Blame it on revenue bounce backs late last year, or the realisation of how invaluable IT is when it comes to business continuity, but Gartner predicts a 4% increase in IT budgets and spending this year. I know what you’re thinking—four percent?!—but remember other parts of the business aren’t as lucky. And this single-digit increase faces off an increasingly tough and shifting landscape of technical priorities and disruption, especially with many stay-at-home orders continuing for the foreseeable future.
In this gloomy new reality, how can IT leaders and professionals chart the right course, dial up the right investments and achieve more, with what’s admittedly less budget than they’re used to? Here are three possible strategies.
Strategy One: Refine, optimize, and sharpen what’s at hand
It’s likely, over the pandemic, IT has accrued a considerable amount of “technical debt.” The patchwork of just-had-to-work cloud infrastructure, communication tools, and remote workforce solutions—all held together by duct tape and sheer will—is unravelling at the seams. But this is the infrastructure remote employees depend on to remain productive; and business leaders are pinning new ventures and recovery efforts on its capabilities.
In other words, IT leaders should be sinking every cent into fortifying this infrastructure that’s holding the business together. Beyond putting out daily fires, IT pros must begin refining and optimizing their bolted together pandemic infrastructure, turning it into something that can power forward growth and expansion.
Snap technical decisions, made during the rush hours of the pandemic, must be examined on whether or not they can serve the future needs of the business. Proven solutions should be expanded on, by adding capacity, speed, and features where needed. Underused tools or software must be removed or replaced with better alternatives. To the point, they must do whatever it takes to turn a temporary solution into one designed to permanently power operations in the near future.
Strategy Two: Make IT indispensable to new business operations
If your company is still standing, it’s likely because it has managed to adapt by offering new products and services or pivoting into new markets. To achieve these Herculean efforts, internal workflows and processes would undoubtedly have changed, perhaps to align with a more customer focus. That means IT budgets and priorities that worked previously would need revising, to more accurately reflect the new technical challenges brought about by these shifts.
Indeed, in this time of rapid change, business leaders and decision-makers are entering the new year fixated on three priorities: increasing revenue, reducing cost, and eliminating risk where possible. By now, most IT pros should be familiar with this dance; they either align their plans and priorities to that of the business, or face confrontation and eventually side-lining from the management.
Let’s examine how they can best approach this. Say the IT team decides to upgrade network infrastructure to better cope with remote work arrangements. Older boxes that aren’t receiving updates anymore are slated to be replaced by virtual infrastructure that can be automated and managed remotely. This lowers costs and risks, but only from a technical standpoint—IT pros must now frame this in the context of how it helps the business. For instance, explaining how the old systems could have compromised business continuity and how the upgrades negated that possibility. Or perhaps how the cost of doing nothing far outweighs the costs of new investments.
Strategy Three: Get on the ground, find out what the business needs
Here are some hard facts: like much of the business, IT has been in “reactive” mode for the past couple of months, mostly responding to needs and issues as they emerge. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, however, it risks putting IT into the mind frame of investing fully into certain tools and solutions deemed necessary at the time, only to discover later that individuals or teams themselves have reacted to newer pressures and adopted another solution by the side—creating your classic case of shadow IT.
This level of myopia, brought about by a narrow reactive focus, is clearly unhelpful when IT budgets are stretched to the limit. As usual, the only solution is active communication. Contrary to social distancing norms, IT pros must cast aside their usual distaste for social interaction—and constantly engage with business teams to evaluate their technical needs. IT pros cannot restrict the growth of shadow IT with mandates and restrictions, especially not when everyone is geographically distant, but by chatting with teams to find out their needs and proposing solutions to address them.
It may not be a year for adventurous adoptions of new and unproven technologies, but it’s certainly a year for IT to improve on what they have and connect with the rest of the business. If they can better frame their budgetary decisions in the language of helping business goals and deliver solutions teams and individuals need, IT pros wouldn’t have a problem justifying investments and arguing for more funding, if needed.