How the pandemic changed the nature of IT departments

How the pandemic changed the nature of IT departments
March 11, 2021  |  BY

IT departments always shift how they work based on changing company initiatives, new business processes, and current market conditions. But COVID-19 forced CIOs to adapt like they never had to before. What were probably viewed as “temporary” adjustments to the pandemic have now become permanent practices and methodologies.

For starters, let’s look at the need for business agility. While the ability to adjust used to be more of a reactionary behavior, enterprises now see agility as a proactive necessity. COVID-19 upended traditional business practices, and IT leaders quickly learned that agility had to become priority #1. In fact, in many cases resilience became more of consideration than cost.

Through this experience, IT leaders now understand that they can safely transform major operations faster than they ever thought possible. They can quickly scale up or down while doing a good job of managing costs.

The pandemic also put digital transformation at center stage. Without question, many enterprises already had digital transformation plans, or were in the midst of executing those plans. COVID-19 gave them an extra – and big – push to move even faster. They had little choice to do otherwise. That’s because social distancing and remote work forced businesses to develop a remote-first or always-digital approach to everything: sales, marketing, communications, you name it. Now digital transformation isn’t just one of a number of key initiatives – it’s skyrocketed to the top (or near the top) of the priority list.

And that’s happened by sheer necessity. CIOs began using emerging technologies, like AI-based self-learning tools, that were formerly on the wait-and-see list of potential purchases down the line. In the COVID era, they have been willing to take risks simply due to the need to deploy more technology to keep the company up and running. The good news is, organizations have proven to themselves they can remain alive, even thrive, under adverse conditions. As such, the speed of adoption of new technologies will continue, as will the spirit to take chances on tools that aren’t quite seen as “mature” in the eyes of the overall industry.

Almost by definition, the speed of digital transformation increased the frequency of collaboration. Because of the pandemic, IT teams had no choice but to deepen working relationships with internal and external partners. This provides them with access to the resources necessary to make faster decisions, allowing for quicker deployments and sharpening their competitive edge. This close collaboration will only increase in a post-COVID business world.

On a related note, companies have gained a higher awareness of threats, be they ransomware, denial of service attacks, and other cyber crimes. Before, IT leaders simply weren’t prepared for the challenges brought up by COVID-19 – of course, how could they have been? They had to respond much faster than they normally did to traditional threats, as the threats of the past often brought clues of what may lurk around the digital corner. But not with COVID. IT leaders couldn’t take months to perform assessments and decide how to respond technologically.

But now, many IT leaders are putting health-related threats in the same category as natural disasters and cyber attacks. The thinking is, no matter what happens, if it affects the business, they will have to react on-demand. No longer can they afford to take weeks or months to plan a defense. This will be the mindset going forward.

If you haven’t noticed, there’s a pattern with all of these pandemic-related shifts within IT: The department is now just as responsible for driving positive business results as is the sales department. Of course, that’s been the case for many years. The difference between pre-COVID and now is that, when the pandemic stifled business operations, IT took a lead role to overcome the challenge and provide viable solutions. IT departments created new products and services. For example, retailers quickly rolled out new technology to enable curbside pick-up and safer delivery options. The new “normal”, in this context, is one of expectations: Executives will now have less patience for long lead times and delays. They now expect innovation to happen overnight, or close to it.

And speaking of expectations, the pandemic has caused company leaders to also perceive IT as a financial innovator. For example, IT spearheaded safer payment methods such as contactless commerce. Admittedly, that had been the case for some time, but the pandemic accelerated contactless commerce methods to the point that they’re now top-of-mind for consumers. The state of contactless payments – both the technology itself and its high rate of adoption – would have take years to occur if not for the pandemic. IT departments can not only take credit for that victory, they can also expect to get more autonomy in developing future financial solutions.

IT departments have always been there to solve problems. Over time, executives rightly saw them as being critical to providing proactive solutions. In a post-COVID world, that trend will not only continue, it will become permanent.