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2021 was quite the year. For the second consecutive year, we witnessed more change and disruption, and there was no return to the world that we once knew. I think it is safe to say, that the way businesses operationally function has fundamentally changed forever – there is no going back and the new normal is still yet to be fully defined.
As we all know and have heard, the ongoing pandemic and ensuing snap lockdowns, home schooling, working from home and so on has resulted in many businesses having to totally rethink and redesign the way they work. The fast-paced nature and ongoing acceleration of digitalisation continues to challenge businesses, as does the war for talent, remote working and the hybrid workforce.
And now business leaders face brand new challenges such as how to deal with staff vaccinations and a return to work policy that is safe and flexible – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
Pausing and looking back: the year that was
In early 2021, I identified five critical areas of focus for the modern CIO – several of which drew a lot of attention over the year. In particular, many business leaders targeted the following three areas.
1. Regulatory compliance and security
Data protection and security are now critical for all businesses that hold client data, and global regulators are honing in on these areas. In the Australian finance sector, the spotlight was on APRA’s CPS234 and Open Banking during this time.
Open Banking is expected to foster a more open system to allow individuals greater freedom of choice and control of their own data, and significant work has been done over the past 12 months to raise regulatory compliance and security standards to align with this.
Given that after banking, Consumer Data Right will next be implemented in energy (in late 2022) followed by telecommunications, regulatory requirements in other industries will soon change to lift their standards. This trend will gain momentum over the coming years.
2. Digital transformation
Over the past 12 to 24 months, digital transformation road maps and investment were brought forward faster than planned or budgeted, due to the urgent need to rapidly transition to remote and flexible work. And this trend will continue; Gartner predicts that through 2024, organisations will have to bring forward digital transformation plans by at least five years.
Remote access to systems, real-time data, and the ability to collaborate and share remotely have become a necessity. Although unexpected, the acceleration of digital transformation has now fundamentally changed the way companies do business, in a good way.
3. Workforce optimisation
This is another area that saw incredible development and investment. Investment in automation, robotics, machine learning and the like grew as companies needed to enhance their processes and operations given the reduced access to staff and skilled labour when people were forced to work from home.
Companies realised that they had to streamline the way they did business – and automation was the obvious option. The changes implemented by many businesses have been highly beneficial, and much investment will be diverted to this area in the years to come.
So what lies ahead in 2022?
In 2021, many businesses were forced to fundamentally change the way they do business – there was no choice even if there was resistance initially when the pandemic kicked in. Business leaders had to accommodate and support more flexible working arrangements and address a string of other challenges.
Additionally, many businesses have suffered due to the negative impact the pandemic had on supply chains along with security and compliance as cybercrime and data leakages significantly rose.
As we kick off 2022, here are the top three priorities for the forward-looking CIO to focus on in the year ahead:
Remote workforce enablement
Although a return to the office is starting to be explored by a number of companies in some parts of the world, the emergence of the Omicron variant has thrown many plans into flux with once again more talk of a remote working situation.
This will demand ongoing attention from leaders to ensure that their companies have the right technology in place to support a flexible workforce, so companies are protected from unprecedented events like the pandemic in the future.
Remote access to core business systems, real-time data and analytics, and tools which allow staff to share, work and collaborate together as they would if they were in the office will become critical. Companies who get this right will likely rise above those who don’t.
Automation and business efficiency
Restriction of access to labour markets, increasing costs of labour and supply chain disruption all place significant pressure on businesses to become far more efficient than before. Inefficiencies in business are no longer seen as minor; they’re now critical, and capable of bringing businesses to their knees.
As a result, the coming years will see businesses place far more emphasis on efficiencies in all areas of business. Policies and procedures will be streamlined to remove unnecessary complexity, and technologies will be deployed that will reduce or remove the need for manual intervention in highly repetitive tasks.
Security and compliance
The rise of cybersecurity and tighter regulations around data security, along with increased exposure due to the remote workforce, will see businesses zoom in on governance, security and compliance. Procedures and policies will require ongoing review and enhancement, whilst technology will need to understand their areas of risk and have a focused strategy on how to address those risks to ensure the integrity of their clients’ data.
Continue to tread the fine line between what people want and what the business needs
No one knows what will come in the year ahead, but to stay ahead of the competition, create value and retain and attract new customers and hires, business leaders must – with the help of technology – continue to tread the fine line between what people want and what the business needs.
Whether this means rolling out new software or refining policies and processes, leaders must surround themselves with trusted advisors who can help provide the necessary assistance and advice to continue to navigate unchartered waters.