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PAID CONTENT

The future of IT

The realities of managing a hybrid organization

The future of IT

In the late 2010s, most CIOs were pretty confident with the direction of travel for their organizations. Most had digital transformation strategies that saw a refresh of IT infrastructure and organizational processes over the next 3, 5, or 10 years. We understood the challenges, and we knew we were embarking on—or had already embarked on—a marathon that would result in better experiences, more effective processes, and great insight into the business.

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But in March 2020, what was originally a marathon turned into a sprint—a race against the clock to move to an IT approach that could support the dynamic needs of an organization as we all navigated the COVID-19 pandemic. And unlike sprints we have managed in the past, this sprint was unpredictable; it was different depending on your location, country, and industry, and no one could tell us how long we would need to sprint for!

In essence, the pandemic has forced organizations to pivot into the uncharted waters of the distributed organization and to the power of the edge. The impact has been immense, such that any CEO, CIO, or senior executive who thinks they can return to the ways things were pre-COVID is delusional. There is no turning back.

As IDC noted last year in a series of Future of Work predictions, to “keep pace with accelerating digital transformation initiatives and the realities of global health, climate, and social challenges, organizations must adopt more dynamic and hybrid ways of working.

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“Workers must redefine themselves as members of dynamic and reconfigurable teams that can adapt quickly to business demands and new market requirements—anytime, anywhere, and from any physical location.”

BACK TO THE FUTURE

In the early 1960s, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, researchers at the RAND Corporation were investigating ways to protect critical U.S. infrastructure. The solution? Develop a more robust communications network using a distributed (versus centralized) approach. This paradigm shift in thinking ultimately lead to the development of ARPANET, better known today as the internet.

The early 2020s saw a vastly different crisis, but one that accelerated the move for organizations to adopt a decentralized approach.

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The centralized view that office = work is a relatively modern idea that gained popularity in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Since then, most of the world’s innovation, decision-making, and day-to-day work has happened in studios or offices. But the pandemic has demonstrated not only that employees can be equally productive when working remotely, but also that employees value the flexibility that comes with remote and hybrid work. In fact, as the  Great Resignation has made clear, companies that fail to meet these evolving needs will struggle to attract and retain top talent.

In a distributed world, the empowerment of employees is vital. As organizations rapidly move into this unfamiliar environment, having the right technology will become critical to enrich the collaboration and information-sharing experience. And to that end, the technology needed to make employees productive, creative, and effective comes down to adopting a deep set of applications that are highly automated, highly available, highly collaborative, and contain real-time, in context, information and data.

SECURITY IS JOB #1

All technical advances in the distributed world, whatever they may be, must be easy to consume, use, onboard, and adopt. What that means is getting far away from the large Frankenstein types of computing environments that existed in the past—and still exist in many organizations today.

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Instead, organizations must invest in technologies that support remote collaboration and the ability to access information quickly and securely. And it’s this last point that must trump all others.

Without sound security measures, the distributed model is doomed to fail. Locking down applications, access, and information is pretty easy when all employees are connected to a corporate network. There are comparatively few vulnerabilities or points of entry for bad actors.

But when you have a massively distributed organization, the edge becomes the organization, and the number of “endpoints” can increase by an order of magnitude.

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GOODBYE SHADOW IT, HELLO CITIZEN DEVELOPMENT

A few years ago, one of the biggest headaches for CIOs was “shadow IT,” the concept of teams, departments, or individuals implementing IT “solutions” without the knowledge or approval of IT. Today, I’m seeing a different approach, one in which IT can partner with different departments as opposed to policing them.

Citizen development provides an opportunity to engage with the workforce to develop a sense of shared ownership of IT systems. This approach allows for the development of departmental-specific applications, based on a core IT stack. It also ensures there’s a personal stake across all departments (and not simply within the technology team) for the ongoing advancement and delivery of the systems, tools, and services that really drive an organization’s productivity.

For organizations interested in adopting new styles of work, now is the time to understand and embrace a culture of engagement, empowerment, and purpose. There’s no doubt in my mind that companies can be productive remotely, but technology to support the change will be vital.

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The distributed and remote environment is here to stay—IT leaders must be ready.

Renee McKenzie is a senior vice president and chief information officer at OpenText. Follow her on LinkedIn.

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