus, IT teams innovated like never before. In a remarkably short time, they put the assets in place to make all-remote work possible. Almost overnight, they stood up infrastructures to enable businesses to operate virtually.

After accomplishing those changes, many CIOs then took measures to control IT spending to help their businesses weather the economic storm. Many put ambitious digital transformation projects on the back burner and focused on ensuring their remote workforce had the bandwidth and security needed to support new ways of doing business. Many are still in that holding pattern since it’s unclear what will happen next.

Recent reports suggest there’s light at the end of the tunnel on the pandemic front, now that pharma companies are wrapping up successful clinical trials for new vaccines. But even if effective vaccines are distributed within a few months, the pandemic has changed the way we live and work in ways that are likely to persist. That doesn’t mean IT strategy can stay in suspended animation.

It might seem contradictory, but now is exactly the right time for IT leaders to rethink technology strategies for the coming year — and CIOs who want to make sure their companies win in the post-COVID economy should think big. It’s time to combine workforce, financials and logistics and use implementation models that accelerate time to value because the ability to move fast is more essential than ever.

By rethinking the fundamentals, you can position your organization to keep right on innovating in 2021. Consider a bold strategy to keep up the pace of innovation, not as a response to the pandemic, but rather to be ready for the age of AI-driven analytics and automation. Here are five elements of a new strategy that can make your company more resilient and agile in the decade to come:

  1. Accelerate cloud migration: Companies were migrating to the cloud before the pandemic, but even those whose cloud adoption lagged behind peers rushed to embrace cloud IT this year to improve accessibility and scalability. Accelerating cloud migration in 2021 will make your company more agile by enabling anywhere, anytime access and making it easy to scale up and down as business needs change.
  • Choose adaptable software: Agility requires the ability to pivot quickly, and that’s not possible if you adopt software that requires a team of consultants when you need to change direction. Look for software options that allow your in-house crew to handle changes quickly and easily, without external expertise. That way, you’ll be able to turn on a dime when you need to respond to emerging challenges or opportunities.
  • Use analytics to see around corners: Upgrade your team’s analytics skills and update the technology your team has at its disposal so you can generate insight from data and quickly respond to new openings and mitigate risks. Onboard the tools and know-how needed to understand what’s happening in the marketplace so your company will be ready to take the appropriate action before competitors even know what’s coming.
  • Embrace artificial intelligence: AI is the future of work because it fuels automation. In the coming year, think of it this way: everything that can be automated should be automated. AI-powered tools can discern patterns humans miss, manage complexity, learn and adapt rapidly. That makes artificial intelligence an indispensable element of business agility going forward.
  • Automate with digital assistants: Digital assistants that automate routine tasks give your people the most valuable asset of all: more time to focus on the important stuff. Automation drives innovation by freeing employees to focus on higher level work instead of tasks that don’t deliver value to customers. It makes employees more productive, and it improves satisfaction at the same time.

The pandemic is primarily a public health crisis, but the economic toll has been heavy around the world. That said, the response is encouraging, including the wave of innovation that demonstrates our resilience. Big data, automation and analytics are playing a major role in the fight against the virus, facilitating the research that helped scientists develop vaccines and manage massive trials on an expedited schedule.

Cloud solutions and software are keeping businesses operating during the pandemic. They are giving colleagues and clients a way to come together virtually and collaborate from a distance. They allow teachers and students to connect, interact and learn. They are helping families and friends stay in touch at a time when it’s not safe to travel or gather together in groups.

IT teams deserve a lot of credit for the work they did to make all of this possible. But it’s essential to sustain the momentum into the coming months by stepping up cloud migration, adopting more “as-a-service” models and making fixed costs variable to enable rapid scaling as business needs change. Digital transformation must be accelerated despite the business downturn because the winners of the post-pandemic economy will be those who take bold action now.

Charting a decisive path forward is especially critical because we’re on the cusp of a new era in technology and innovation. Review the modern history of recessions, and you’ll see that technology waves tend to follow downturns. The 1980s recession was followed by the adoption of the client server. The 1990s recession was followed by the internet. After the 2008 recession, the cloud emerged. It’s a pattern.  

The current recession will usher in the age of AI-powered analytics and automation, and you’ll need a product roadmap that delivers the innovation and quality your customers will demand in the post-pandemic economy. So, as you think about the year ahead, keep these five strategic elements in mind. With an aggressive commitment to digital transformation and an embrace of analytics and automation, you can position your company for success in the 2020s and the decades to follow.

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