By Don Schuerman, Chief Technology Officer, Pegasystems
In our own personal day to day lives, we all have things we have to deal with. Problems can come in different shapes and sizes, but the one thing that holds true in every case is that these issues don’t just go away if you ignore them. Any one of us, at any given time, can lose our mojo – it’s how we set about rediscovering it that counts. It’s one of the main reasons why therapists advise that the first step towards recovery from serious problems is acknowledging you have a problem in the first place.
Living in a state of denial, promoting the idea of acceptance, or refusing to step up to acknowledge issues isn’t something you might think you would have to explain to large corporations. But the truth is, sometimes entire departments can try to bury their problems and pretend they don’t exist. This is despite the fact that the best course of action available to them is usually to face their issues, and learn how to avoid repeating the same mistakes.
IT departments can, unfortunately, too often be an example of this phenomenon in action. The first thing to say is that many of these problems are understandable, and many of them were not of their own making. Recently, the IT function has been thrust into the spotlight in a way it has never been before as a result of the way we’ve all had to fundamentally change the way we live our lives. It’s only natural that this has resulted in a fair amount of change and difficulty.
Our recent global study amongst senior IT decision makers showed the full extent of the challenge they faced, with more than half (51 per cent) of all respondents saying they were uncertain that their IT teams could enact positive change over the next five years. More than one in ten (17 per cent) even admitted that they either had no confidence at all in their department in this respect, or that they held significant doubts. Put simply, these challenges had placed IT departments in a position where, despite their best efforts, they had not only lost their mojo, but also called off the search party and resigned themselves to never seeing it again.
But issues don’t just manifest themselves in a lack of internal confidence. As IT decision makers came under increased scrutiny, many tried to correct some of their issues by turning to technology. Unfortunately, in some cases, this only compounded the problem, with poor decision making resulting in IT departments being responsible for millions and millions of dollars being wasted every year. Nearly two-thirds (58 per cent) of respondents admitted they have wasted between US$ one million and US$ ten million over the last five years on the wrong IT solutions. In fact, just 12 per cent reported that all their IT investments had paid off in the last five years.
So, the picture is clear; if you were to think of the IT function as a patient on a therapist’s couch, you might think you’d see a nervous individual, struggling for confidence and caught in a vicious cycle of constantly persevering in the face of unprecedented pressure, trying to get back on their feet. But that’s where you’d be wrong. Interestingly, our research uncovered something else entirely. It painted a picture instead of IT departments having learned the lessons of their previous mistakes, and now standing ready to evolve and improve over the coming months and years.
It stands to reason, of course, that there’s never been a better time than the present day for organisations to take stock, re-evaluate their approach and to learn from their mistakes. Global events forced everyone into a new way of not only working, but also enabling transformation that could allow everyone else to function in a way they never had before during the pandemic played a key role in changing perceptions. Now, the accelerated pace of digital transformation has put IT leaders front and center, teaching many within organisations the strategic value these teams can provide if they are given the opportunity to be creative and collaborative, and to focus their efforts on the areas where they can best add value.
So, what will this brave new world of IT look like? Our research found that it will look, feel, and perform very differently to today. One of the key ways this will happen is through allowing IT to add greater value as a result of decentralisation. Sixty-eight percent of IT leaders are already able to disperse responsibility to other functions because of digital transformation, while 54 per cent are decentralising by delegating work to others.
This trend will continue through wiser investments in technologies such as low-code platforms and intelligent automation, which will make it far easier for people across the business to perform tasks that would previously have fallen to IT. As a result, more than two thirds (66 per cent) of respondents expected that digital transformation will result in work that allows IT workers to be more creative, cooperate more with other departments, and spend less time on administrative tasks.
We’ll also see an evolution in the types of skills needed by IT workers, as well as the roles they fill. The days of those working in IT as mere ‘doers’ will become a thing of the past as they develop more skills around strategic thinking. Thirty-eight per cent of respondents said that leadership skills will be critical to them. As collaborative, empowering technologies give them the freedom to expand their roles and responsibilities. Meanwhile, 37 per cent said skills such as problem solving will become key, while 35 per cent said emotional and social skills will be important to them.
Respondents said they also expected learning new skills will have a significant impact on their careers – 78 per cent of senior managers and 76 per cent of managers said that ongoing, lifelong learning will have either a big or transformational impact on their future prospects. This may well mean the end of IT managers who spend their entire career specialising in one technology area, as they will increasingly be expected to fill the role of more widely skilled IT generalists.
Importantly, nearly one in three (30 per cent) said that in the next three to five years, diversity, equity, and inclusion will continue to gain importance. As a result, we’ll likely continue to see IT adding more talent from historically marginalised groups to build more representative teams in terms of race, gender, disability, sexuality, and other traits.
The overall message that pervades through all this is that the IT function appears to have learned from its mistakes and recovered from all that has thrown at it over the years, and is driving new outcomes from its role as an increasingly valued part of the business. But with great power comes great responsibility – and some additional work. Despite the fact that technology will relieve them of a lot of the routine administrative work that they do today (meaning less recording, redoing, and rearchitecting), two thirds (67 per cent) of respondents also believe their workloads will significantly increase as IT becomes more prominent within organisations.
Rebuilding confidence and rediscovering your mojo isn’t something that happens overnight. It can be a slow, gradual process, but the most important first step towards doing that is to admit you have a problem in the first place. Now that the IT function has identified the steps it needs to move forward, we can expect that in the next three to five years, things will look very different. Teams will become better at making decisions, more diverse, more highly skilled, and more able to operate in a collaborative way of working that can truly help to deliver better outcomes for everyone concerned.