The top challenges CIOs and IT leaders face in 2021

The coming year poses a matrix of complex challenges. The pandemic combined with expected instability around the elections headed into the new year underscore the complexity. In short, technology leadership should plan for the strange times that are certain to have strange outcomes.

COVID Management

Clearly the pandemic is the foremost consideration across business leadership. IT is no exception. Businesses made fast moves to quickly discover, implement, and adopt new services or expand limited or experimental services as remote work became critical to most all workers for some period of time.

For many businesses hardware acquisition processes and strategies shifted to maintain productivity without certainty about the mid- and longer-term. Software subscriptions had to be scaled up quickly to keep people connected.

The pandemic is not abating. Vaccines and therapies are encountering setbacks that are protracting the timeframe requiring businesses to continue their varied work models and extra safety measures. A return to “normal” is an unknown point in the future.

CIOs have to make careful estimates about not only the impacts on their own operational businesses management through the pandemic, but what strategic investments they can afford to make based on the industries and geographies they serve.

To solve for this unknown situation, some businesses have decided to commit to new models permanently. Microsoft, for example, has decided to allow many employees to work remotely permanently. Other businesses have set the return-to-office timeframe another year or more into the future to facilitate their strategies and planning for the coming year. These types of plans remove some variables and give technology leaders some certainty to pursue and plan around in the face of other uncertainty outside anyone’s control.

Whatever a CIO’s decision, a wait-and-see approach is not going to get the business ahead.

US Elections and Social Destabilization

Technology leadership around the world would be wise to consider the possibility of the USA enduring considerable social and economic impact in the face of disputed election results.

It doesn’t take much imagination to think about the problems this poses for business, especially if the pandemic and election disputes collide. At a minimum, this means IT and the way technology supports the business is impaired by increased cost and longer delivery times for projects large and small. The worst case scenario is direct revenue impact or outright business failure due to non-delivery of products, service downtime, and lost data.

Right now is a great time to combat this risk. And it doesn’t have to cost much, if anything, beyond time from teams. It starts with a plan. All the things important to IT (including hardware and peripherals, services like datacenter and cloud service providers, vendors and staff augmentation) can be made redundant, sourced from alternative providers, shifted to other strategic locations, or otherwise have a “plan B” on warm stand-by.